The Downfall of Young Goodman Brown “Young GoodmanBrown”, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, is a story that is thick withallegory. “Young Goodman Brown” is a moral story which istold through the perversion of a religious leader.
In “YoungGoodman Brown”, Goodman Brown is a Puritan ministerwho lets his excessive pride in himself interfere with hisrelations with the community after he meets with the devil,and causes him to live the life of an exile in his owncommunity. “Young Goodman Brown” begins when Faith,Brown’s wife, asks him not to go on an “errand”. GoodmanBrown says to his “love and (my) Faith” that “this one night Imust tarry away from thee. ” When he says his “love” and his”Faith”, he is talking to his wife, but he is also talking to his”faith” to God. He is venturing into the woods to meet withthe Devil, and by doing so, he leaves his unquestionable faithin God with his wife.
He resolves that he will “cling to herskirts and follow her to Heaven. ” This is an example of theexcessive pride because he feels that he can sin and meetwith the Devil because of this promise that he made tohimself. There is a tremendous irony to this promise becausewhen Goodman Brown comes back at dawn; he can nolonger look at his wife with the same faith he had before. When Goodman Brown finally meets with the Devil, hedeclares that the reason he was late was because “Faith keptme back awhile.
” This statement has a double meaningbecause his wife physically prevented him from being ontime for his meeting with the devil, but his faith to God ipsychologically delayed his meeting with the devil. The Devilhad with him a staff that “bore the likeness of a great blacksnake”. The staff which looked like a snake is a reference tothe snake in the story of Adam and Eve. The snake ledAdam and Eve to their destruction by leading them to theTree of Knowledge. The Adam and Eve story is similar toGoodman Brown in that they are both seeking unfathomableamounts of knowledge. Once Adam and Eve ate from theTree of Knowledge they were expelled from their paradise.
The Devil’s staff eventually leads Goodman Brown to theDevil’s ceremony which destroys Goodman Brown’s faith inhis fellow man, therefore expelling him from his utopia. Goodman Brown almost immediately declares that he kepthis meeting with the Devil and no longer wishes to continueon his errand with the Devil. He says that he comes from a”race of honest men and good Christians” and that his fatherhad never gone on this errand and nor will he. The Devil isquick to point out however that he was with his father andgrandfather when they were flogging a woman or burning anIndian village, respectively. These acts are ironic in that theywere bad deeds done in the name of good, and it shows thathe does not come from “good Christians.
” When GoodmanBrown’s first excuse not to carry on with the errand provesto be unconvincing, he says he can’t go because of his wife,”Faith”. And because of her, he can not carry out the errandany further. At this point the Devil agrees with him and tellshim to turn back to prevent that “Faith should come to anyharm” like the old woman in front of them on the path. Ironically, Goodman Brown’s faith is harmed because thewoman on the path is the woman who “taught him hiscatechism in youth, and was still his moral and spiritualadviser. ” The Devil and the woman talk and afterward,Brown continues to walk on with the Devil in the disbelief ofwhat he had just witnessed.
Ironically, he blames the womanfor consorting with the Devil but his own pride stops himfrom realizing that his faults are the same as the woman’s. Brown again decides that he will no longer to continue on hiserrand and rationalizes that just because his teacher was notgoing to heaven, why should he “quit my dear Faith, and goafter her”. At this, the Devil tosses Goodman Brown his staff(which will lead him out of his Eden) and leaves him. Goodman Brown begins to think to himself about hissituation and his pride in himself begins to build. He”applauds himself greatly, and thinking with how clear aconscience he should meet his minister. .
. And what calmsleep would be his. . . in the arms of Faith!” This is ironicbecause at the end of the story, he can not even look Faithin the eye, let alone sleep in her arms. As Goodman Brownis feeling good about his strength in resisting the Devil, hehears the voices of the minister and Deacon Gookin.
