Young Goodman Brown Leaves Salem Village
Puritan Young Goodman Brown kisses his wife, Faith, goodbye at sunset as he sets out from Salem village on a journey. His "aptly named" wife entreats her husband to stay home with her "this night ... of all nights in the year." Brown says his journey must be accomplished on this specific night before sunrise and asks if she doubts him already, after just three months of marriage. He tells her to say her prayers and go to sleep to keep from being frightened. When he looks back he sees Faith watching him walk away. He wonders if her dreams revealed the intent of his journey, and he vows to never leave her again after this one night.
Brown takes a dark and lonely road, so deeply wooded it could conceal hordes of beings hiding just off the path—or even the devil. Just past a bend in the road Brown observes the Dark Figure seated beneath a tree. The Dark Figure tells Brown he is late and begins walking with him. Brown shakes a bit even though his meeting with the Dark Figure is no surprise—this meeting is his intended destination. The Dark Figure is about 50 years old, and he resembles Brown's father in looks and dress. His walking stick looks like a wriggling black serpent; perhaps this is an optical illusion in the darkening woods.
Brown wants to turn back, but the Dark Figure says Brown can always turn back later. Brown worries he is the first of his family to attempt such an errand and keep such company. The Dark Figure corrects him: in fact Brown's father and grandfather were his good friends. Brown says his relatives never mentioned the Dark Figure and would not tolerate wickedness, but he starts dropping the names of all his high-level friends, including churchmen. Brown notes that powerful people may live by different standards; he is just a simple man. If he keeps going on this journey, he wonders how he will ever face his minister again. This query causes the older man to laugh uncontrollably.
Brown still wants to turn back; he's afraid if he keeps going he'll break Faith's heart. The Dark Figure draws his attention to the hobbling old woman ahead in the road; it's pious mentor Goody Cloyse, who taught Brown catechism or principles of the Christian religion. Afraid Goody Cloyse will see him with the Dark Figure, Brown takes a shortcut through the woods, but he watches the Dark Figure approach Goody Cloyse. She yells, "The devil!" and the Dark Figure says she recognizes him. She says yes, even though he appears as Old Goodman Brown, Young Goodman Brown's grandfather. She complains her broomstick was stolen and she already used the concoction meant to make it fly, but she doesn't want to miss the meeting at which "a nice young man" is to be inducted. Therefore, she suggests taking the Dark Figure's arm to get there faster. He offers his walking stick instead. Brown sees the Dark Figure throw the serpent staff at the woman's feet, and then she is gone.
The two men walk on; the Dark Figure is so persuasive Brown believes it's his own idea to continue. The Dark Figure takes a piece of new wood for his walking stick, and as he strips away twigs and leaves, the stick dries out and ages. When Brown sits down suddenly and refuses to proceed, the Dark Figure says he will change Brown's mind and gives him the new walking stick to help him travel faster. Then the Dark Figure disappears. Brown congratulates himself on turning away from wickedness, relieved that now he can meet the eyes of his spiritual leaders and pass the night with his pure and innocent wife, Faith. When he hears horses approaching Brown hides, still ashamed of his earlier plans for the evening.
Brown hears two serious voices and sees branches move as if people are passing on horseback, but he can't see anyone. He believes he recognizes the voices of the minister and Deacon Gookin. Deacon Gookin's voice says community members from far and wide are coming to tonight's meeting, including Indians who "know almost as much deviltry as the best of us." Additionally "a goodly young woman" will join their ranks tonight. The minister's voice says to hurry.
As the hooves clatter away Brown tries not to faint. He looks up, by now doubting heaven even exists, but the sky and the stars look the same as ever. He vows, "With heaven above and Faith below, I will yet stand firm against the devil!"
A cloud passes over the stars, carrying with it voices of pious churchgoers and ungodly tavern patrons alike. Brown doubts what he hears—maybe it is all just the sounds of the forest. Now he hears a young woman's voice begging for something. "Faith!" Brown yells, and his cry's echoes seem to mock him. He listens for a reply but hears a scream. Voices get louder again and trail off into laughter. The cloud moves into the distance, and the sky is clear again. A pink ribbon flutters down. "My Faith is gone!" he says. The world already belongs to the devil.
