The common thread between Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle” and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown” is the plot line involving the protagonists finding themselves in nature for a bit of time (or in Rip Van Winkle’s case, a lot of time), and coming out of nature transformed in some way. For Rip, his whole world changed. He went out into the mountains and took a snooze for twenty years, then came back to everything being different. His wife died, his house was gone, and he lived in an entirely new country because he slept through the American Revolution. When it comes to Goodman Brown, he came out of the forest not knowing what to think about the goodness and purity of people because he went into that forest and saw a lot. He met the Devil himself, who tarnished Brown’s view of his father and grandfather, and he also saw his own wife, whom he loved dearly, become someone other than the pious young lady with the pink ribbons in her hair. He went back to Salem Village and didn’t know what to believe anymore. He didn’t believe that anyone was truly as into their faith as they led on and that they were all deceitful and full of evil. Something about nature in these stores made these characters make a compete 360 and come out way different when they were when they went in.
A story that I relate to this pattern of being transformed by nature is Gary Paulsen’s 1987 novel Hatchet. It’s a personal favourite of mine, I read it many times throughout my primary school years and even a couple times through high school for nostalgic reasons. In Hatchet, thirteen-year-old Brian Robeson is a boy from New York City who has the plan of taking a trip to Northern Canada to see his dad after his parents’ divorce. During his flight in a small bi-plane the pilot gives him a small lesson in flying so he can take over while the pilot takes a break, but eventually the pilot dies in-flight. Brian is not a pilot by any means, so the plane goes down in a lake in the Canadian wilderness and Brian is left stranded. He finds himself learning how to find his own food, treat his own wounds, and make shelter and fire, mainly thanks to a hatchet that his mother gave him before he left New York (hence the title). After 54 days, Brian was finally found after he went back underwater to the remaining wreckage and found an emergency transmitter that hit up another plane.
Brian learned a lot while he was out on his own. He grew up, really. He was insecure about and was ignoring the major details of his parents’ divorce and was just hoping that it would all go away. He came out of the wilderness with the realization that it was something that happened and there was nothing that he could have done to stop it. He also learned many skills about survival and the value of being able to survive. He realizes that when he crashes, he’ll either have to grow up and figure everything out or he’ll have to give up and die. (Spoiler: He chooses the former.) I think that Brian came out of the forest learning more than he ever could if he had made it safely to his Dad’s, but I’m not saying that I’d like to be stranded in the wilderness for two months. I can find another way of growing up.