Young Goodman Brown


Nathaniel Hawthorne

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

The Hypocrisy of Puritanism

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…

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Losing Faith and Innocence

“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…

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Nature and the Supernatural

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…

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Saints vs. Sinners

The Puritan religion dictated that everyone on earth was either an evil sinner doomed to burn in hell or a pure earthly saint destined for heaven. To avoid being perceived as anything but wholly good, Goodman Brown (who, like his wife, Faith, is also “aptly named”) is obsessed with the idea of veiling his own sinfulness. Goodman Brown’s paranoia as he navigates the forest, dodging behind trees in terror of being outed as a…

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Family and Individual Choice

Young Goodman Brown makes reference to many generations of the Brown family, both Goodman Brown’s ancestors and his descendants. Goodman Brown must choose whether to follow his ancestors’ example, for better or for worse, or whether to make his own decisions and break away from family tradition. The tragedy of the story is that he is unable to choose: he loses faith in following family tradition, but he can’t reject his family and start new…

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