Goodman Brown shows both innocence and corruptibility as he vacillates between believing in the inherent goodness of the people around him and believing that the devil has taken over the minds of all the people he loves. At the beginning of the story, Goodman Brown believes in the goodness of his father and grandfather, until the old man, likely the devil, tells him that he knew them both. Goodman Brown believes in the Christian nature of Goody Cloyse, the minister, and Deacon Gookin, until the devil shows him that Goody Cloyse is a witch and the other two are his followers. Finally, he believes that Faith is pure and good, until the devil reveals at the ceremony that Faith, too, is corruptible. This vacillation reveals Goodman Brown’s lack of true religion—his belief is easy to shake—as well as of the good and evil sides of human nature.
Through Goodman Brown’s awakening to the evil nature of those around him, Hawthorne comments on what he sees as the hidden corruption of Puritan society. Goodman Brown believes in the public professions of faith made by his father and the elders of his church and in the societal structures that are built upon that faith. Hawthorne suggests, however, that behind the public face of godliness, the Puritans’ actions were not always Christian. The devil in the story says that he was present when Brown’s father and grandfather whipped Quakers and set fire to Indian villages, making it clear that the story of the founding of New England has a dark side that religion fails to explain. The very fact that Goodman Brown is willing to visit the forest when he has an idea of what will happen there is an indication of the corruptibility and evil at the heart of even the most faithful Puritan.