Brown grabs the walking stick, which flies him down the road until the path closes up and he is in wilderness, "still rushing onward with the instinct that guides mortal man to evil." Although the forest is filled with terrifying sounds, Brown is as frightening as anything else out there. He summons all the evildoers, saying they should fear him.
Gesturing wildly, shouting in laughter, and blaspheming, Brown flies on through the dark forest until he sees a red light like a bonfire. He thinks he hears church hymns, but the sounds morph into sounds of the wilderness, and his cries are lost in the sound.
A clearing in the woods reveals a stone pulpit and a huge congregation illuminated by fire. Brown catalogs the attendees: council board members, church leaders, the governor's wife and her friends, honorable wives, widows, spinsters, virgins, Deacon Gookin, and the minister. To his surprise they are joined by the least reputable people of the village, known for their vices and crimes. Neither group avoids the other—they are united. Even Indian priests, considered the most terrifying, are among their number. Brown doesn't see Faith and hopes she isn't there.
Through a fiery arch on the pulpit, the Dark Figure calls for the converts. Brown steps forward in admission of his own wickedness. He perceives his father's ghost calling him forward and his mother's ghost halting him. The minister and Deacon Gookin grab him and hurry him to the pulpit. A slender, veiled woman is brought forward. The Dark Figure details the crowd's sins: old men seducing young maids, wives poisoning their husbands, young men hastening their inheritances, and new mothers killing their newborn babies. Brown and Faith, now present, soon will perceive sins everywhere; the world is stained with guilt. The Dark Figure says Brown and Faith relied on each other in the hope of some goodness in the world but now they will know better: "Evil is the nature of mankind."
The congregation says welcome, and the Dark Figure prepares a baptism. Brown and Faith tremble as they hesitate on the brink of evil; soon they will see all the sins and wretchedness around them. Brown cries out to Faith to resist.
Suddenly Brown is alone; all is quiet. The rock pulpit is cold, and the formerly fiery branches are wet with dew.
Young Goodman Brown Returns to Salem Village
The next morning Brown staggers back to Salem village and sees the minister, Deacon Gookin, and Goody Cloyse at their usual holy tasks. Faith, with her pink ribbons, runs to him joyfully and almost kisses him in the street, but Brown walks by sternly.
Throughout his life Brown never escapes the effects of his experience. He hears the evil song in place of psalms, expects the roof to cave in on all the hypocrites in church, and scowls at his wife and family when they pray. Although his wife, children, grandchildren, and neighbors attend his funeral, Young Goodman Brown's death is as miserable as his life.
The setting of "Young Goodman Brown" is Salem village, a Puritan settlement, and not coincidentally Nathaniel Hawthorne's birthplace and ancestral home. The story takes place around the time of the infamous witch trials of 1692, a dark era in American history and one in which Hawthorne's own ancestor participated as a judge. Although Hawthorne does not explicitly state a date in "Young Goodman Brown," he orients the reader by saying the Dark Figure wouldn't be out of place in King William's court: "He had an indescribable air of one who knew the world, and who would not have felt abashed at the governor's dinner table or in King William's court, were it possible that his affairs should call him thither." Hawthorne is referring to King William III, who ruled England, Ireland, and Scotland from 1689 until his death in 1702. This is the present day in the story, and the witch trials fit within the span of those dates.
A generation earlier the Dark Figure helped Goodman Brown, the protagonist's father, burn an Indian village during King Phillip's War of 1675–76. Two generations back, the Dark Figure helped Old Goodman Brown, the protagonist's grandfather, whip a Quaker woman in the streets of Salem, another detail taken from Hawthorne's own ancestry. The Quakers arrived in Puritan territory in the 1650s. These setting details reveal not only when the story takes place but also the backstory of generation after generation of evil Browns.
