Young Goodman Brown

by: Nathaniel Hawthorne

Goodman Brown

‘Poor little Faith!’ thought he, for his heart smote him. ‘What a wretch I am to leave her on such an errand! . . . Well, she’s a blessed angel on earth; and after this one night I’ll cling to her skirts and follow her to heaven.’

Goodman Brown feels guilty at leaving his wife, Faith, to go meet the Devil. Although he has decided to tempt sin to the extent of agreeing to the meeting, he has not decided to fully give in to sin yet. After seeing Faith’s fear at his departure, he feels determined to return to her quickly after rejecting the Devil’s temptation. Nonetheless, he feels compelled, perhaps because he made the promise, to keep the appointment.

‘Friend,’ said the other, exchanging his slow pace for a full stop, ‘having kept covenant by meeting thee here, it is my purpose now to return whence I came. I have scruples touching the matter thou wot’st of.’

After noting that Brown’s pace slowed while walking in the woods, the Devil exhorts Brown to walk faster. For reasons unrevealed, Goodman Brown was tempted enough into sin to agree to meeting the Devil in the woods for his conversion, the wilderness being synonymous with evil. As the two walk slowly, Brown balks. By pushing him with these words, the Old Man reminds Brown what he is unconsciously doing, and Brown chooses at that moment not to sin further.

‘Too far! Too far!’ exclaimed the goodman, unconsciously resuming his walk. ‘My father never went into the woods on such an errand, nor his father before him. We have been a race of honest men and good Christians since the days of the martyrs[.]’

Brown protests walking deeper into the woods with the Devil. Although Goodman Brown agreed to meet with the Devil and has been walking with him in the woods, he does so reluctantly, in part because he believes he is the first of his family to be tempted by evil. He takes pride in his Brown forebears and fears he is letting down the family name and reputation with his actions. Later, when the Devil reveals that he is “well acquainted” with both Brown’s father and grandfather, Brown’s worldview instantly changes.

‘Can this be so?’ cried Goodman Brown, with a stare of amazement at his undisturbed companion. ‘Howbeit, I have nothing to do with the governor and council; they have their own ways, and are no rule for a simple husbandman like me. But, were I to go on with thee, how should I meet the eye of that good old man, our minister, at Salem village?’

After the Devil explains to Brown that many powerful people, including Brown’s minister, worship him, Brown shares his utter disbelief and dismay. While Brown feels somewhat disturbed when the Devil says that most political leaders are “firm supporters of my interest,” his main concern centers on his fellow villagers, specifically his minister. Brown has been raised in the Puritan way to care about how he is judged, especially by those deemed holy themselves. In Brown’s day, religion functions as a public and shared civic act, not a private identity as in modern American life.

‘Friend,’ said he, stubbornly, ‘my mind is made up. Not another step will I budge on this errand. 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?’

Goodman Brown has just learned that one of the most pious women he knows, Goody Cloyse, is really a witch. While shocked with the news, he at first continues walking with the Devil, perhaps thinking about what he has just learned. But suddenly he stops, determined not to let her choice influence his own. Here, he declares that he cares far more about his wife, Faith, who he believes is sinless. Of course, the phrase “quit my dear Faith” has a double meaning.

Young Goodman Brown caught 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 was really a heaven above him. Yet there was the blue arch, and the stars brightening in it. ‘With heaven above and Faith below, I will yet stand firm against the Devil!’ cried Goodman Brown.

Goodman Brown reacts after learning that the people he thought were holy actually worship the Devil. Despite the fact that he feels his determination to resist sin weaken, he calls on his twin beliefs in God in heaven and his wife on earth to help him resist temptation. At this point, only his trust in Faith’s love and purity keeps him from losing his resolve not to follow the Devil. The rest of society has let him down.

[M]addened with despair, so that he laughed loud and long, did Goodman Brown grasp his staff and set forth again, at such a rate that he seemed to fly along the forest path rather than to walk or run. . . . ‘Ha! ha! ha!’ roared Goodman Brown when the wind laughed at him. ‘Let us hear which will laugh loudest. Think not to frighten me with your deviltry. Come witch, come wizard, come Indian pow-wow, come Devil himself, and here comes Goodman Brown. You may as well fear him as he fear you.’

Realizing that Faith has been taken by witches to the evil assembly finally breaks Goodman Brown. He feels so furious at and overwhelmed by the wickedness of the whole world that he loses all fear. Instead, as shown here, he views himself as one with the evil wilderness and its residents. At this point, he has given up trying to be good, but he does not yet know what worshipping the Devil will entail.

The husband cast one look at his pale wife, and Faith at him. What polluted wretches would the next glance show them to each other, shuddering alike at what they disclosed and what they saw! ‘Faith! Faith!’ cried the husband, ‘look up to Heaven, and resist the wicked one.’

Goodman Brown and Faith stand before the Devil, who has just explained that with his baptism, they will know everyone else’s secret sins. Realizing the full extent of what worshipping the Devil means, Brown becomes determined to resist him and pleads with Faith to resist, too. Brown knows that having that knowledge will ruin their love for one another. Brown seems concerned only for himself and Faith as everyone else in their community has already been corrupted.

A stern, a sad, a darkly meditative, a distrustful, if not a desperate, man did he become from the night of that fearful dream. On the 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.

The narrator explains that Goodman Brown returned from the wilderness a changed man. Whether the event really happened proves irrelevant: The fact that Brown could imagine all of his seemingly pious neighbors as Devil worshippers permanently marks them in his mind. Before, he believed that only he struggled with sinful thoughts. Now he knows that everyone is tainted with sin and hides their true nature. Brown no longer believes in anyone’s facade.