Young Goodman Brown

by: Nathaniel Hawthorne

Hypocrisy

1

I have a very general acquaintance here in New England. The deacons of many a church have drunk the communion wine with me; the selectmen of divers towns make me their chairman; and a majority of the Great and General Court are firm supporters of my interest.

The Devil’s assertion that he and the important people of New England are well acquainted surprises Goodman Brown, but such a declaration embodies the author’s theme: the hypocrisy of the Puritan. Hawthorne, himself a descendant of socially eminent Puritans, recognized that the piety the Puritans so publicly claimed was completely belied by how they treated anyone who did not blindly obey their specific doctrine and, of course, the Native American population. Their hypocrisy probably did not manifest by literally worshipping the Devil but rather by behaving contrary to the teachings of Jesus.

2

‘A marvel, truly, that Goody Cloyse should be so far in the wilderness at nightfall,’ said he. ‘But, with your leave, friend, I shall take a cut through the woods until we have left this Christian woman behind. Being a stranger to you, she might ask whom I was consorting with and whither I was going.’

Goodman Brown explains why he chooses to part from the Devil before Goody Cloyse sees him. Goodman Brown displays a difference between how he acts and how he wishes to be perceived. Believing Goody Cloyse to be pious, he does not wish to be seen walking with the old man, whom he knows to be the Devil. He assumes Goody Cloyse would not recognize the Devil but believes she would ask questions. Since Goody is an elder of the community, Brown understands she has the right to question his behavior. Brown doesn’t want Goody Cloyse to know he is traveling with the Devil, nor does he want to lie to her, so he avoids her.

3

‘A grave and dark-clad company,’ quoth Goodman Brown. In truth they were such. Among them . . . appeared faces that . . . after Sabbath, looked devoutly heavenward, and benignantly over the crowded pews, from the holiest pulpits in the land.

Goodman Brown describes the group of people he sees assembled deep in the woods for the Devil’s ceremony. Their clothing matches the standard dark and plain attire considered proper for Puritans. Nevertheless, their presence at the ceremony completely belies the piety that such clothing choices supposedly indicate. In fact, Brown recognizes specific people that he has seen looking out over crowded pews—in other words, clergymen, supposedly the most pious Christians of any community. Brown realizes that so much of what he heard in church each Sunday wasn’t believed by the very people saying the words.

4

‘There,’ resumed the sable form, ‘are all whom ye have reverenced from youth. You 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 worshiping assembly.’

The Devil makes clear to Goodman Brown and Faith that the people they looked up to as pious Christians worship him just as much as the “men of dissolute lives and women of spotted fame.” He points out that while they were feeling bad about their own small sins, the people they were contrasting themselves against performed many more and worse sins. Some community members even acted openly wicked. The people Brown and Faith previously admired hid their sinfulness. Thus, the couple no longer have role models for good behavior. The Devil suggests that this revelation should convince them to come to his side.