Young Goodman Brown

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Themes and Colors
The Hypocrisy of Puritanism Theme Icon
Losing Faith and Innocence Theme Icon
Nature and the Supernatural Theme Icon
Saints vs. Sinners Theme Icon
Family and Individual Choice Theme Icon
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Losing Faith and Innocence Theme Icon

“Young Goodman Brown” is the story of how a young “good” man named Goodman Brown loses his innocent belief in religious faith. Goodman Brown’s loss of innocence happens during a vivid nightmare in which he ventures into a dark forest and sees all of the people he had considered faithful in his life gathered around a fire at a witches’ conversion ceremony with the devil presiding from on high. By the end of his journey into the woods, Goodman Brown learns that even the purest outward display of faith can mask underlying sin.

Goodman Brown’s wife, Faith, is the embodiment of faith and purity, even in her actual name. Goodman Brown’s internal conflict is based on whether to “keep the faith.” At first the struggle is literal: his wife begs him to remain at home and not head off into the woods; Goodman Brown’s decision to leave behind Faith becomes a metaphor for his epiphany about religion, which he similarly abandons at the end of the story. When Faith begs him not to leave her for the night, Goodman Brown wonders if Faith has lost faith in him; he asks, wondering if she’s questioning his fidelity, “dost thou doubt me already, and we but three months married?” Faith remains a symbol of Goodman Brown’s religious faith throughout the story: when Goodman Brown first meets up with the devil, the devil accuses him of being late, which Goodman Brown explains by saying “Faith kept me back a while,” a play on words meant to refer literally to his wife Faith begging him not to leave, and figuratively to his religious faith, which could have stopped him from meeting up with the devil, but didn’t.

The pink ribbons that flow from Faith’s cap represent faith and purity; Hawthorne refers to them five times throughout the story, each time at a pivotal moment when Goodman Brown is feeling lost or troubled; the ribbons remind him of the purity of faith, but also of its shallowness. When Goodman Brown sees Faith at the witches’ meeting, he realizes that the ribbons were merely a superficial outward symbol, not proof of actual piety. When he screams out for Faith after hearing her voice among the throng of heathens at the witches’ ceremony, a pink ribbon falls from the sky. When Goodman Brown sees his wife participating in the witches’ meeting in the woods, he simultaneously loses his Faith (his wife) and his faith (his religion). Whereas Faith once represented perfection and the path to salvation, now Goodman Brown looks toward her, with the witches’ fire reflecting in her eyes, and sees only a “polluted wretch.” He looks up into the black sky and cries, "My Faith is gone!" The blissful newlywed bounding out from his happy home in the first scene has become an “unhappy husband,” tragically stripped of Faith and his faith.

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Losing Faith and Innocence Quotes in Young Goodman Brown

Below you will find the important quotes in Young Goodman Brown related to the theme of Losing Faith and Innocence.
Young Goodman Brown Quotes

"Dearest heart," whispered she, softly and rather sadly, when her lips were close to his ear, "pr'y thee, put off your journey until sunrise, and sleep in your own bed to-night. A lone woman is troubled with such dreams and such thoughts, that she's afeard of herself, sometimes. Pray, tarry with me this night, dear husband, of all nights in the year!"

Related Characters: Faith (speaker), Goodman Brown
Page Number: 193
Explanation and Analysis:

Faith's plea for Goodman Brown to stay with her instead of leaving on his journey introduces the moral conflict of the story. Goodman Brown can listen to his wife Faith (who also stands in for his religious faith) and remain in Salem, or he can journey into the woods. It's significant that the story begins with Goodman Brown in a conflict with Faith about his journey; this lets readers know that there are moral stakes to his journey, in that he seems to be leaving his wife (and, metaphorically, his religious faith) in peril by going.

Faith's insistence that she cannot be home alone with her thoughts and dreams is also significant, as it is a statement that reverberates throughout the story. For the Puritans, thoughts and dreams present real danger, and sin is not limited to a person's literal actions. Her statement might mean that Faith, whom Goodman Brown assumes is innocent and pure, is capable of imagining or dreaming the same experience of sin that Goodman Brown finds in the forest. This interpretation is strengthened by Faith's presence in the woods later that night, and by the narrator's speculation at the end of the story that Goodman Brown's experience in the woods might have been a nightmare or simply imagined. While this quotation seems rather innocuous at the beginning of the story, as Goodman Brown moves through the nightmarish woods it begins to take on a darkness that it did not originally possess, hinting that even Faith, the emblem of Puritan goodness, might herself be capable of sin. 