At first Young Goodman Brown's problem seems a simple one: He must leave home for the night, and his sweet, perhaps petulant, young wife begs him not to go. One unusual detail is the time of his departure—why would he begin a "journey" at sunset? Brown says he can accomplish his aim only between sunset and sunrise. There are other odd details: Faith refers to Brown's "journey" but neither she nor Brown is more specific about it, Faith is fearful of being left alone with her nightmares, and she is concerned that he is leaving on this night in particular: "Pray tarry with me this night, dear husband, of all nights in the year." What is so worrisome about this night? Clearly Brown and Faith know something readers do not. Hawthorne never explicitly states what the "journey" is about; he simply shows events unfolding as Brown experiences them. For his part Brown keeps the purpose of his mission secret from Faith, contributing to her "melancholy air."
Later in the story readers may infer the meeting in the clearing is a witches' Sabbath, often held on specific nights: solstices, equinoxes, the eve of May Day, and All Hallows Eve. Like the rest of the 17th-century world, the Salem Puritans believed in and feared witches. Surely a pious young Puritan couple would stay in when witches are flying to their Sabbath. Hawthorne foreshadows that Brown will pay dearly for rejecting such wisdom; as Brown looks at his wife, Hawthorne writes, "Methought as she spoke there was trouble in her face, as if a dream had warned her what work is to be done tonight." Brown thinks his wife may have premonitions of his true plans, whatever they may be. Does he set off on this journey to satisfy his curiosity? Does he want to prove his own goodness to himself? Does he hope to defeat evil? Whatever he hopes to gain the prospect is irresistible, but Brown already looks ahead to when his journey ends. He says of Faith, "After this one night I'll cling to her skirts and follow her to heaven."
With the first instance of rising action, Brown's fate is sealed, though he does not know it yet. He has arranged a meeting with the Dark Figure, and keeping the appointment puts him on a course from which he can no longer deviate, try as he might. Brown wants to turn around, go home, and avoid breaking Faith's heart as the Dark Figure exposes his affiliation with generations of Browns and other prominent people in politics and the Church. Brown's illusions of Puritan piety begin to fall away—an important theme in the story. As the Dark Figure later says, "Evil is the nature of mankind." Hypocrisy is another important theme: Brown is disgusted by the hypocrisy of seemingly pious Goody Cloyse, Deacon Gookin, and the minister, but he witnesses this hypocrisy only because of the wickedness growing within him.
The story is an allegory of the devil leading man to acknowledge the evil within himself and the inevitability of sin: the Dark Figure is the devil, and Brown is the good man who has every reason to stay good, including a devoted wife. The serpent staff, akin to the biblical snake in the Garden of Eden, represents the irresistible impulses or temptations in every human's heart. Brown, the everyman, cannot help but turn the corner on that Salem road and see what the devil has in store.
Young Goodman Brown Plot Diagram
1Brown leaves Salem at sunset on an unnamed errand.
2Brown meets the Dark Figure in the road, and they walk on.
3The Dark Figure makes Goody Cloyse disappear with his staff.
4Brown overhears Deacon Gookin and the minister.
5A cloud passes above carrying voices, including Faith's.
6Brown flies to the meeting.
7The Dark Figure almost inducts Brown and Faith; they resist.
8Brown, suddenly alone, staggers back to Salem.
9Suspicious of the pious, Brown lives sadly, dies in gloom.