Heoverhears their conversation and hears them discuss a”goodly young woman to be taken in to communion” thatevening at that night’s meeting and fears that it may be hisFaith. When Goodman Brown hears this he becomes weakand falls to the ground. He “begins to doubt whether therereally was a Heaven above him” and this is a key point whenGoodman Brown’s faith begins to wain. Goodman Brown inpanic declares that “With Heaven above, and Faith below, Iwill yet stand firm against the devil!” Again, Brown makes apromise to keep his faith unto God. Then “a black mass ofcloud” goes in between Brown and the sky as if to block hisprayer from heaven.
Brown then hears what he believed tobe voices that he has before in the community. OnceGoodman Brown begins to doubt whether this is really whathe had heard or not, the sound comes to him again and thistime it is followed by “one voice, of a young woman”. Goodman believes this is Faith and he yells out her nameonly to be mimicked by the echoes of the forest, as if hiscalls to Faith were falling on deaf ears. A pink ribbon fliesthrough the air and Goodman grabs it. At this moment, hehas lost all faith in the world and declares that there is “nogood on earth.
” Young Goodman Brown in this scene iseasily manipulated simply by the power of suggestion. Thesuggestion that the woman in question is his Faith, andbecause of this, he easily loses his faith. Goodman Brownthen loses all of his inhibitions and begins to laugh insanely. He takes hold of the staff which causes him to seem to “flyalong the forest-path”. This image alludes to that of Adamand Eve being led out of the Garden of Eden as is GoodmanBrown being led out of his utopia by the Devil’s snakelikestaff. Hawthorne at this point remarks about “the instinct thatguides mortal man to evil”.
This is a direct statement from theauthor that he believes that man’s natural inclination is to leanto evil than good. Goodman Brown had at this point lost hisfaith in God, therefore there was nothing restraining hisinstincts from moving towards evil because he had been leadout from his utopian image of society. At this point,Goodman Brown goes mad and challenges evil. He feelsthat he will be the downfall of evil and that he is strongenough to overcome it all.
This is another demonstration ofBrown’s excessive pride and arrogance. He believes that heis better than everyone else in that he alone can destroy evil. Brown then comes upon the ceremony which is setup like aperverted Puritan temple. The altar was a rock in the middleof the congregation and there were four trees surroundingthe congregation with their tops ablaze, like candles.
A redlight rose and fell over the congregation which cast a veil ofevil over the congregation over the devil worshippers. Brown starts to take notice of the faces that he sees in theservice and he recognizes them all, but he then realizes thathe does not see Faith and “hope came into his heart”. This isthe first time that the word “hope” ever comes into the storyand it is because this is the true turning point for GoodmanBrown. If Faith was not there, as he had hoped, he wouldnot have to live alone in his community of heathens, which hedoes not realize that he is already apart of.
Another way thatthe hope could be looked at is that it is all one of “theChristian triptych”. (Capps 25) The third part of the triptychwhich is never mentioned throughout the story is charity. IfBrown had had “charity” it would have been the “antidotethat would have allowed him to survive without despair theinformed state in which he returned to Salem. ” (Camps 25)The ceremony then begins with a a cry to “Bring forth theconverts!” Surprisingly Goodman Brown steps forward. “Hehad no power to retreat one step, nor to resist, even inthought. .
. “. Goodman Brown at this point seems to be in atrance and he loses control of his body as he isunconsciously entering this service of converts to the devil. The leader of the service than addresses the crowd ofconverts in a disturbing manner.
He informs them that all themembers of the congregation are the righteous, honest, andincorruptible of the community. The sermon leader theninforms the crowd of their leader’s evil deeds such asattempted murder of the spouse and wife, adultery, andobvious blasphemy. After his sermon, the leader informsthem to look upon each other and Goodman Brown findshimself face to face with Faith. The leader begins up againdeclaring that “Evil is the nature of mankind” and hewelcomes the converts to “communion of your race”. (The”communion of your race” statement reflects to the irony ofBrown’s earlier statement that he comes from “a race ofhonest men and good Christians.