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"You are late, Goodman Brown," said he. "The clock of the Old South was striking, as I came through Boston; and that is full fifteen minutes agone."
"Faith kept me back awhile," replied the young man, with a tremor in his voice, caused by the sudden appearance of his companion, though not wholly unexpected.

Related Characters: Goodman Brown (speaker), The Devil (speaker), Faith
Page Number: 195
Explanation and Analysis:

This quotation serves to make clear, if it wasn't already, the double meaning of Faith's name. When Goodman Brown tells the man that Faith kept him back awhile, he means not simply his wife but also his religious faith, which has caused him to doubt whether he should continue into the woods. Any instance in which Faith's name or person appears in "Young Goodman Brown" can be read with this double meaning.

The woods have been presented so far as frightening and dangerous, and the devil's appearance in the woods cements Goodman Brown's inkling that the woods are full of sin. As the story progresses, though, it becomes clear that evil is not limited to the woods. This is foreshadowed in this quotation when the devil indicates that he has just been in Boston, an orderly and pious city that is, like Salem, full of good Puritans. Just as the devil is not only found in the woods, Goodman Brown is destined to learn that evil and sin are not limited to the woods; wickedness pervades even the town of Salem, a place which Goodman Brown believed to be pure. 

But the only thing about him that could be fixed upon as remarkable was his staff, which bore the likeness of a great black snake, so curiously wrought that it might almost be seen to twist and wriggle itself like a living serpent.

Related Characters: The Devil
Related Symbols: The devil’s serpent staff
Page Number: 195
Explanation and Analysis:

Though the man is plainly dressed, the presence of the snakelike staff reveals that the man is likely the devil. The fact that the devil is dressed in a way that would make him seem at home (and even respectable) in Goodman Brown's Puritan community serves to erode the plausibility of Goodman Brown's Puritan worldview in which those who appear to be upstanding must truly be good. This is another step towards Goodman Brown's realization that the possibility of sin is everywhere, and not just in places and people outside of Goodman Brown's community. 

Additionally, the quote is foreboding in that it recalls the serpent in the Biblical Garden of Eden, which is what introduces sin into the world when it tempts Adam and Eve with knowledge. The devil can be seen, too, as tempting Goodman Brown with knowledge in an effort to introduce him to sin. Because the staff is made of wood, a natural material, that appears to be wriggling (a supernatural act associated with evil), this quotation begins the story's conflation of evil with nature, which points to the complexity Hawthorne wants us to see in both the "forest" and in human nature, which is capable of both goodness and sin. 

“I have been as well acquainted with your family as with ever a one among the Puritans; and that's no trifle to say. I helped your grandfather, the constable, when he lashed the Quaker woman so smartly through the streets of Salem; and it was I that brought your father a pitch-pine knot, kindled at my own hearth, to set fire to an Indian village, in King Philip's war.”

Related Characters: The Devil (speaker), Goodman Brown’s Father, Goodman’s Grandfather
Page Number: 196
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the devil is successfully eroding all of Goodman Brown's scruples about continuing down the path to sin. A major obstacle to him accepting sin is his family lineage, which he believes to be made entirely of good Salem Puritans. The devil, by informing Goodman Brown of his own relationship with Goodman Brown's family and ancestors, manipulates Goodman Brown's weak sense of morality, which rests on considering how he would be seen by his family and community. Note that this tactic would never work if Goodman Brown's sense of morality involved personally evaluating individual situations for himself.

The devil's examples of his actions also show how Hawthorne depicts evil as something very human and pervasive—not necessarily something supernatural or black-and-white, as the Puritans want to believe. Religious persecution, war, and murder are often justified by religion, but that doesn't make them any less evil or "devilish."

“"I marvel they never spoke of these matters; or, verily, I marvel not, seeing that the least rumor of the sort would have driven them from New England. We are a people of prayer, and good works to boot, and abide no such wickedness.”