The staff which looked like a snake is a reference to the snake in the story of Adam and Eve. The snake led Adam and Eve to their destruction by leading them to the Tree of Knowledge. The Adam and Eve story is similar to Goodman Brown in that they are both seeking unfathomable amounts of knowledge. Once Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge they were expelled from their paradise. The Devil’s staff eventually leads Goodman Brown to the Devil’s ceremony which destroys Goodman Brown’s faith in his fellow man, therefore expelling him from his utopia. Goodman Brown almost immediately declares that he kept his meeting with the Devil and no longer wishes to continue on his errand with the Devil. He says that he comes from a “race of honest men and good Christians” and that his father had never gone on this errand and nor will he. The Devil is quick to point out however that he was with his father and grandfather when they were flogging a woman or burning an Indian village, respectively. These acts are ironic in that they were bad deeds done in the name of good, and it shows that he does not come from “good Christians.” When Goodman Brown’s first excuse not to carry on with the errand proves to be unconvincing, he says he can’t go because of his wife, “Faith”. And because of her, he cannot carry out the errand any further. At this point the Devil agrees with him and tells him to turn back to prevent that “Faith should come to any harm” like the old woman in front of them on the path. Ironically, Goodman Brown’s faith is harmed because the woman on the path is the woman who “taught him his catechism in youth, and was still his moral and spiritual adviser.” The Devil and the woman talk and afterward, Brown continues to walk on with the Devil in the disbelief of what he had just witnessed. Ironically, he blames the woman for consorting with the Devil but his own pride stops him from realizing that his faults are the same as the woman’s. Brown again decides that he will no longer to continue on his errand and rationalizes that just because his teacher was not going to heaven, why should he “quit my dear Faith, and go after 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 his situation and his pride in himself begins to build. He “applauds himself greatly, and thinking with how clear a conscience he should meet his minister…And what calm sleep would be his…in the arms of Faith!” This is ironic because at the end of the story, he can not even look Faith in the eye, let alone sleep in her arms. As Goodman Brown is feeling good about his strength in resisting the Devil, he hears the voices of the minister and Deacon Gookin. He overhears their conversation and hears them discuss a “goodly young woman to be taken in to communion” that evening at that night’s meeting and fears that it may be his Faith. When Goodman Brown hears this he becomes weak and falls to the ground. He “begins to doubt whether there really was a Heaven above him” and this is a key point when Goodman Brown’s faith begins to wain. Goodman Brown in panic declares that “With Heaven above, and Faith below, I will yet stand firm against the devil!” Again, Brown makes a promise to keep his faith unto God. Then “a black mass of cloud” goes in between Brown and the sky as if to block his prayer from heaven. Brown then hears what he believed to be voices that he has before in the community. Once Goodman Brown begins to doubt whether this is really what he had heard or not, the sound comes to him again and this time it is followed by “one voice, of a young woman”. Goodman believes this is Faith and he yells out her name only to be mimicked by the echoes of the forest, as if his calls to Faith were falling on deaf ears. A pink ribbon flies through the air and Goodman grabs it. At this moment, he has lost all faith in the world and declares that there is “no good on earth.” Young Goodman Brown in this scene is easily manipulated simply by the power of suggestion. The suggestion that the woman in question is his Faith, and because of this, he easily loses his faith. Goodman Brown then loses all of his inhibitions and begins to laugh insanely. He takes hold of the staff which causes him to seem to “fly along the forest-path”. This image alludes to that of Adam and Eve being led out of the Garden of Eden as is Goodman Brown being led out of his utopia by the Devil’s snakelike staff. Hawthorne at this point remarks about “the instinct that guides mortal man to evil”. This is a direct statement from the author that he believes that man’s natural inclination is to lean to evil than good. Goodman Brown had at this point lost his faith in God, therefore there was nothing restraining his instincts from moving towards evil because he had been lead out from his utopian image of society. At this point, Goodman Brown goes mad and challenges evil. He feels that he will be the downfall of evil and that he is strong enough to overcome it all. This is another demonstration of Brown’s excessive pride and arrogance. He believes that he is better than everyone else in that he alone can destroy evil. Brown then comes upon the ceremony which is setup like a perverted Puritan temple. The altar was a rock in the middle of the congregation and there were four trees surrounding the congregation with their tops ablaze, like candles.
