Character Analysis in Young Goodman Brown

Goodman Brown: Goodman Brown is a pious young Puritan man living in the town of Salem, Massachusetts. For reasons that are unclear, he leaves his new bride one night to journey out into the woods and meet with the devil. Goodman Brown is a vessel for the perspectives and values of New England Puritanism, including the tendency to view morality as a matter of appearance and consensus. Brown’s adventures in the woods will force him to question everything he believes.

Faith Brown: Faith’s role in the story is mostly allegorical. By giving her the name “Faith,” Hawthorne presents her as a symbolic representation of Goodman Brown’s Puritan faith. When Goodman Brown witnesses Faith participating in a disturbing Black Mass in the woods, his beliefs are put to the test more than ever.

The Devil: In the woods Goodman Brown meets a well-dressed, courteous, middle-aged gentleman who resembles himself in appearance. The man bears a staff carved in the form of a black serpent and soon invites Goodman Brown to join him for a stroll. The man, it turns out, is the embodiment of the devil, and takes it upon himself to subject Goodman Brown to a series of insights and revelations that force the young Puritan to turn away from his blind faith.

Character Analysis Examples in Young Goodman Brown:

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"Had Goodman Brown fallen asleep in the forest and only dreamed a wild dream of a witch-meeting?..."   (Young Goodman Brown)

Readers may have wondered if Goodman Brown’s experience was simply a dream. However, even sinful dreams and thoughts count as sinful behavior in Puritanism. This means that Goodman Brown, in order to maintain appearances, cannot discuss this event with anyone because doing so could result in his being exiled from the community. He is therefore forced to live out his life in hypocrisy, infected by the knowledge that whether he sinned or dreamed he sinned, he suffers the same end—making his story a truly tragic one.

"But Goodman Brown looked sternly and sadly into her face, and passed on without a greeting...."   (Young Goodman Brown)

Goodman Brown may have left the devil and the forest, but he has been infected with a cynical, miserly outlook on his peers and his community. Faith’s actions in this passage suggest that either she isn’t bothered by the encounter in the woods, that she didn’t know about it, or that she wasn’t actually there—which raises the question of what Goodman Brown actually experienced and saw. Regardless, Goodman Brown does not speak of his time in the forest to his wife. By not openly discussing these events, he continues the cycle of unspoken Puritanical repression that his family has passed on to him, leaving him alone and without support.

"“Faith! Faith!” cried the husband; “look up to heaven, and resist the wicked one.”..."   (Young Goodman Brown)

Goodman Brown finally finds the strength to try and resist the devil when he sees Faith standing by the evil figure. However, Hawthorne’s word choice reveals this to be a hollow action. Instead of writing “cried Goodman Brown,” Hawthorne uses “the husband.” This separates Goodman Brown’s individuality from his position, suggesting that by begging Faith to “resist the wicked one,” Brown is merely acting out a perfunctory role as husband. This suggests that Goodman Brown’s time in the forest has upended his faith and cast a dark shadow over how he views his role in society.

"Come witch, come wizard, come Indian powwow, come devil himself, and here comes Goodman Brown. You may as well fear him as he fear you...."   (Young Goodman Brown)

Since Goodman Brown’s Puritan faith conveys a world of good versus evil without room for nuance or error, he decides to embrace evil after he realizes that he is a sinner. He cries out this famous quote to the wind, indicating that sin no longer strikes fear in him as it once did. Because he is a sinner, he figures he ought to be just as feared as other evil things. However, this extreme reaction suggests that he hasn’t learned how to cope with sin. He still functions through a Puritan lens of the world, which says that if he sins at all, then he is condemned to hell.

"Amidst these pleasant and praiseworthy meditations, Goodman Brown heard the tramp of horses along the road, and deemed it advisable to conceal himself..."   (Young Goodman Brown)

This is another example of Goodman Brown deciding to “conceal himself” from the eyes of others, a result of the Puritanical drive to appear good and to prevent the spread of rumors and suspicion. He thinks that if he can avoid being seen in the forest, then he can return to Salem and live a virtuous life. However, he fails to consider that walking into the forest and speaking with the devil could harm his soul. Another point here is to recall how Goodman Brown saw the forest when he first entered it:

not who may be concealed by the innumerable trunks and the thick boughs overhead; so that with lonely footsteps he may yet be passing through an unseen multitude.