Related Characters: Goodman Brown (speaker), The Devil, Goodman Brown’s Father, Goodman Brown’s Mother
Page Number: 196
Explanation and Analysis:
Goodman Brown here reveals a key problem with the repressive nature of Puritanism. Because someone's morality is understood in Puritan society as being tied to their outward appearance of goodness and purity, discussion of a person's failings or moral ambiguity is strictly taboo. Perhaps Goodman Brown would have been better able to understand his own sinful impulses if his family had discussed their experiences with him, but he has never heard these matters spoken of, and it distresses him. It only distresses him for a moment, though, since he immediately recognizes that the smallest rumor of the family's wickedness could have led to ostracism from their community, so it wouldn't have been worth the risk of bringing up the subject at all. This silencing of discussion in Puritan society directly leads to Goodman Brown's ineptitude at handling the situation in the woods, and at the end of the quotation we see Goodman Brown return to his self-delusion about the purity of his family ("[we] abide no such wickedness"), the kind of black-and-white logic that prevents him from coming to a nuanced understanding of sin.

“What if a wretched old woman do choose to go to the devil when I thought she was going to heaven: is that any reason why I should quit my dear Faith and go after her?"

Related Characters: Goodman Brown (speaker), Faith, The Devil, Goody Cloyse
Page Number: 198
Explanation and Analysis:
At this point in the story, Faith's presumed purity and morality are the only things keeping Goodman Brown from giving himself over to the devil. Despite all the hypocrisy that the devil has revealed (Goodman Brown's family's association with the devil, the community's secret sins, and even his own ability to resist sin), Goodman Brown is still clinging to the last scraps of his faith. It is notable here that Goodman Brown is speaking of "quitting" Faith his wife, rather than faith his religion. In this moment of trying to resist the devil, Goodman Brown is appealing to another person, rather than to his God or his own internal moral convictions. The Puritan tendency to locate faith in the seeming goodness of other people rather than in knowing the self to be virtuous is in evidence here.

"My Faith is gone!" cried he, after one stupefied moment. "There is no good on earth; and sin is but a name. Come, devil; for to thee is this world given."

Related Characters: Goodman Brown (speaker), Faith, The Devil
Page Number: 200
Explanation and Analysis:

Once Goodman Brown believes that Faith has gone to the devil, he no longer has the strength to resist wickedness, and he literally (though this is a play on words) loses his faith. This points to the fact that Goodman Brown's faith is something that depends on the behavior of others, rather than something that comes from within himself. This also points to the extremism of his ideology: that after seeing that several members of his community have sinned, he believes that "there is no good on earth." Outside of Puritanism, this logic would be absurd, but the black-and-white, good vs. evil logic of Puritanism drives him to a despairing conclusion about the nature of the world. Indeed, he is driven to so much despair that he declares that "sin is but a name." By this he implies that to call something sinful is meaningless, since sin is the natural condition of the world. 

The road grew wilder and drearier and more faintly traced, and vanished at length, leaving him in the heart of the dark wilderness, still rushing onward with the instinct that guides mortal man to evil.

Related Characters: Goodman Brown
Page Number: 201
Explanation and Analysis:

Throughout the story, Hawthorne has used imagery of the forest, trees, darkness, and wilderness to symbolize the presence (and danger) of sin. Here, in saying that "the road grew wilder" and then describing the road vanishing altogether, Hawthorne is using imagery to allude to Goodman Brown's despairing abandonment of the morality that he followed in Salem. The presence of the path represented a clear road back to Salem, and also a civilizing influence on the dark and evil woods. In this passage, the reader is led to understand that Goodman Brown has sinned irreversibly. The path is gone, and he can not now trace it back to the town and the morality he once espoused.

This passage can also be read as a dark comment on human nature. For the first time Goodman Brown is in the literal wilderness, with no path and no hint of the goodness of Salem. In this moment, he is described as being guided by an instinct towards evil. Since Goodman Brown is now fully in nature and suddenly finds his own nature taken over by an instinct towards evil, this can be seen as Hawthorne implying that humans are at least all prone to evil, if not naturally evil altogether.  

