Young Goodman Brown Summary

Young Goodman Brown by Nathaniel Hawthorne

     This short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne features Goodman (which is an old-fashioned way of saying mister) Brown who lives with his wife of three months, Faith in Salem village during the time of the Puritans. He tells her that he must go on a journey, and he heads into the woods. Once there, he meets a man who tries to persuade Goodman Brown to go with him, but Brown is reluctant. The man says that he knew Brown's father and grandfather and helped them in wicked ways. It soon becomes clear that the man Brown is talking to is the devil. Goodman wants to stay true to his faith, referring to both his religious beliefs and his wife, which the devil finds amusing. He tells Brown that many "good" people have come to his side. Then they notice a woman nearby, and the devil goes to speak to her. Brown recognizes her as Goody Cloyse, an older woman who taught him religious education. He is surprised that this woman appears to be friends with the devil and seems to be implying that she is a witch. As Brown continues to protest going along with the devil, the devil encourages him to sit and rest awhile. Brown sits and hides himself amongst the foliage. Then two men come by on horseback. One was a deacon of the church, and they were discussing a meeting that would take place that evening at which a young woman would be taken into their group. Despite seeing religious men from town seemingly on the devil's side, Brown vows not to be taken in.

     Brown then wandered toward noises he heard deeper in the woods. He heard a woman's screams, saw his wife, and found her pink hair ribbon fall onto a branch in front of him. He declared that he had lost his faith, referring to both his wife and his convictions, so he decides to cross over to the devil's side after all. He raced toward blazing trees where many villagers along with Indians and others congregated in a sort of powwow. Goodman Brown came forward when called by the devil and saw Faith standing before the altar as well. They looked at one another as the devil was asking them to join his brood, and at the last moment, Goodman Brown looked up and told Faith to resist the devil's invitation. He did not know what she did, but he found himself back at home the next morning.

     As he walked through town, he shrank away from the people he saw. When Faith ran up joyfully to kiss him, he looked at her sadly and walked away without saying anything. He wondered if that which he had witnessed in the forest had all been a dream. Whether a dream or not, that night changed Goodman Brown into a depressed, distrustful man who lived out the rest of his life jaded by what he saw whether real or imagined.

     The story raises several questions, such as what did Brown actually see in the forest? Was it real? Did he dream it? Did the devil make him hallucinate it? Clearly, the answer is based partly on admitting that this story is a fantasy since he spoke to the devil. It also seems to say that all people have evil inside of them, the question is whether they give in to it or not. Brown didn't seem to give in to the temptation, but did Faith? Or was he just assuming she did or projecting his feelings onto her? It's a very ambiguous ending.

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