Young Goodman Brown

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Nature and the Supernatural Theme Analysis

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
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Young Goodman Brown, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Nature and the Supernatural Theme Icon

Hawthorne uses the forest to represent the wild fearful world of nature, which contrasts starkly with the pious orderly town of Salem. The threshold Goodman Brown finds himself perched upon in the opening lines of the story is not just between himself and his wife, Faith, but between the safety of the town and the haunted realm of the forest into which he ventures. Home is a safe harbor of faith, but the forest represents the home of evil and the devil himself, a place where “no church had ever been gathered or solitary Christian prayed.”

When the devil tries to lure Goodman Brown deeper into the forest, Goodman Brown equates the forest with a break from his faithful legacy. Going into the woods means descending into the arms of the devil. He cries out “Too far! Too far!...My father never went into the woods on such an errand.” Trees are symbols of sin, hiding spots for the devil and Indian “savages”: “[t]here may be a devilish Indian behind every tree,” he worries aloud. The devil might leap out “from behind a tree” at any moment, he fears. When Goodman Brown meets the man, who we later learn is the devil, the devil himself is seated on an “old tree.”

Once he relents and journeys far in the “deep dusk” of the forest, Goodman Brown finds that nature and the supernatural begin to blend. The woods take on a life of their own: when he first sees the devil’s snake-shaped staff, it’s not just a piece of carved wood, but a terrifying serpent that “might almost be seen to twist and wriggle itself.” A bit later, when the devil explodes in laughter mocking Goodman Brown, the “snake-like staff actually seemed to wriggle in sympathy.”

In the encounter with Goody Cloyse, a catechism teacher turned witch, Goodman Brown watches in horror as the devil throws her his serpent-shaped staff, causing it to “assume life” and vanish with her instantly into the darkness of the forest. When Goodman Brown cries out in desperation for Faith after hearing her voice in the witches’ congregation, her pink ribbon magically falls from the sky. At this point, the woods are no longer just a gathering of scary trees, but a haunted sanctuary of sin. When Goodman Brown sees his church leaders in the forest en route to the witches’ meeting, he asks in horror, “Whither, then, could these holy men be journeying so deep into the heathen wilderness?” Like the sinners within it, the wilderness itself has become a heathen.

After the witches’ ceremony, as Goodman Brown reels in terror at his loss of faith, the personification of the forest and nature deepens. Now entirety of nature mocks Goodman Brown: “The whole forest was peopled with frightful sounds--the creaking of the trees, the howling of wild beasts, and the yell of if all Nature were laughing him to scorn.” Natural phenomena also bookend the story: it starts with the sun setting, and ends with the sun rising. Goodman Brown’s experience is one of darkness literally--nearly the entire story takes place at night--and darkness figuratively, with Goodman Brown moving from the angelic light of his blissful newlywed life with Faith and her pink ribbons, to the dark hell of the forest and a rendezvous with the “prince of darkness” himself.

Nature and the Supernatural ThemeTracker

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Nature and the Supernatural Quotes in Young Goodman Brown

Below you will find the important quotes in Young Goodman Brown related to the theme of Nature and the Supernatural.
Young Goodman Brown Quotes

"Methought as she spoke there was trouble in her face, as if a dream had warned her what work is to be done tonight. But no, no; 't would kill her to think it. Well, she's a blessed angel on earth; and after this one night I'll cling to her skirts and follow her to heaven."

Related Characters: Goodman Brown (speaker), Faith
Page Number: 194
Explanation and Analysis:

Throughout the story Goodman Brown becomes more and more suspicious of his Puritan community, and this quotation is the first inkling of the full-blown paranoia to come. Goodman Brown entertains for a moment the possibility that Faith could have learned from a sinful dream the purpose of his journey into the woods, but he then dismisses the thought. He states that it is impossible because it "would kill her to think it," implying that she is too pure and good to suspect such a thing. 