"Let us hear which will laugh loudest. Think not to frighten me with your deviltry. Come witch, come wizard, come Indian powwow, come devil himself, and here comes Goodman Brown. You may as well fear him as he fear you."

Related Characters: Goodman Brown (speaker), The Devil
Page Number: 201
Explanation and Analysis:

Goodman Brown has not only accepted now that he is a sinner, but he seems to have embraced it, too. In this quotation, he is speaking to the wind, which Hawthorne described as having laughed at him. As Hawthorne uses natural elements to imply moral dangers, Goodman Brown's taunting of the wind indicates that he is no longer threatened by the presence of sin. In fact, he summons sin ("Come witch, come wizard..."), and includes himself in the list of sinful entities. Thus, even though Goodman Brown has relinquished his commitment to Puritan morality, he is still operating within the Puritan worldview in which, now that he has sinned, he must be just as bad as "the devil himself." The Puritan worldview allows for no middle ground here, which is why Goodman Brown's taunt that the devil should fear Goodman Brown as Goodman Brown fears the devil seems somewhat extreme. 

The fiend in his own shape is less hideous than when he rages in the breast of man.

Related Characters: The Devil
Page Number: 201
Explanation and Analysis:

In this somewhat opaque sentence, Hawthorne describes Goodman Brown's transformation while also commenting on the nature of evil itself. Goodman Brown feels that he has become one of the wicked things that he once feared and despised. Hawthorne's wording, though, implies that Goodman Brown is, in some sense, also possessed by something outside of himself. It seems from this sentence that he is enacting a wickedness that he knows from Puritanism, but that is not "in its own shape," or is not natural to him. This, Hawthorne tells us, is much more terrible than something wicked acting in its own nature.

At the same time, Hawthorne also seems to be making a point about the humanity of evil. In Goodman Brown's Puritan worldview, he has been trained to see evil as something external and supernatural, existing as wicked magic or acts of the devil himself. Here Goodman Brown seems possessed and entirely given over to his stereotype of evil, but Hawthorne also suggests that the most terrible kinds of evil appear "in the breast of man"—through natural human wickedness. This connects to the devil's earlier claim that he had helped Goodman Brown's ancestors to beat an innocent woman or to burn an Indian village. These are acts that have nothing supernatural or religious about them, but they are still indisputably evil.

But, irreverently consorting with these grave, reputable, and pious people, these elders of the church, these chaste dames and dewy virgins, there were men of dissolute lives and women of spotted fame, wretches given over to all mean and filthy vice, and suspected even of horrid crimes. It was strange to see that the good shrank not from the wicked, nor were the sinners abashed by the saints.

Page Number: 202
Explanation and Analysis:

This passage reminds readers that all hope is not yet lost for Goodman Brown—he has not yet physically glimpsed Faith in the clearing, and thus he is still able, against all odds, to be surprised that the "good" people in his community are consorting with those of ill repute. Clearly, by this point in the story, Hawthorne has let us know that reputation and outward appearance have little to do with a person's capacity for sin, but Goodman Brown, in this moment maintaining hope that Faith is still pure, makes a naive observation that those of strong faith are not revolted by the "true" sinners. This shows that he is still beholden to the Puritan view that someone is either wholly good or wholly bad, and that those qualities align with a person's appearance or reputation. 

He could have well-nigh sworn that the shape of his own dead father beckoned him to advance, looking downward from a smoke wreath, while a woman, with dim features of despair, threw out her hand to warn him back. Was it his mother?

Related Characters: Goodman Brown, Goodman Brown’s Father, Goodman Brown’s Mother
Page Number: 203
Explanation and Analysis:

A consistent issue with Goodman Brown's faith (and, by proxy, Puritan faith in general) has been that his morals are given to him by those in his family and community, and thus morality seems to mean little more to him than preserving his reputation or family tradition. When Goodman Brown is at a pivotal moment in the ritual in the woods, figures that appear to be his parents give him conflicting instructions about what to do. Because of this, he is unable to make a choice at all. Goodman Brown no longer believes his family to be good and pure, but he is not able to repudiate them and make his own choice either, which means he is condemned to repeat their same mistakes and carry on the legacy of hypocritical Puritanism in his own family.

