Young Goodman Brown

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The Hypocrisy of Puritanism Theme Analysis

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Losing Faith and Innocence Theme Icon
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The Hypocrisy of Puritanism Theme Icon

Hawthorne sets “Young Goodman Brown” in the New England town of Salem, where the Puritans tried to create a religious society with strict morals and pious norms, but also where the infamous Witch Trials took place. The Puritans believed that some people are predestined by God to go to heaven, and that those people are identifiable by their morality and piousness; people cannot earn their way to heaven by performing good works, but if they are part of the elect, they will instinctively and naturally do good. As a result, Puritan communities were profoundly focused on the value and necessity of the appearance of goodness, believing that it was a reflection of inner goodness and therefore a sign of one’s chance of heavenly redemption, and engaged in social policing to determine what counts as “good.” Hawthorne uses the setting to explore the dark side to the Puritan emphasis on the appearance of good.

At the beginning of the story, Goodman Brown believes wholeheartedly in these Puritan tenets, despite the fact that he himself is at that moment lying to his wife, Faith, saying that he is on an overnight business trip when in fact he is heading off into the forest out of curiosity to attend a witch’s meeting. He believes in the perfect goodness of his wife who seems to radiate pureness, and generally believes in the goodness of everyone else, too. In fact, he believes that after his dalliance in the woods with the devil, he will be able to return home and live as a good man with his perfect wife and go along with her to heaven. However, when he gets to the forest, in what may or may not be a dream, he discovers that essentially the entire town, including Faith, whom he had thought to be incapable of sin, are at this convocation, are “friends of the devil.” In horror, Goodman Brown concludes that “There is no good on earth; and sin is but a name.” He concludes that everyone is evil, that the word “sin” means nothing because everyone is sinful. When Goodman Brown returns to the town, he is no longer the happy young newlywed he was when he left. He is bitter, stern, and gloomy and mistrusts the “good” appearances of everyone around him, instead seeing sin everywhere, hiding below that surface.

When looked at from a modern perspective, Goodman Brown’s revelation that everyone is sinful in some way seems obvious: of course no one is perfectly good, as Brown imagined Faith and many others to be. That’s just human nature. But it is here that Hawthorne levels his most profound criticism of Puritanism. Goodman Brown believes that his experience or dream has forced him to see through the lies of perfect goodness told by his religion. And so he abandons it. Yet the story presents his actions not as a triumph but a tragedy, and Brown lives a life of suspicion, sadness, anxiety, and gloom. The story, then, suggests that the true issue is Puritanism and its internal logic, the way that it demands all goodness or none, perfect purity or eternally damned sin. Such a world, the story suggests, is one at odds with the realities of being human, one in which no one who takes it seriously can live a good life because it is impossible to live a perfect one.

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The Hypocrisy of Puritanism Quotes in Young Goodman Brown

Below you will find the important quotes in Young Goodman Brown related to the theme of The Hypocrisy of Puritanism.
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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"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.

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. 

“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.

“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.

“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.

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.

"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 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.

“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.