A red light rose and fell over the congregation which cast a veil of evil over the congregation over the devil worshippers. Brown starts to take notice of the faces that he sees in the service and he recognizes them all, but he then realizes that he does not see Faith and “hope came into his heart”. This is the first time that the word “hope” ever comes into the story and it is because this is the true turning point for Goodman Brown. If Faith was not there, as he had hoped, he would not have to live alone in his community of heathens, which he does not realize that he is already apart of. Another way that the hope could be looked at is that it is all one of “the Christian triptych”. (Capps 25) The third part of the triptych which is never mentioned throughout the story is charity. If Brown had had “charity” it would have been the “antidote that would have allowed him to survive without despair the informed state in which he returned to Salem.” (Camps 25) The ceremony then begins with a a cry to “Bring forth the converts!” Surprisingly Goodman Brown steps forward. “He had no power to retreat one step, nor to resist, even in thought…”. Goodman Brown at this point seems to be in a trance and he loses control of his body as he is unconsciously entering this service of converts to the devil. The leader of the service than addresses the crowd of converts in a disturbing manner. He informs them that all the members of the congregation are the righteous, honest, and incorruptible of the community. The sermon leader then informs the crowd of their leader’s evil deeds such as attempted murder of the spouse and wife, adultery, and obvious blasphemy. After his sermon, the leader informs them to look upon each other and Goodman Brown finds himself face to face with Faith. The leader begins up again declaring that “Evil is the nature of mankind” and he welcomes the converts to “communion of your race”. (The “communion of your race” statement reflects to the irony of Brown’s earlier statement that he comes from “a race of honest men and good Christians.”) The leader than dips his hand in the rock to draw a liquid from it and “to lay the mark of baptism upon their foreheads”. Brown than snaps out from his trance and yells “Faith! Faith! Look up to Heaven and resist the wicked one!” At this, the ceremony ends and Brown finds himself alone. He does not know whether Faith, his wife, had kept her faith, but he finds himself alone which leads him to believe that he is also alone in his faith. Throughout the story, Brown lacks emotion as a normal person would have had. The closest Brown comes to showing an emotion is when “a hanging twig, that had been all on fire, besprinkled his cheek with the coldest dew.” The dew on his cheek represents a tear that Brown is unable to produce because of his lack of emotion.
Hawthorne shows that Brown has “no compassion for the weaknesses he sees in others, no remorse for his own sin, and no sorrow for his loss of faith.” (Easterly 339) His lack of remorse and compassion “condemns him to an anguished life that is spiritually and emotionally dissociated.” (Easterly 341) This scene is an example of how Goodman Brown chose to follow his head rather than his heart. Had Brown followed his heart, he may have still lived a good life. If he followed with his heart, he would have been able to sympathize with the community’s weaknesses, but instead, he listened to his head and excommunicated himself from the community because he only thought of them as heathens. “Young Goodman Brown” ends with Brown returning to Salem at early dawn and looking around like a “bewildered man.” He cannot believe that he is in the same place that he just the night before; because to him, Salem was no longer home. He felt like an outsider in a world of Devil worshippers and because his “basic means of order, his religious system, is absent, the society he was familiar with becomes nightmarish.” (Shear 545) He comes back to the town “projecting his guilt onto those around him.” (Tritt 114) Brown expresses his discomfort with his new surroundings and his excessive pride when he takes a child away from a blessing given by Goody Cloyse, his former Catechism teacher, as if he were taking the child “from the grasp of the fiend himself.” His anger towards the community is exemplified when he sees Faith who is overwhelmed with excitement to see him and he looks “sternly and sadly into her face, and passed on without a greeting.” Brown cannot even stand to look at his wife with whom he was at the convert service with. He feels that even though he was at the Devil’s service, he is still better than everyone else because of his excessive pride. Brown feels he can push his own faults on to others and look down at them rather than look at himself and resolve his own faults with himself.
Goodman Brown was devastated by the discovery that the potential for evil resides in everybody. The rest of his life is destroyed because of his inability to face this truth and live with it. The story, which may have been a dream, and not a real life event, planted the seed of doubt in Brown’s mind which consequently cut him off from his fellow man and leaves him alone and depressed. His life ends alone and miserable because he was never able to look at himself and realize that what he believed were everyone else’s faults were his as well. His excessive pride in himself led to his isolation from the community. Brown was buried with “no hopeful verse upon his tombstone; for his dying hour was gloom.
Capps, Jack L. “Hawthorne’s Young Goodman Brown”, Explicator, Washington D.C., 1982 Spring, 40:3, 25. Easterly, Joan Elizabeth. “Lachrymal Imagery in Hawthorne’s Young Goodman Brown”, Studies in Short Fiction, Newberry, S.C., 1991 Summer, 28:3, 339-43. Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “Young Goodmam Brown”, The Story 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 Three American Short Stories”, Studies in Short Fiction, Newberry, S.C., 1992 Fall, 29:4, 543-549. Tritt, Michael. “Young Goodman Brown and the Psychology of Projection”, Studies in Short Fiction, Newberry, S.C., 1986 Winter, 23:1, 113-117.