“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.
Losing Faith and Innocence ThemeTracker
Losing Faith and Innocence 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!"
"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.
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.
“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?"
"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."
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.
"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."
The fiend in his own shape is less hideous than when he rages in the breast of man.
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?
"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.”
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.
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.
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.