"Young Goodman Brown" is a fiction story written by Nathaniel Hawthorne. It takes place in Salem, Massachusetts in the 17th century. Immersed in symbolism, the story explores Goodman Brown's conflict with the basic human nature of evil. Goodman Brown has a close encounter with the embodiment of evil and is made to examine his own human nature. Brown is repulsed by what he faces, not understanding the role of himself in the evil situations he encounters.
We see Goodman Brown encountering Satan, who goes unnamed but is obvious in his identity. Brown asserts that his reason for being late was that "Faith kept me back awhile" (CITE). This phrase contains a clear double-meaning, as the run-in with his wife (Faith) forestalled Brown from arriving at his meeting with Satan on time, and his outer-worldly "faith" to his Creator also precluded his arrival.Â Brown relies on both of his "Faiths" to deliver him after his run-in with Satan.
During his meeting with the devil, Goodman Brown observes that the staff the figure is holding looks like a large black snake. This staff represents the existence of evil surrounding Brown. The staff also mirrors the serpent in the Biblical Garden of Eden narrative, as the rest of this tale is analogous to the well-known story of Adam and Eve, with temptation and knowledge given to the characters and Satan. The snake staff directs Goodman Brown to the site of the evil congregation. Brown's faith is torn at the sight of Goody Cloyse talking to Satan. Goodman Brown blames Goody for associating with Satan, but doesn't realize that he is committing the same misguided act as she is. After he rejects Goody, Satan hands over his staff to Goodman. This represents transference of evil from one to the other.Â
Next, his faith is destroyed when he hears the voice of a woman and assumes that it is his wife Faith. When he calls her name, a pink ribbon floats towards him and he grabs it. At the start of the tale, the wind plays with the pink ribbons in Faith's hat. The assumption that the voice he hears was Faith's causes him to lose his own faith.
Goodman sees many people that he is acquainted with at the ceremony from his church and community, but doesn't spot his wife anywhere. This gives him hope again, which could herald a return his faith. Goodman Brown still doesn't realize that he is part of the sin that he detests. As the ritual commences, he steps forward, unable to control himself from coming into the service with the devil. After the sermon, Goodman Brown sees Faith and tells her to resist the evil they are consorting with and look towards heaven.Â
The reader is left to decide if Faith actually proceeded with the ceremony, because Goodman Brown goes into a deep sleep. He awakens the following morning and heads home. He sees his wife skipping towards him but sternly passes her by. We are left to speculate on whether the witches' meeting was reality, or all part of a dream.
There is a lot of intentional obscurity in this tale, some of it seemingly contradictory. One example is Goodman's wife being named Faith, and the fact that he must have faith in her at the end when he doesn't know whether or not what he witnessed was real. The pink ribbons are a symbol of innocence, yet there is the possibility that Faith was being inducted into witchcraft.
Symbolic colors, names, etc. are used to add descriptions and imply details about the characters and their environments. The names of two of the main figures, Goodman and Faith, are Puritan-period titles that imply their nature, at least at certain points in the story. The very setting of the tale, in Salem, speaks volumes due to the fact that it was host to witchcraft (or at least suspicions of it taking place) in reality. The ribbon in faith's cap being pink represents a sort of feminine innocence. The sky in the forest is described as black, foreshadowing evil closing in as it blurs Brown's view of the heavens above. The black veil that the Minister wears is symbol of sin that obscures the true nature of people from each other, especially within close relationships.
From a moral objective, Young Goodman Brown has had his faith shaken. Every person he respects from his community has been discovered to have a dark secret. He is in extreme conflict over his own nature and beliefs, and doesn't know who he can trust. He doesn't dare to speak of though, for he might be thought of as crazy.
The main character is compelling from a literary perspective in that he is both round and also a static protagonist. He is changed by his ordeal, whether it was reality or a dream, but this change wasn't really a progression, because he didn't make any personal change for the better. He shied away from his faith, which is all that could have delivered him out of his dark end.
Goodman Brown ultimately represents mankind in that, like him, we all have to deal with evil and misguiding disillusionments in our lives. We also must reconcile with our own and each others imperfections. We all have to hold on to faith and hope, lest we end up like Goodman Brown, without an epithet on our tombstone. The story of Young Goodman Brown is a classic mirror of a Garden of Eden- type narrative that illustrates the Puritan understanding of the nature of evil and of righteousness. Goodman Brown has his own faith, a church community, and a wife, but those things collectively were not sufficient for him to be able to resist real evil, or even basic human nature. Goodman Brown portrays innocence and vulnerability as he devolves from faith in the inherent good in people into believing that Satan's influence has perforated the hearts of the community people he cares for. Brown searched for answers and received them through the seductions and revelations of Satan and from observing his fellow men and women. Even the fact that Goodman Brown is inclined to go into the wilderness when he knows what could transpire there is an implication of the weakness and transparency in the hearts of even the most faithful. He went from being a positive person to miserable, faithless man because he discovered the true nature of the people whom he once believed to be good and upright. The public perspective of a person is rarely the reality of the person in their heart.