The story begins as Goodman Brown says goodbye to his wife, Faith, outside of their house in Salem Village. Faith, wearing a pink ribboned cap, asks him to stay with her, but he explains that he must travel for one night only. He reassures her that if she says her prayers and goes to sleep early, she will come to no harm while he is away.
Goodman Brown sets off on a road through a gloomy forest. He soon comes upon a man in the road who greets Goodman Brown as though he had been expecting him. The man appears rather normal except for the walking stick he carries, a stick featuring a carved serpent so lifelike it seems to move. Goodman Brow says that he showed up for their meeting because he promised to do so but only wants to return to the village. He goes on to explain that his family members have been good Christians for generations and that he feels ashamed to associate with him. The man replies that he knew Goodman Brown’s father and grandfather, as well as other members of churches in New England and even the governor of the state.
The man’s words confuse Goodman Brown, who says that even if this is so, he wants to return to the village for Faith’s sake. At that moment, the two come upon an old woman hobbling through the woods, and Goodman Brown recognizes Goody Cloyse, who he knows to be a pious, respected woman from the village. He hides while the man taps Goody Cloyse on the shoulder. She identifies him as the devil and reveals herself to be a witch, on her way to the devil’s evil forest ceremony.
Despite this revelation, Goodman Brown tells the man that he still intends to turn back, for Faith’s sake. Before disappearing, the man gives Goodman Brown his staff, telling him that he can use it for transport to the ceremony if he changes his mind. As he sits and gathers himself, Goodman Brown hears horses traveling along the road and hides once again. Soon he hears the voices of the minister of the church and Deacon Gookin, who are also on their way to the ceremony. Shocked, Goodman Brown swears that even though everyone else in the world has gone to the devil, for Faith’s sake he will stay true to God. He soon hears voices coming from the ceremony, however, and thinks he recognizes Faith’s voice. He screams her name, and a pink ribbon from her cap flutters down from the sky.
Certain that there is no good in the world because Faith has turned to evil, Goodman Brown grabs the staff and flies through the forest toward the ceremony. When he arrives, he can see the faces of both respected and disreputable members of the community, but Faith’s apparent absence gives him hope.
A figure appears and tells the congregation to present the converts. The minister and Deacon Gookin drag him forward while Goody Cloyse and Martha Carrier bring forth another person, robed and covered so that their identity is unknown. After telling the two that they have made a decision that will reveal all the wickedness of the world to them, the figure instructs them to show themselves to each other. Goodman Brown sees that the other convert is Faith. Goodman Brown tells Faith to look up to heaven and resist the devil, then suddenly finds himself alone in the forest.
The next morning Goodman Brown returns to Salem Village, and every person he passes seems evil to him. He refuses the minister’s blessing and calls Deacon Gookin a wizard. He sees Goody Cloyse quizzing a young girl on Bible verses and snatches the girl away. Finally, he returns to Faith and refuses to greet her. It is unclear whether the encounter in the forest was a dream, but for the rest of his life, Goodman Brown is changed. He cannot trust anyone in his village or fully love his wife. He lives the remainder of his life in gloom and fear.