Now, readers see the hypocrisy in this statement as Goodman Brown himself lurks among the evils of the forest, ignorant of his own behavior.

"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?..."   (Young Goodman Brown)

While the devil has revealed all the hypocrisy of Goodman Brown’s family, community, and his own ideas, Goodman Brown maintains a trust that his wife, Faith, is free of evil. It is this trust that keeps him from falling into sin. However, he still looks to another person rather than to his God or personal convictions. His actions reflect the Puritan tendency to seek external ideas of faith, particularly in the appearance of goodness, rather than pursuing personal, virtuous relationships between the self and a higher power.

"Being a stranger to you, she might ask whom I was consorting with and whither I was going...."   (Young Goodman Brown)

Goodman Brown’s statement here shows how much value Puritans placed on appearances. Since he thinks this woman is a good Christian, he wants to avoid her seeing him with a stranger. This avoidance gives us insight into Goodman Brown and the Puritan faith: he’s more scared about being seen with a sinner by a member of his community than he is about actually walking in the forest and talking with the devil, that latter of which could affect the condition of his soul. Goodman Brown sees his own good behavior only through the eyes of others. Notice how this self-deception is also deepened by his immediate assumption that this respectable-looking woman is a good Christian.

"We are a people of prayer, and good works to boot, and abide no such wickedness.”..."   (Young Goodman Brown)

Goodman Brown’s surprise that his family “never spoke of these matters” reveals an issue with the repressive nature of his faith. Because the Puritans judged one’s moral character on one’s outward appearance, to talk about morally ambiguous issues or individual failings was taboo. So, Goodman Brown has no experiences with moral nuance to draw on in this situation, forcing him to continue deluding himself by applying his all-too simplistic logic.

"I have been as well acquainted with your family as with ever a one among the Puritans;..."   (Young Goodman Brown)

This man, identified as the devil, seeks to manipulate Goodman Brown by claiming he knows Brown’s family well. If Goodman Brown believes that his family have always been good Puritans, then the revelation that they have all made deals with the devil undermines what Goodman Brown has thought to be true much of his life. Since Goodman Brown looks to others for spiritual guidance rather than evaluate behavior for himself, this manipulation begins to work, corrupting his prior certainties.

"But the only thing about him that could be fixed upon as remarkable was his staff..."   (Young Goodman Brown)

Readers ought to pause and consider the nature of this man. He may be plainly dressed, but the presence of a staff that looks like a large, black snake helps reveal his true nature. Snakes are associated with evil in the Christian biblical tradition, as the devil presents himself to Adam and Eve in the form of a serpent in the book of Genesis. The man’s clothes may allow him to pass as a member of a Puritan community, but the staff reveals him for who he really is: the devil.

"But no, no; 'twould kill her to think it. Well, she's a blessed angel on earth;..."   (Young Goodman Brown)

Goodman Brown’s claim that Faith is so incapable of even thinking sinful thoughts that it would kill her reveals his worldview to be black and white, that people are either saints or sinners without any middle ground. However, he fails to look at his own actions. He thinks that he can endure one night of sin and then return to Salem and be good and faithful for the rest of his life. This lack of self-awareness creates conflict within Goodman Brown which will prove disastrous for him later in the story.

"Methought as she spoke there was trouble in her face, as if a dream had warned her what work is to be done tonight. ..."   (Young Goodman Brown)

Goodman Brown briefly considers the idea that Faith could know about his purpose for journeying into the woods, but he quickly dismisses the notion, stating that she is simply too good and pure to suspect him of any kind of evil intent. However, the repetition in “no, no” shows a small amount of suspicion on Goodman Brown’s part, as if he has to persuade himself that Faith couldn’t think such things. This is the first indication of the suspicion he has for his Puritan community and faith.

"A lone woman is troubled with such dreams and such thoughts that she's afeard of herself sometimes...."   (Young Goodman Brown)

Faith’s claim that she is “troubled with such dreams and such thoughts” is significant. For Puritans, one’s thoughts and dreams pose a real danger to one’s spiritual well-being because sin is not limited to physical actions. This claim suggests that Faith herself is not as innocent and pure as Goodman Brown believes her to be.