Young Goodman Brown by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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Young Goodman Brown by Nathaniel Hawthorne, is a story full of metaphors. One has to dig deeper in order to understand what the story presents. This story is influenced by Puritan religion. The forest symbolizes man’s journey into his inner self.  

At the start of the story we find Young Goodman Brown being asked by his wife not to go on his ‘errand’.  Goodman Brown is torn between leaving and staying. In the end, he chose to leave because this is the last time he would part with his wife.  After this errand, he would ‘cling to her skirts and follow her to heaven’. He feels justified for leaving his wife one last time.  This could also mean that he is referring not only to leaving ‘Faith’ his wife but also ‘faith in God’.  

Through the covenant Goodman has made with the Devil, he has agreed to leave his wife, Faith, and walk through the forest with the Devil for one night as the Devil attempts to convert Goodman from Christianity. Goodman enters into this with great resolve that his survival and test of faith will not change.

When Goodman finally sees the devil he told him ‘Faith kept me back awhile.’ Again, this could mean literally his wife ‘Faith’ or figuratively ‘his faith in God’.

Goodman Brown and the devil met Goody Cloyse walking alone in the forest. In a way, Goody Cloyse who ‘taught him his catechism in youth, and was still his moral and spiritual adviser’ harms his faith as he learns that even Goody Cloyse is a member of the devil’s growing clan. And she committed sins which she hides under her pretensions to be holy.

He blames the Goody Cloyse for befriending the devil. What Goodman Brown does not realize though is that he is guilty of the same crime he charges Goody Cloyse with.  

Brown again told the devil that he would not continue with his errand.  He told the devil that even though his teacher, Goody Cloyse, is not going to heaven that is not reason enough for him to quit on his dear Faith and pursue her.  After he said this the devil gave Goodman Brown his staff to guide him out of the forest and left.

Goodman Brown applauded his efforts for resisting the devil. He is looking forward to go home. He is filled with joy knowing he overcomes the devil and he would be seeing Faith again. But he hears the voices of the minister and Deacon Gookin talking about ‘a goodly young woman to be taken in to communion’ that night during the meeting. Brown wonders if they are referring to his beloved Faith.

Brown suddenly weakens.  His faith begins to waiver at the thought that he could be losing Faith to the devil. Goodman Brown falls to the ground and he wondered aloud ‘whether there really was a Heaven above him’.  Despite his struggles in his faith, he said that “With Heaven above, and Faith below, I will yet stand firm against the devil!” Brown promises to keep his faith even though he knows that he could be losing his wife to the devil.

Goodman hears voices. Then he hears Faith’s voice.  A pink ribbon similar to what Faith was wearing before he left flies past Goodman and he grabs it.  At this point, he is losing his faith in the world and said that he could find no good on earth.

Brown comes to the ceremony and sees the devil worshippers.  He sees a number of people whom he thought to be pious and God-fearing in the congregation.  He recognizes them.  He does not see Faith though and it brings some hope in his heart.

This part is a turning point for Goodman Brown because he hopes not to live alone in the community of unbelievers. With Faith by his side, he could surmount this obstacle.  Although what Goodman Brown fails to realize is that he is already a part of this community he doesn’t like.  If Faith was not there, then he need not be alone in his faith. Hope can be looked at as a part of what is known as the  “the Christian triptych”.
The Christian triptych is made up of faith, hope and love. The third part of the triptych which is absent in the entire story is love. If Brown only had “love” in his heart, then he would have found a way to tackle his problem. Love is the medicine that would have enable him to survive without deep sadness due to what he knows when he returned to Salem.

The ceremony started and the converts are brought forward.  Goodman Brown steps forward with them.  Goodman Brown seems to have no will of his own as he joins the service of converts.  The leader said that the members of the congregation are believed to be righteous, honest and incorruptible.  Yet they commit secret evil deeds.  

Goodman Brown finds himself facing Faith.  Then the leader said that evil is man’s natural state. He welcomes the convert. Then dips his hand in the rock and draw liquid and put it on the convert’s forehead to baptize them.  Brown is able to come back to his senses just in time and shouts “Faith! Faith! Look up to Heaven and resist the wicked one!” The ceremony ends and sees that he is alone. So he presumes that his wife joined the community of non-believers. This means he is the only one left in his faith.

The depth of his faith is though fairly easily uprooted. Goodman’s faith begins to crumble because his Achilles heel was the pride he had in believing he was a pious man. His faith was never based on an internal relationship with God; instead, his faith was mirrored and reflected by the community he revered. As those around him showed their true following, Goodman lost all faith, and became empty.

At the end of the story, Goodman Brown returns to Salem. But he is not the same man. After witnessing the ceremony, he feels like an outsider.  His sense of self-righteousness is so strong that he takes a child away from Goody Cloyse as she blesses the child. And when he sees Faith he just ignores her even though she is very excited upon seeing him. Despite the fact that he himself attended the devil’s service, still he believes himself better than everyone.

Goodman Brown ends up a broken man. He was never able to relate well to the community again after what happened. And he spends the rest of his life in misery.

He did not actually convert to a non-believer as others had done. But still, he chooses an equally dangerous path. By losing his faith in everything even in his loved ones, Goodman merely exists and not lives. He believes that faith has failed him and he turns his anger to the world. He sees everything as evil and not worthy of his trust even his new bride.

What happened in his journey changed his outlook for the worst. Also, he chose to judge people instead of love them faults and all. The Bible tells us that it isn’t enough to have faith to be able to live life. Hope and love are necessary ingredients in a fulfilled, happy life. Goodman Brown lives on faith alone. And his lack of faith quashed what little hope he has. His biggest loss is his inability to love. Because he distances himself from others and judge them, he fails to see them as individuals worthy of his love. Love the sinner, hate their sins. That is the core of Christian religion.  And because Goodman Brown fails to grasp the importance of love above all, he fails to live meaningfully. He ends up a failure. He dies alone and lonely. Goodman Brown was buried with “no hopeful verse upon his tombstone; for his dying hour was gloom.”


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