Young Goodman Brown
The key concept of the story:
Author: Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864), an American novelist, dark romantic, and short story writer.
Published date: 1835
Genre: Allegorical short story
Time setting: 17th-century Puritan time of New England.
Place setting: Salem village of Massachusetts and an allegorical forest.
The Weakness of Public Morality
The Inevitable Loss of Innocence
The Forest: It is a symbol of danger and uncertainty.
Serpent-Shaped Staff: The serpent is a symbol of evil and temptation, especially in the context of Christianity.
Pink Ribbons: The pink ribbons on Faith’s cap stand out from the brown and gray of Puritan attire and the austere New England landscape and simple wooden houses of Salem.
Young Goodman Brown: Young Goodman Brown is a faithful Puritan in 17th-century Salem, Massachusetts.
The Dark Figure: The Dark Figure is a personification of the devil.
Faith: Faith is Young Goodman Brown’s wife of three months.
Goody Cloyse: Goody Cloyse, a pious old woman, taught Young Goodman Brown his catechism when he was a child.
Deacon Gookin: Deacon Gookin is an elder of the Church.
Minister: The minister is the leader of Young Goodman Brown’s church and community.
Young Goodman Brown left his beautiful Christian wife Faith in the evening for his journey with the devil in the forest. He has gotten married three months. His wife requests him to spend the night with her but Goodman Brown tells his wife that he will stay away from her for this night only. However, he takes leave of his wife and says to himself that after this one night, he would cling to his wife and follow her to heaven.
He goes along a dreary road through the forest. He meets a man in decent attire or dress who sits at the foot of an old tree. To see the man, it seems to Goodman Brown that the man is waiting for him. Then they go together. The second traveler is about fifty years old and bears a considerable resemblance to Goodman Brown.
He was carrying a staff which was like a great black snake. He urged Goodman Brown to go at a greater pace and suggested that he take his staff. Goodman Brown felt a conflict within his mind and said he had better go home as he had hesitation or scruples about the matter of the old man’s intention. He said further that he belonged to a religious family and his father and grandfather never went into the forest as he was going now. They never kept such a company as he had now.
The elder person replied that he helped his grandfather when he hit or lashed a Quaker woman smartly through the streets of Salem. He also asserted that he helped Goodman Brown’s father to set fire to an Indian village in King Philip’s war.
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When Goodman Brown replied that they were a family of religious people and never abided by such wickedness, the elder man said that he had a very general acquaintance in New England. When Goodman Brown said that he would never meet him, the elder person burst into laughter. Goodman Brown could not help but go with the elder person.
Soon they met a female whom Goodman Brown recognized as a pious and exemplary dame or housewife who taught him his catechisms or religious morality in his youth and was still a moral and spiritual adviser, jointly with the minister and deacon Gookin.
The elder man who looked like the grandfather of young Goodman Brown soon joined her. From their conversation, it appeared that they were going to a meeting of the devil in which a nice young man (Goodman Brown) was to be taken into communion that night. The old lady requested the elder man to help her go speedily to the meeting. Then, he offered his serpent-like stick and the old lady disappeared in a moment.
The two Browns continued their walk together onward. As they went, the elder traveler discoursed so aptly that his arguments caught Young Goodman Brown in such a way that he could not think of anything else at that moment. The older Brown plucked a maple branch to serve as a walking stick but as soon as he touched it, it dried up. They moved forward freely until Young Goodman Brown suddenly sat down on the stump of a tree and refused to go any further.
Young Goodman Brown wanted to go back to his wife Faith. The old man then gave Young Goodman Brown the maple staff and said if he felt like moving again the staff would help him. Then the old man disappeared into the darkness or gloom of the forest. Here is the suggestion in the story that the devil creates only a situation to perform evil. From here the climax of the story started.
Young Goodman Brown meditated that it would be better for him to remove all the bad thoughts from his conscience and should meet the minister and spend the night in the arms of Faith. Soon he heard the tramp or walking sound of horses along the road and concealed himself within the verge or edge of the forest and tried to investigate and look but he could not see anything without shadow.
