Young Goodman Brown is a short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Written in 1835, the story deals with a late night meeting between a man and the Devil. On the surface this is all the story is, but if one looks closer one would find the story to be littered with symbolic images.
Goodman Brown’s marriage to his wife, the aptly named Faith. At the beginning of the story, Goodman Brown, and Faith have only been married for three months. This symbolizes Goodman Brown as one who lacks a deep attachment to faith.
This is further evidenced by his willingness to stray from his wife to embark on his evening journey. Although Goodman Brown knows that what lies ahead of him on his journey into the woods, is not good, he sees this momentary dabbling in the dark side as a one time affair. Hawthorne cements this in paragraph seven where Goodman Browns says to himself “â€¦after this one night, I’ll cling to her skirts and follow her to heaven.
” (page 385)
Another symbol is the setting of the story. The woods. In the story the woods is a dark foreboding place with Goodman Brown walking down a “dreary road, darkened by all the gloomiest trees in the forest.” (page 386) The bleak setting conveys the dark situation Goodman Brown is about to find himself in. Despite the obvious evil present in the woods, Goodman Brown presses on further into the darkness with Satan as his guide. This symbolizes man’s inability to break the devil’s hold upon him, once he has allowed his sins to drag him to a certain point. A contrast to the dark, gloomy setting is the character Faith, Goodman Brown’s wife. Faith is one of the three principals that gives Goodman Brown the impression that he has an ideal life, in this case the good wife. But to Goodman Brown, Faith is much more than this. Faith as her name implies is seen by Goodman Brown to be a physical manifestation of his faith with Brown referring to her as “My love and my Faith.” (page 385)
Faith also comes with a symbol of her own, in this case a pink ribbon. Throughout the story, Hawthorne makes numerous references to this, including referring to her as “Faith with the pink ribbons” (page 385) in the third paragraph. Faith’s pink ribbon is the focus of a crucial, dramatic scene towards the end of the story. At this part of the story, Satan has broken Goodman Brown, and in the midst of everything Goodman Brown has come to know has turned out to be a fallacy. Despite this Goodman Brown makes one final attempt to hold onto his Faith, but in the midst of the chaos, a pink ribbon falls from the sky on catches on a tree branch. This symbolizes the end of the fight for Goodman Brown, now a broken, faithless man Goodman Brown cries out “There is no good on earth, and sin is but a name. Come, devil, for thee is this world given.” (page 389)
Faith in general plays a prominent role in the story, particularly false faith. Before his meeting with Satan, Goodman Brown believes himself to be of good faith because those around him are of good faith. However once it is revealed that those around him are more akin to a satanic cult, than a holy congregation, Goodman Brown begins to lose himself only hanging on with the belief that his beloved wife is strong of faith. This turns out to be false as well, and with the revelation that the one seen by Goodman Brown to be faith personified, is full of sin, Goodman Brown is finally broken and surrenders himself to Satan.
One of the biggest, if not the biggest symbol in the story, is that of Satan himself. Throughout the ages, Satan has been a cultural symbol of ultimate evil, and Young Goodman Brown continues that tradition. In the story Satan represents a number of things, of them being the evil that lies within us all. When first meeting up with Goodman Brown in the woods, Satan is described as resembling an older Goodman Brown , with Hawthorne describing him as being “apparently in the same rank of life as Goodman Brown, and bearing a considerable resemblance to him, though more in expression than features. Still they might have been taken for father and son.” (page 386) In his human form, Satan carries with him, a walking stick in the shape of a serpent. Since the story of Adam and Eve, the serpent has been used as a symbolic representation of Satan.
Satan is often seen as a master manipulator, and one who can easily shatter ones view of the world around them. This is evident in paragraph eighteen, when Goodman Brown has discovered the true identity of his companion and is attempting to break away from him on the grounds that his family has never been he kind to fall in with the devil. To this Satan replies “I helped your grandfather, the constable when he lashed the Quaker woman so smartly through the streets of Salem.” (page 386) He also goes on to say “It was I who brought your father a pitch-pine knot, to set fire to an Indian village, in King Phillips war.” (page 387) This symbolizes a number of things at once. In the context of the story, it further symbolizes that the world Goodman Brown ahs found himself in, is much different from the world he perceived himself as living in. In Goodman Brown’s eyes, his father and Grandfather were shining examples of good Christian men. However Satan shatters this allusion and reveals that not only are Goodman Brown’s ancestors guilty of sin, but that they committed their sins in collaboration with the devil. This can also be applied to a broader sense of realization that evil does exist in the world, and that something or someone we perceive as good, may in fact be in league with the darkest of evil. An interesting point in the story occurs in the ninth paragraph, when Goodman Brown, now deep in the darkest reaches of the forest states “There may be a devilish Indian behind every three, what if the devil himself should be at my very elbow!” (page 386) This symbolizes the devil’s ability to enter a persons life and remain a part of it completely undetected until it is too late.
The story of Young Goodman Brown, is one that works on two very different levels. On it’s surface, the story appears as nothing ,more than the tale of a man who experiences a quite literally hellish event. Upon further analysis however, the story is a much deeper allegoric tale of the importance of faith, and how easily a person can be made or broken by it.