"There," resumed the sable form, "are all whom ye have reverenced from youth. Ye deemed them holier than yourselves, and shrank from your own sin, contrasting it with their lives of righteousness and prayerful aspirations heavenward. Yet here are they all in my worshipping assembly.”

Related Characters: The Devil (speaker), Goodman Brown, Faith
Page Number: 203
Explanation and Analysis:
This is a quite literal statement of the hypocrisy of Puritanism. The devil tells the congregated townspeople that those in the community who were considered most pure, those who were considered to be the moral examples of the town, have, in fact, been living lives of sin. This is intended to upend Goodman Brown's faith and worldview, as the devil understands that Goodman Brown's faith has not given him strong personal moral convictions. Instead, his faith is based on comparing himself to the upright appearances of people in his community and maintaining the appearance of being good himself. Because this faith exists only relative to others, the devil can easily challenge it by revealing to Goodman Brown (or by appearing to reveal to him) that his community is full of hypocrites and sinners.

By the blaze of the hell-kindled torches, the wretched man beheld his Faith, and the wife her husband, trembling before that unhallowed altar.

Related Characters: Goodman Brown, Faith
Page Number: 204
Explanation and Analysis:

This ushers in the climax of the story in which Goodman Brown's worst fear, that Faith is impure, is realized. Until this moment he has not physically glimpsed her, and could thus hold out hope that Puritan ideals were still pure in at least one person he respects. Because his faith is so tied to his illusions about his pure community (rather than self-knowledge of goodness and a personal conviction to be good) this revelation about Faith marks the foreclosing of the last possibility for Goodman Brown to maintain idealism about Puritanism. This cements for him the notion that family and community are not to be trusted. 

It is also significant that the red light in which he glimpses Faith and the other members of his community is described as a "blaze of hell-kindled torches." This is another instance of Hawthorne's blending the natural with the supernatural and with evil. The fact that Goodman Brown has seen Faith literally in the light of hell raises questions about what he has actually seen. Is his Puritanism causing him to see her sin in "the worst light" rather than having a nuanced understanding of the complexity of her character and morality? Or has he been tricked by the supernatural into seeing something that doesn't exist? This statement is ambiguous, but it certainly gives readers reason to be suspicious of what Goodman Brown believes he is seeing.

“Depending upon one another's hearts, ye had still hoped that virtue were not all a dream. Now are ye undeceived. Evil is the nature of mankind. Evil must be your only happiness. Welcome again, my children, to the communion of your race.”

Related Characters: The Devil (speaker), Goodman Brown, Faith
Page Number: 204
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the devil plays to the black-and-white distinctions made between good and evil people in Puritanism. While it might be possible to attend such a gathering and understand that the people there have sinned but are not necessarily wholly evil, Goodman Brown and the devil subscribe to a much more extreme division of people, as is evident here. Since Goodman Brown has glimpsed his young wife consorting with the devil, he is susceptible to the devil's pronouncement that "evil is the nature of mankind," an extreme statement by any logic except that of Puritanism. 

This passage also speaks to the way that Puritanism externalizes faith, as believers derive their own faith from the appearance of virtue in those around them. The devil refers to the community having depended on "one another's hearts" in order to "hope that virtue were not all a dream." In this way, the devil's words suggest that if the Puritans had a more internalized sense of morality and virtue they would be able to look inside themselves and understand goodness, which would make them able to resist the cynicism inspired by seeing their community sin. Of course, this kind of internalized faith is unlikely by Puritan logic, since everyone is tempted by sin, and the strict Puritan division between wholly good and wholly bad means that if virtue came from within then everyone would know that they were not wholly virtuous. This whole story functions as a critique of the logical end of such a pattern of belief.

"Faith! Faith!" cried the husband, "look up to heaven, and resist the wicked one."

