Young Goodman Brown

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Young Goodman Brown Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Nathaniel Hawthorne's Young Goodman Brown. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Nathaniel Hawthorne
The descendent of infamously harsh Puritans, and the only child of a sea captain who died when Hawthorne was four, Nathaniel Hawthorne grew up in Salem, Massachusetts. As a child, Hawthorne injured his leg and was forced to spend a year in bed; he developed a love for reading during this time. He attended Bowdoin College, then worked as an editor and wrote short stories, many of which, including “Young Goodman Brown,” were published in his 1837 collection Twice-Told Tales. In 1841 he joined the transcendentalist Utopian community at Brook Farm, which, in 1842, he left to marry Sophia Peabody. They moved back to Salem. In a remarkable streak that lasted from 1850 to 1860, he wrote The Scarlet Letter, one of the first true best-selling novels in the United States, The House of the Seven Gables, often regarded as his greatest book, The Blithedale Romance, his only work written in the first person, and The Marble Faun, an influential collection of poetry. Hawthorne died in 1864, only a few months before the end of the Civil War. His reputation in America was so great that the most important writers of the era, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., Louisa May Alcott, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, were pallbearers at his funeral.
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Historical Context of Young Goodman Brown
The Puritans began in the 16th century as a group of English Protestants who sought to purify the Church of England of the remnants of Roman Catholicism. In 1628, John Winthrop led a group of Puritans (who were persecuted in England) from England to Massachusetts, where they hoped to create a “city upon a hill.” In the 1670s, the Puritans of Massachusetts fought one of the deadliest wars in American history against the Native Americans of southern New England. In August, 1676, the Puritans captured and beheaded the Native American leader, Metacom, also called King Philip; they interpreted their victory as a sign of God’s favor and the deadly toll as a spiritual purge of their community. In 1692 and 1693, the Puritans of Salem held the Salem witch trials, a series of hearings, prosecutions, and executions that resulted in the deaths of twenty people, mostly women, on the grounds that they practiced witchcraft. Later it was generally understood that the proceedings were the result of hysteria rather than justice or evidence.
Other Books Related to Young Goodman Brown
Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter deals with similar themes of sin and hypocrisy in a Puritan small town. Arthur Miller’s 1952 play The Crucible dramatizes the Salem witch trials (again dealing with similar themes of sin and hypocrisy) while also allegorize the 1950s black lists and Communist-outing hysteria led by Senator Eugene McCarthy. William Bradford’s journal, Of Plymouth Plantation, describes conditions in Plymouth Colony from 1620 to 1657. The Puritan pastor Cotton Mather’s 1710 essay Theopholis Americana: An Essay on the Golden Street of the Holy City describes the Puritan’s dreams for a holy land in America. Jill Lepore’s nonfiction book The Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity recounts the brutal 1670s war between the Puritans and the Native Americans, in which Goodman Brown’s father fought.
Key Facts about Young Goodman Brown
  • Full Title: “Young Goodman Brown”
  • When Written: 1835
  • Where Written: Salem, Massachusetts
  • When Published: 1835 and 1846
  • Literary Period: American Romanticism
  • Genre: Short story, allegory
  • Setting: 17th century Salem, Massachusetts
  • Climax: When Goodman Brown calls on Faith to resist the devil
  • Antagonist: The devil, the hypocrisy of the Puritans
  • Point of View: Third person
Extra Credit for Young Goodman Brown

Descendant of a witch trial judge. Hawthorne was a descendent of John Hathorne, a Puritan judge who ordered the execution of the Salem Witch Trials. Hawthorne added the “w” to his name to hide his shameful ancestry.

The white whale. Herman Melville dedicated Moby-Dick to Hawthorne.