Goodman recognized from the conversation that there were ministers and deacon Gookin in the forest jogging that they do at the time of any ecclesiastical council. One of them said that many people from all places would come to the meeting this night and a young good woman would also attend this meeting.
After all these Young Goodman Brown took a vow or oath to stand firm against the devil. He gazed upward into the deep arch of the firmament or sky and lifted his hands to pray. Just then a cloud hurried across the zenith and hid the stars. He heard confused noises of his town folk including pious and impious or ungodly. Among them, he met many at the communion table. Amid the noises, he heard the voice of a young woman who was uttering lamentations with an uncertain sorrow and entreating for some favor. He recognized the voice as Faith’s and shouted “Faith!”
Young Goodman Brown’s scream faded into the loud laughter of the devils. The dark cloud swept away. Something that was hanging on the branch of a tree fluttered lightly down through the air. The young man seized it and found that it was the “pink ribbon” of his wife. He exclaimed in despair, “My Faith is gone! There is no good on the earth and sin but a name. come, devil! For to thee is this world given!”
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Then the young man became mad with despair and he grasped his stick of maple and set forth once again at a great speed. He saw and heard horrifying images and sounds in the deep forest but he himself was the chief horror of the scene. “The fiend in his own shape is less hideous than when he rages in the breast of man”.
The young man saw a red light before him which seemed to him that the fire was burning and destroying the trees. This red light symbolizes the rage of human beings that can destroy the whole world. He stopped walking and heard a hymn rolling solemnly from a distance with the weight of many voices. As he moved forward the light glared full upon his eyes.
At one extremity of open space, Goodman saw a rock that was like an altar or a pulpit surrounded by four blazing pine trees. The tops of the pine trees were aflame and their stems were like candles at an evening meeting. The red light arose and fell and with it, a numerous congregation alternately shone forth and disappeared in the shadow.
In the congregation, there were all sorts of people, male, and female, young and old, honest, chaste, and dissolute. Hideous criminals were known to Goodman Brown. The congregation sang hymns in chorus, verse after verse. The four blazing pines threw up a loftier flame and obscurely Goodman Brown discovered shapes and visages or faces of horror on the smoke of wreaths in the impious assembly. The faces discovered by Goodman Brown resembled the priests of the New England churches. A voice cried “Bring forth the converts!”
Goodman Brown stepped forth from the shadow of the trees and approached the congregation with whom he felt a hateful brotherhood. A phantom or ghost resembling his father beaconed him and deacon Gookin seized his arm and led him to the blazing rock. There came a slender form of a veiled female led between Goody Cloyse and Martha Carrier. She received the devil’s promise to be the queen of hell. Beneath the roof or canopy of fire, there stood the proselytes or converts.
The dark figure welcomed the town folk of Young Goodman Brown in communion and asked them to look back. They turned and saw the fiend worshippers who all welcomed them with a smile. The dark figure delivered a lecture in which he made it transparent that all the pious men and women of the village Salem were a heap of sins. Goodman met his wife Faith in the congregation face to face. The remarked in his lecture “Evil is the nature of mankind. Evil must be your only happiness”.
A basin was hallowed in the rock containing water or blood or liquid flame. The dark figure who was the symbol of the devil dipped its hand in the basin and prepared to lay the mark of baptism upon their foreheads. At that moment Goodman Brown cried out, “Faith, Faith! Look up to Heaven, and resist the wicked one!”
The next morning Goodman Brown came slowly into the streets of Salem Village. He saw the holy people doing their holy jobs but he looked at them as sinful people. Faith skipped along the street and almost kissed her husband before the whole village but Goodman looked sternly and sadly into her face and passed on without a greeting.
Nathaniel Hawthorne has raised a question by the end of the story whether Goodman Brown had fallen asleep in the forest or only dreamed a wild dream of a witch meeting. Whatever it was, it changed Goodman Brown profoundly. Since then, he has become a sad, stern, darkly meditative, and distrustful man. He looked upon all religious rituals as blasphemy. He lived long and no hopeful verse was carved on his tombstone, “For his dying hour was gloomy”.
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