“) The leader than dips hishand in the rock to draw a liquid from it and “to lay the markof baptism upon their foreheads”. Brown than snaps outfrom his trance and yells “Faith! Faith! Look up to Heavenand resist the wicked one!” At this, the ceremony ends andBrown finds himself alone. He does not know whether Faith,his wife, had kept her faith, but he finds himself alone whichleads him to believe that he is also alone in his faith. Throughout the story, Brown lacks emotion as a normalperson would have had.
The closest Brown comes toshowing an emotion is when “a hanging twig, that had beenall on fire, besprinkled his cheek with the coldest dew. ” Thedew on his cheek represents a tear that Brown is unable toproduce because of his lack of emotion. Hawthorne showsthat Brown has “no compassion for the weaknesses he seesin others, no remorse for his own sin, and no sorrow for hisloss of faith. ” (Easterly 339) His lack of remorse andcompassion “condemns him to an anguished life that isspiritually and emotionally dissociated.
” (Easterly 341) Thisscene is an example of how Goodman Brown chose tofollow his head rather than his heart. Had Brown followedhis heart, he may have still lived a good life. If he followedwith his heart, he would have been able to sympathize withthe community’s weaknesses, but instead, he listened to hishead and excommunicated himself from the communitybecause he only thought of them as heathens. . “YoungGoodman Brown” ends with Brown returning to Salem atearly dawn and looking around like a “bewildered man. ” Hecannot believe that he is in the same place that he just thenight before; because to him, Salem was no longer home.
He felt like an outsider in a world of Devil worshippers andbecause his “basic means of order, his religious system, isabsent, the society he was familiar with becomesnightmarish. ” (Shear 545) He comes back to the town”projecting his guilt onto those around him. ” (Tritt 114)Brown expresses his discomfort with his new surroundingsand his excessive pride when he takes a child away from ablessing given by Goody Cloyse, his former Catechismteacher, as if he were taking the child “from the grasp of thefiend himself. ” His anger towards the community isexemplified when he sees Faith who is overwhelmed withexcitement to see him and he looks “sternly and sadly intoher face, and passed on without a greeting. ” Brown cannoteven stand to look at his wife with whom he was at theconvert service with. He feels that even though he was at theDevil’s service, he is still better than everyone else becauseof his excessive pride.
Brown feels he can push his ownfaults on to others and look down at them rather than look athimself and resolve his own faults with himself. GoodmanBrown was devastated by the discovery that the potentialfor evil resides in everybody. The rest of his life is destroyedbecause of his inability to face this truth and live with it. Thestory, which may have been a dream, and not a real lifeevent, planted the seed of doubt in Brown’s mind whichconsequently cut him off from his fellow man and leaves himalone and depressed. His life ends alone and miserablebecause he was never able to look at himself and realize thatwhat he believed were everyone else’s faults were his aswell.
His excessive pride in himself led to his isolation fromthe community. Brown was buried with “no hopeful verseupon his tombstone; for his dying hour was gloom. ” WorksCited Capps, Jack L. “Hawthorne’s Young GoodmanBrown”, Explicator, Washington D. C.
, 1982 Spring, 40:3,25. Easterly, Joan Elizabeth. “Lachrymal Imagery inHawthorne’s Young Goodman Brown”, Studies in ShortFiction, Newberry, S. C.
, 1991 Summer, 28:3, 339-43. Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “Young Goodmam Brown”, TheStory and Its Writer, 4th ed. Ed. Ann Charters.
Boston:Bedford Books of St. Martin’s Press, 1995, 595-604. Shear, Walter. “Cultural Fate and Social Freedom in ThreeAmerican Short Stories”, Studies in Short Fiction,Newberry, S. C.
, 1992 Fall, 29:4, 543-549. Tritt, Michael.”Young Goodman Brown and the Psychology ofProjection”, Studies in Short Fiction, Newberry, S.C., 1986Winter, 23:1, 113-117.Book Reports