Young Goodman Brown: A Self-Portrait

Nathaniel Hawthorne was unquestionably interested in the roles of his ancestors in the Salem Witch Trials. Much of his literature combines the aspects of Puritan believed with the much deeper, frequently wicked desires of the human mind. Young Goodman Brown’s nighttime journey in the story of the same name is an allegorical re-visitation to the madness of the Salem witch trials.

Through this story, Young Goodman Brown and his journey end up being universal signs for all mankind.

Hawthorne juxtaposed 19th Century religious idea with 16th Century Puritan believed in several of his works, consisting of “Young Goodman Brown”, whose title character represents, as his name indicates, every man. The spiritual idea of both the centuries in question run on worry, which eventually leads numerous people, under the guise of getting rid of or even conquering their worries, into the world of evil.

To Hawthorne, Salem was “the center of the witchcraft delusion, in the witching times of 1692, and it shows the populace of Salem Town, those chief in authority as well as odd young residents like Brown, attracted by fiendish shapes into the terrible solitude of superstitious worry” (Abel 133). Brown, like all others of his village, is contrasted in between accepting this worry and conquering it. Unfortunately, for a lot of, this battle has dissatisfied repercussions. Brown, as a representative for all individuals, is typically naïve and accepting, and thus ill-equipped to manage the frightening night in the forest (Fogle 15). After all, it remains in the best interest of the Puritan religious leaders to keep individuals constrained under worry rather than act after the realization that all people sin.

Several signs correspond Brown’s journey to the journey of every person who battles with the conflict in between religion and self. The very first is the forest, as a symbol for the dark and evil place where people are tempted to go. Brown, himself, is drawn into the forest, an archetype for wicked and the unidentified, for the reason provided above, as an effort to get rid of the fear caused by spiritual dogma. It remains in the forest that he is exposed to his utmost worries and where he understands the drawback of mankind.

This awareness begins with the temptation of man by the devil. This devil “seeks to lure the still hesitant goodman to a witch-meeting. At the same time he progressively weakens the young man’s faith in the organizations and the men whom he has actually heretofore revered” (Fogle 17). In doing this, Brown loses his capability to run in the society of man and lives as a regretfully disillusioned, unpleasant creature. According to Levy, he “is Everyman. The deal he has struck with Satan is the universal one … (117 ). Hence, the majority of people can relate to this type of demonic bargaining which has actually become a universal style in literature.

Anther symbol which connects Brown to any human is his strict belief in another human being or institution– this time Faith, which represents both. She is referred to as wearing a cap with pink ribbons, which recommend girlishness and naiveté. In this way, she is much like every lady Abel calls these ribbons “a badge of womanly innocence” (Abel 130). However, when Brown discovers the ribbon in the woods, separated from his Faith (and faith), the symbolic significance of the ribbons modifications. Here, they signify a loss of innocence. Fogle describes that the pink of the ribbons becomes deepened into the color of blood and fire which represents faith’s demonic baptism into sin (Fogle 24). The tie of temptation and females hails back to the book of Genesis, and the awareness of Faith’s expected fall precipitates Brown’s loss. Levy calls the ribbon “the concrete evidence of Faith’s desertion” (117) which parallels some defining minute in which many individuals lose their faith. This personalizes the loss for Brown, as it is for all individuals.

As Brown passes through the forest, he encounters other individuals. One, who looks noticeably like Brown, accompanies him for a while. While the reader understands that this guy should be one of Brown’s forefathers, Brown himself is blind to the similarities. This male takes on the role of buddy and indicates to Brown that his own ancestors made a comparable journey, which Brown likewise overlooks. Their encounter with Goody Cloyse is symbolic for two factors. First, the encounter has Scriptural implications and 2nd, it represents another moment if disillusionment for Brown. The staff is mentioned numerous times in the Bible. In one story Aaron throws his staff at the feet of the evil Pharoah and it developed into a snake. The serpent represents evil. When the companion throws is personnel at the feet of Goody Cloyse, it likewise becomes a serpent, showing her evil nature too (Hale, 17).

This distresses Brown, who does not understand why his Sunday School instructor would be in the middle of the wicked forest. “That old female taught me my catechism” (Hawthorne 303). The catechism was actually the only source of literature about pious living besides the Bible. Brown most likely learned all about the sins of the flesh from Goody Cloyse and ironically, she is here in the forest of evil. Brown continues to come across other spiritual officials in the forest which parallels the awe and unhappiness of any person who discovers a religious icon has acted in a hypocritical way.

Eventually, Brown loses his internal battle. The awareness that everyone he had actually revered was not what he had actually envisioned them to be forces him to give in to the evil of the forest wholeheartedly. He shouts out, “Come witch, come wizard, come Indian powwow, come devil himself! And here comes Goodman Brown. You may also fear him as he fear you!” (Hawthorne 306). Obviously, the story ends with uncertainty. Did Brown truly witness a devilish marriage? Did Faith actually submit to the altar of the devil? The reader and Brown never really know the response to these questions.

Once Brown awakens, all evidence is gone. He goes back to his Faith, his seniors and his life. Faith is as soon as again adorned in her pink ribbons, which “… recommend, rather than signify something light and playful, constant with her anxious simpleness at the beginning and the cheerful, nearly childish eagerness with which she welcomes Brown at the end” (Levy 124). Brown’s journey has come full circle. Unfortunately, the truth does not matter as much as Brown’s interpretation of the occasions that may or might not have actually been a dream. He is unable to reconcile his initial conceptions of individuals in his life (or himself) with what he experienced on his journey. Though his life with Faith continues, “… his dying hour was gloom” (Hawthorne 310).

Clearly, this parallels with the experiences of humanity. Disillusionment prevails, and it can cause anguish, sin and even death. Loss of faith in a private or in an institution is devastating. Many times this loss marks the individual for life, preventing them from enjoying what life has to provide. Approval of sin and corruption is extremely difficult to take, particularly of an enjoyed one or a firmly held belief.

Hawthorne clearly embraced the idea that “unlovely satanic forces were everywhere, in the sunshine along with in the darkness, and that they were concealed in guys’s hearts and took into their most secret thoughts” (Abel 133). Young Goodman Brown is indicative of every good male’s fight with such devils. As the story indicates, this fight is more often lost than won, however most people have the ability to continue living their lives in spite of this acquiescence to evil. Some, however, such as Goodman Brown, are not able to do so. According to Abel, “such a fight often caused an inner misery. They were continuously tortured because of the possible convictions and judgments of their peers. This fight intrigued Hawthorne and he sought out its presence in Puritan literature” (133 ). “Young Goodman Brown” is the story of all individuals’s inner battles. Some win; some lose.

Functions Pointed out

Abel, Darrel. The Moral Picturesque: Research studies in Hawthorne’s Fiction. Indiana: Purdue UP,


Fogle, Richard Harter. Hawthorne’s Fiction: The Light and the Dark. Norman: U of

Oklahoma P, 1952

Hale, John K. “The Serpentine Staff in ‘Young Goodman Brown.'” Nathaniel Hawthorne

Evaluation 19 (Fall 1993): 17-18.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “Young Goodman Brown.” Perrine’s Literature: Structure Sound and Sense. 9th Ed. Arp and Johnson Eds. Boston: Thomson, 2006

Levy, Leo B. “The Problem of Faith in ‘Young Goodman Brown.'” Modern Critcial Views:

Nathaniel Hawthorne. Ed. Harold Flower. New York: Chelsea House, 1986. 115-126.