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11 February 2010

Leaving Faith Behind: An Analysis of “Young Goodman Brown”

In his short story “Young Goodman Brown”, Nathaniel Hawthorne creates an intriguing

narrative in which a young husband, Young Goodman Brown, leaves his wife Faith alone one

night. When all good Puritans perform their evening routines to prepare for a good night of

sleep in their homes, Goodman Brown goes out on a mysterious journey into the dark and

gloomy forest to meet with his evil companion, the devil himself. Nothing stops him, not even

his dear Faith or her fears. He is determined to proceed with “his present evil purpose” (3). A

lot happens while he is out. Reality or not, the author leaves up to the readers to decide, but

through shocking revelations and his own observations, Goodman Brown is lead to experience

a night that would change his character forever.

When he starts off his journey, Young Goodman Brown thinks highly of his family, a

traditional and religious family, “a race of honest men and good Christians since the days of the

martyrs” (4). But then, the devil highlights some events that do not put his ancestors in a good

light. At first he refuses to believe the wickedness side of his ancestors when the devil reveals

to him that night that he, the devil, helped his grandfather “when he lashed the Quaker woman

so smartly through the streets of Salem” (5) and helped his father “to set fire to an Indian

village, in King Phillip’s war” (5). At that point, Goodman Brown believes his family “are people

of prayer, and good works to boot, and abide no such wickedness” (5), he refuses to see what

the devil is trying to show him. But the more he learns, the more that belief is decimated.

When he starts off his journey, Young Goodman Brown thinks highly of all his religious

acquaintances, all the religious figures. Goody Cloyse, for example. He comes to learn that she,

the “very pious and exemplary dame, who had taught him his catechism in youth, and was still

his moral and spiritual adviser” (5), is friends with the devil. The minister, “that good old man”

(5) and “good old Deacon Gookin” (7) are also friends with the devil and know a lot about

deviltry, as the deacon recognizes that “the Indian powwows, who, after their fashion, know

almost as much deviltry as the best of us” (8). Goodman Brown is taken by a feeling of disgust.

He is starting to change; he feels the pain of discovering the true evil in all he once believed was

pure and good. “Yong Goodman Brown caught a hold of a tree for support, being ready to sink

down on the ground, faint and overburdened with the heavy sickness of his heart. He looked up

to the sky, doubting whether there really was a heaven above him” (8). But he still has hope.

“With heaven above and Faith below, I will yet stand firm against the devil!” (8)

When he starts off his journey, Young Goodman Brown thinks highly of his church; he is

a man of faith, a religious man who goes to church, the meeting house. When that night he

hears “a hymn, rolling solemnly from a distance with the weight of many voices” (9), he

recognizes it. “He knew the tune; it was a familiar one in the choir of the village meeting house”

(9). Later on, he can hear it better and realizes that the “slow and mournful strain, such as pious

love” (10) is “joined to words which expressed all that our nature can conceive of sin, and

darkly hinted at far more” (10). Now that sacred music sounds like a “dreadful anthem” (10) to

Goodman Brown.

When he starts off his journey, Young Goodman Brown thinks highly of his Faith, his

young wife of three months, his “blessed angel on earth” (3) who shows a very light side by

wearing and “letting the wind play with the pink ribbons of her cap” (3). He exchanges “a

parting kiss with his young wife” (3) before departing on his journey into the darkness. That

troubled night, he sees Faith among the wicked. What can she be doing there?

More and more is revealed to him... So all the ones he thinks he knew for their good

deeds, caring hearts and honesty, he concludes are indeed wicked. Even his wife takes part in

the communion with the devil! That last revelation was too much for him to take; it was the

coup de grace for him. “‘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’” (9). His view

of life and his attitude towards everything will never be the same again.

When he comes back in the morning, he cannot see Goody Cloyse the same way as

before. Goody Cloyse is catechizing a little girl when “Goodman Brown snatched away the child

as from the grasp of the fiend himself” (13); he has to protect the child from who he really

knows Goody Cloyse is.

When he comes back in the morning, he cannot see the minister the same way as

before. “The good old minister was taking a walk along the graveyard to get an appetite for

breakfast and meditate his sermon, and bestowed a blessing, as he passed, on Goodman

Brown. He shrank from the venerable saint as if to avoid an anathema” (12) and instead of

feeling blessed, he feels cursed by the minister.

When he comes back in the morning, he cannot see Deacon Gookin the same way as

before. “Old Deacon Gookin was at domestic worship, and the holy words of his prayer were

heard through the open window. ‘What God doth the wizard pray to?’ quoth Goodman Brown”

(12). Goodman Brow thinks that sermons, wholly words, now do not belong in Deacon Gookin’s

mouth since he knows the truth; he knows that the deacon does not really pray for God.

When he comes back in the morning, he cannot listen to the hymn at the meeting house

the same way as before. “On Sabbath day, when the congregation were singing a holy psalm,

he could not listen because an anthem of sin rushed loudly upon his ear and drowned all the

blessed strain” (13). He now has the sinner lyrics he heard the night before stuck in his head.

The hymn now torments him as it sounds like a sinners’ anthem.

When he comes back in the morning, he cannot look at his wife the same way as before.

“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” (13).

She was happy to see him, but that feeling was not reciprocal. Despite Faith’s same lighted

spirit as before, Goodman Brown “looked sternly and sadly into her face, and passed on

without a greeting” (13). He is not happy to see her again. His relationship with her is now of a

distant man, no love in his heart.

There is no indication of whether it was all a dream or all that Young Goodman Brown

went through really happened that night, but that experience changed Young Goodman Brown

for life and shaped his view and behavior towards others. “A stern, a sad, a darkly meditative, a

distrustful, if not a desperate man did he become from the night of that fearful dream” (13).

What he experiences that night makes him change and see only dark and evil in all.

And that is how he lived his life after leaving faith behind and becoming a bitter, dry and

cynical man. On the day he died, “they carved no hopeful verse upon his tombstone, for his

dying hour was gloom” (13) as only good souls deserve such a thing. He gets nothing. Poor

Young Goodman Brown!


Works Cited

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “Young Goodman Brown.” Literature. A portable anthology. 2nd ed. Eds.

Janet E. Gardner, et al. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2009. 3-13. Print.