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 traditions, either. The story begins very soon after Goodman Brown has begun a family of his own by marrying Faith. She tries to dissuade him from going into the woods by calling him “dear husband” and “dearest heart” and referring to his duty as a husband to stay at home. At first, his curiosity draws him to the devil, but the thought of his Puritan ancestors makes him want to turn back: “We have been a race of honest men and good Christians since the days of the martyrs; and I shall be the first of the name of Brown that ever took this path.”
Because his family legacy (as he understands it) and his individual desire are opposed, he stops and starts on the path, unable to move forward or to turn back. The devil takes on the guise of Goodman Brown’s grandfather in order to influence Goodman Brown to become one of his followers. He tries to resist family tradition by thinking of his new family. He thinks of Faith and sits on the path, refusing to go on, but when he hears her voice among those of the devil-worshippers in the sky and sees her pink ribbon fall, he can no longer resist the devil. Without family to guide him, he can’t choose for himself. He “loses faith” in his family, and so he loses all sense of himself. At the devil’s ceremony, Goodman looks at Faith and again remembers their family bond: “The husband cast one look at his pale wife, and she at him.” He opposes the devil by telling her to resist: “‘Faith!’ cried the husband, ‘look up to heaven, and resist the wicked one.”
Part of the story’s tragedy comes from the family’s failure to communicate their legacy. When the devil tells Goodman that his family members were friends with the devil, Goodman says, “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”; though knowledge of his family history would have helped Goodman make his individual choices, he realizes that such honesty, even between family members, would have been dangerous. When Goodman arrives at the devil’s conversion ceremony, he thinks he sees his mother telling him to resist and his father telling him to advance in the smoke, but because their messages are contradictory and unclear, he can’t make a choice of his own: “Was it his mother? But he had no power to retreat one step, nor to resist, even in thought.” When Goodman returns to Salem, he can’t tell his wife, his children, or his grandchildren what he experienced, and so he dooms his descendants to the same trapped existence. He can’t break away from his family, even though he no longer believes in following his family’s legacy.
Family and Individual Choice ThemeTracker
Family and Individual Choice Quotes in Young Goodman Brown
"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!"
"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."
"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.
“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.”
“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.”
“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?"
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.
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?
By the blaze of the hell-kindled torches, the wretched man beheld his Faith, and the wife her husband, trembling before that unhallowed altar.
“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.”
"Faith! Faith!" cried the husband, "look up to heaven, and resist the wicked one."
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.
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.