Young Goodman Brown

by: Nathaniel Hawthorne

Motifs

Female Purity

Female purity, a favorite concept of Americans in the nineteenth century, is the steadying force for Goodman Brown as he wonders whether to renounce his religion and join the devil. When he takes leave of Faith at the beginning of the story, he swears that after this one night of evildoing, he will hold onto her skirts and ascend to heaven. This idea, that a man’s wife or mother will redeem him and do the work of true religious belief for the whole family, was popular during Hawthorne’s time. Goodman Brown clings to the idea of Faith’s purity throughout his trials in the forest, swearing that as long as Faith remains holy, he can find it in himself to resist the devil. When Goodman Brown finds that Faith is present at the ceremony, it changes all his ideas about what is good or bad in the world, taking away his strength and ability to resist. Female purity was such a powerful idea in Puritan New England that men relied on women’s faith to shore up their own. When even Faith’s purity dissolves, Goodman Brown loses any chance to resist the devil and redeem his faith.