The short story “Young Goodman Brown,” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, is the story of a man, Goodman Brown, who comes to find out that the people he surrounds himself with are not perfect. During a journey testing his faith, a traveler, the devil, is able to use Browns naivet against him. After the devil has his way with Goodman Browns mind, Brown is never again able to trust even his wife, who is aptly named Faith, let alone anyone else. Browns view on humanity thereon is one of deceit. The story is heavy in symbolism; and the major symbols of this story are Goodman Brown himself, his wife Faith and her pink ribbons, the traveler he meets, and the journey he takes.Order now
Goodman Browns name plays as a symbol in the story. His name Goodman means Gentleman during that time period, and he is symbolic to mankind(Korb 2; Robinson 3). In spite of his name, there is no proof that Goodman Brown was ever a good person at all(Mathews 2). Throughout his whole journey into the forest, he never makes the argument that he should stop because it is morally wrong. Hawthorne provides many suggestions that indicate “Brown has been looking for a way of justifying his participation, rationalizing that everyone else has done likewise”(Matheson 4). Brown most likely only resists during the ceremony because he realizes that his sins will be exposed.
Young Goodman Browns wifes name is Faith, and she has pink ribbons in her hair that are used as symbols throughout the story. The name Faith is symbolic of Browns lost hope(Mathews 2). When the pink ribbon falls from the sky, he cries “My Faith is gone”(Hawthorne 38). Brown talks about how much faith he has, but as James Mathews points out:
The insubstantiality for Browns religious faith manifests itself in the pink ribbons of his wifes cap; their texture is aerie and their color the pastel of infancy.(2)
As Goodman Brown is about to leave for his journey, the exchange between Faith and himself foreshadows the outcome of the journey. As he travels through the forest he knows he should go back to his faith and Faith but his fascination with evil compels him to go on. Brown is bewildered as he comes upon Faith at the ceremony. Sheildon Liebman says, “He calls on Faith to refuse Communion because he is as afraid of revealing his own evil as he is of seeing hers”(7). Finding his wife at the meeting and still believing what is going on shows that he is capable of believing anything that is thrown his way. If he can believe that his wife can have this secret presence of evil inside her, there is no hope for anyone else to gain his
trust. Brown tells himself that the Devil will not take hold of his faith although he has to keep reassuring himself.
The traveler is symbolic of the devil and Goodman Browns dark side(Walsh 4). As Brown approaches the traveler he finds him very familiar. It is almost as if he is a relative or even his own father. He carries a twisted staff that looks like a snake and almost seems to move in his hand(Liebman 3). All of the branches the traveler touches wilt and die. It is suggested by the traveler that even Browns father and grandfather are a part of the devils party, and he makes Brown meet people he has seen and knows at the ceremony. Thomas Walsh says, “Doubts about his ancestors spread until Goody Cloyse, Deacon Gookion, the Parson, and finally Faith herself fall victims to his diseased mind”(4).
When the traveler takes Brown on his journey, Brown sees his journey as an “errand” or “work”(Keil 7). He leaves his wife after she asks him not to go, and says thinking out loud, “After this one night, Ill cling to her skirts and follow her to Heaven”(Hawthorn 377). Taking the dark dreary road into the forest symbolizes his act of “plunging into the road leading to despair”(Walsh 3). The move into darkness gives the feeling of upcoming danger.
The journey begins at dusk continuing on into an increasingly darker and more shadowy world. The farther he gets away from his wife, the more he loses faith(2). During the trip Brown must decide for himself whether people are basically good, evil, or both, and his journey into the wood parallels his journey into his soul(2). As he gets farther into his ideas of evil, his visions become more substantial. Rena Korb describes his walk into the forest as, “He continues his journey toward the black mass which symbolizes his descent into Hell”(2).
Brown leads himself down his journey through his own curiosity. It destroyed Browns ability to trust anyone ever again including his wife. His fear of his own flaws and the flaws of his wife drive him to his damnation. The devil uses Browns lack of faith, especially in his wife, against him, and Brown is so drawn in by the devil he does not take heed when he sees what is done to the branches of the trees and to the staff the devil is carrying. Hawthorne uses very strong symbols in “Young Goodman Brown” to prove that when Brown lost his faith in his own religion he has lost faith in his ideals of humanity also.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “Young Goodman Brown.” Literature: An
Introduction to Reading and Writing. 5th ed. Eds. Edgar V. Roberts and Henry E. Jacobs. Upper Saddle Riva: Prentice Hall, 1988. 376-385.
Keil, James C. “Hawthornes Young Goodman Brown: Early
Nineteenth-century and Puritan Constructions of Gender.” The new England Quartile, LXIX.1(March 1996): 33-55. Reprinted in Short Story Criticism, Vol. 29. Literature Resource Center. The Gale Group. 9 July 2000
Korb, Rena. “An Overview of Young Goodman Brown,” Short
Stories for Students, Literature Resource Center. The Gale Group. 9 July 2000
Liebman, Sheildon W. “The Reader in Young Goodman Brown,”
in The Nathaniel Hawthorne Journal (1975):156-69. Reprinted in Short Story Criticism, Literature Resource Center. The Gale Group. 9 July 2000
Matheson, Terence J. “Young Goodman Brown: Hawthorne
Condemnation of Conformity”, in The Nathaniel Hawthorne Journal 1978, Edited by C. E. Frazer Clark, Jr., Gale Research Company, (1984): 137-45. Reprinted in Short Story Criticism, Vol. 29. Literature Resource Center. The Gale Group. 9 July 2000
Mathews, James W. “Antinomianism in Young Goodman Brown”,
in Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. III.1, (Fall 1965): 73-5. Reprinted in Short Story Criticism, Vol. 29. Literature Resource Center. The Gale Group. 9 July 2000
Robinson, E. Arthur, “The Vision of Goodman Brown: A Source
and Interpretation,” in American Literature, XXXV.2 (May, 1963): 218-25. Reprinted in Short Story Criticism, Vol. 29. Literature Resource Center. The Gale Group. 9 July 2000
Walsh, Thomas F. Jr. “The Bedeviling of Young Goodman
Brown,” in Modern Language Quarterly XIX.4 (December 1958): 331-36. Excerpted and reprinted in Short Story Criticism, Vol. 29. Literature Resource Center. The Gale Group. 9 July 2000