In the context of the story as a whole, this quote points to both Goodman Brown's black-and-white worldview that one must be either wholly a saint or wholly a sinner, and also to his own delusions about himself. While he seems to believe that Faith can only be good and that even an inkling of sin would kill her, he simultaneously believes that he himself can dabble in sin on this journey without fundamentally changing himself. He believes that after one night of sin he can return to Salem and be good for the rest of his life, ultimately following Faith to heaven. This conflict between Goodman Brown's worldview and who he perceives himself to be is one that the story will disastrously resolve.


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It was all as lonely as could be; and there is this peculiarity in such a solitude, that the traveller knows not who may be concealed by the innumerable trunks and the thick boughs overhead; so that with lonely footsteps he may yet be passing through an unseen multitude.

Related Characters: Goodman Brown
Page Number: 194
Explanation and Analysis:

As Goodman Brown passes further into the forest, the descriptions of his surroundings become frightening. He seems to think there is a significant shift between the safety of Salem and the danger of the woods, which points, once again, to his black-and-white Puritan worldview. While in the following paragraph he expresses his concern that there are "devilish Indians" or maybe the devil himself lurking in the trees, the "unseen multitudes" he fears turn out to be not outsiders, but rather people from his own community. In this sense, his sense of peculiar solitude in the woods (of perceiving himself to be the only sinner in a place where, in fact, sin is lurking but unseen) mirrors exactly his experience of living in Salem.

"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 shall take a cut through the woods until we have left this Christian woman behind. Being a stranger to you, she might ask whom I was consorting with and whither I was going.”

Related Characters: Goodman Brown (speaker), The Devil, Goody Cloyse
Page Number: 197
Explanation and Analysis:

This quotation, again, shows the Puritan obsession with outward appearances. Goodman Brown is walking through the woods with the devil, but when he sees a woman from his community whom he believes to be a good Christian, he says he will take a different path so she does not see him consorting with a stranger. In other words, what scares him most about this encounter is not his actual conversation with the devil, but the possibility of a woman from his community noticing that he has sinned. He seems less concerned that being with the devil could compromise his soul or his ability to go to heaven; instead, he sees his goodness as mostly the appearance of goodness in the eyes of his community. Further complicating this deception is that the woman, too, is revealed to be a sinner who lives in the community with a respectable appearance.

Goodman Brown heard the tramp of horses along the road, and deemed it advisable to conceal himself within the verge of the forest, conscious of the guilty purpose that had brought him thither, though now so happily turned from it.

Related Characters: Goodman Brown, The minister, Deacon Gookin
Page Number: 199
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Goodman Brown is hypocritically delighting in his belated and uncertain commitment to resist sin in the name of Faith. Again, he conceals himself from the travelers in the woods because Puritanism's focus on the outward appearance of goodness has led him to believe that as long as nobody from his community sees him in the woods, he will be able to return home unchanged and still be respected and bound for heaven. Any nuanced sense of morality would leave him much more troubled by the fact that, though unseen by others, he has already sinned by walking through the forest with the devil. It is also interesting to note here that he is hiding behind a tree in the forest to be unseen by others. At the beginning of the story, Goodman Brown worried about the evils lurking in the trees, which seems to foreshadow this moment in which he himself has become the unseen evil in the forest, despite his delusional self-satisfaction in this moment.

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. 

As the red light arose and fell, a numerous congregation alternately shone forth, then disappeared in shadow, and again grew, as it were, out of the darkness, peopling the heart of the solitary woods at once.

Page Number: 202
Explanation and Analysis:

In this moment Goodman Brown is consumed with the vision of his religious community as evil. He has heard a hymn he knows from church sung in the forest until it dissolves into sounds of wilderness, he sees a rock that resembles a pulpit, and he sees the townspeople gathered around the devil as though they were a congregation. This is the mirror image of Puritanism, the same elements but with a different purpose, and it serves to further degrade the possibility of the purity of Puritanism. 

Hawthorne's assertion that the "heart of the solitary woods" is made of devil worshippers also makes a statement about the inherent evil of nature, which cannot, for Hawthorne, be separated from human nature and the nature of communities. As the distinction between Salem and the woods erodes, the presence of sinners at the heart of the woods begins to reflect on the world at large, rather than only on the strange and frightening wilderness.

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.

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.