Related Characters: Goodman Brown (speaker), Faith, The Devil
Page Number: 205
Explanation and Analysis:

While Goodman Brown has been unable to resist the devil up to this point, seeing his cherished Faith by the side of the devil gives him the strength to attempt to resist in the form of begging her not to give herself to the devil. In the context of the story, this is a tragic moment in which he has stood up to sin too late. Even though he ultimately resists the devil, which leaves him alone in the forest and subsequently lonely for the rest of his life, he has already been infected by the cynicism and misery of evil. He has, even though he seems to be standing up for it, already lost his faith. It is important to note that Hawthorne writes "cried the husband" rather than "said Goodman Brown." This seems to imply that Goodman Brown may not be standing up for his own moral beliefs, which are, by this point, dashed, but rather he seems to be standing up for the sanctity of family. He is speaking not as an individual, but as an embodiment of the role of the husband protecting his wife. 

Goodman Brown continues to make similar hollow gestures throughout the remainder of the story. He is described as living out his days following Puritan tradition without his heart in it; he still goes to church and raises a Puritan family, but he himself does not believe, and being around the Puritans whom he knows (or believes) to be hypocritical means that the religious gestures torment him.

Turning the corner by the meeting-house, he spied the head of Faith, with the pink ribbons, gazing anxiously forth, and bursting into such joy at sight of him that she skipped along the street and almost kissed her husband before the whole village. But Goodman Brown looked sternly and sadly into her face, and passed on without a greeting.

Related Characters: Goodman Brown, Faith
Related Symbols: Faith’s pink ribbons
Page Number: 205
Explanation and Analysis:

Goodman Brown has now fled the forest and returned to the orderly and pious town of Salem, but he cannot forget what he saw, and he can no longer separate in his mind the goodness of Salem from the evil of the woods. While he seems to be returning to Faith (and to his religious faith), he cannot embrace either after what he has seen. 

That Faith is at home unperturbed with her pink ribbons intact (Goodman Brown saw them fall in the woods) makes us question whether or not Goodman Brown truly saw what he believed he saw. He and Faith met each other's eyes in the woods, but Faith seems either undisturbed by or unaware of this meeting. As Goodman Brown cannot speak with her about his experience (as his family did not speak with him about theirs), he is left wordlessly suspecting her. Her innocence and joy could mean either that she is truly a sinner who is unbothered by having witnessed her husband in the woods, or Goodman Brown has dreamed/imagined the whole encounter, and Faith is not such a wicked sinner. Goodman Brown decides to occupy the space in between, remaining with Faith in name, but feeling his family and his faith to be ultimately empty. 

Had Goodman Brown fallen asleep in the forest and only dreamed a wild dream of a witch meeting? Be it so if you will; but, alas! it was a dream of evil omen for young Goodman Brown. A stern, a sad, a darkly meditative, a distrustful, if not a desperate man did he become from the night of that fearful dream.

Related Characters: Goodman Brown
Page Number: 205
Explanation and Analysis:

This is the logic of puritanism brought to its terrible conclusion. Because of Puritanism's obsession with outward appearances, Goodman Brown has been disillusioned with himself and with his community. While he does not know whether he dreamed or literally experienced the events in the woods, he can never confirm or repudiate the memory because that would be akin to an admission that he is not as good as he appears. Ironically, though he never brings up his experience in order to avoid ostracism by his community, his secret memory of his experience makes him distant from his family and community. He is consumed by cynicism since, regardless of whether or not the encounter was real, he knows himself to be living as a hypocrite. Because of the extremism of Puritanism, it does not matter whether Goodman Brown literally sinned or only dreamed that he sinned—each scenario has the same meaning and the same effect on him. As readers, we are to understand that this is an unnecessary tragedy. 

And when he had lived long, and was borne to his grave a hoary corpse, followed by Faith, an aged woman, and children and grandchildren, a goodly procession, besides neighbors not a few, they carved no hopeful verse upon his tombstone, for his dying hour was gloom.

Related Characters: Goodman Brown, Faith
Page Number: 206
Explanation and Analysis:

This is an ominous end to a dark story in that Goodman Brown has never recovered from his experience, and, furthermore, he has not broken with the hypocritical and damaging Puritan tradition that led him to his doom. This implies that his children and grandchildren will have similar experiences and struggles. The ending, in which we see a preview of generations of struggle, cements Hawthorne's dark view of the endless and damaging logic of Puritanism, in which people are not able to be honest with themselves or with each other about their temptations and sins, and they are thus not able to find joy and morality within their own hearts.