“Young Goodman Brown” is a short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne depicting the eternal battle between good and evil. It is a tale of a young man walking through a gloomy forest with an elderly companion to perform a wicked deed. Throughout the journey, the main character, Goodman Brown, doubts his decision to follow his friend, while the old person tries to persuade him by acknowledging acquaintance with many powerful men, including the local pastors, deacons, and the governor.
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In the course of actions, the reader realizes that the two men are heading to a Devil worshipers’ meeting to accept the young man as their new member. In the Goodman Brown gathers strength to resist the sin and wakes up in the middle of the forest as if everything was a dream. In short, the main idea of the story is that all men can stand against evil with the help of their family and faith in God.
Hawthorne conveys his idea to the reader through symbolic characters that are not difficult to interpret, as the main characters have names that speak for themselves. First, the young Goodman Brown is a symbol of all the good men in the world that are trying to resist the temptation of evil. He is a naive person who learns the evil history of his family and all the people he trusted (Hawthorne para. 18). Even though the main character is maddened by all the dreadful knowledge he acquires, he finds an inspiration to fight against the Devil and stay unbroken.
Second, youthful Faith Brown, Goodman’s wife, is a symbol of both belief and family. She is described as a young woman with a pretty head and pink ribbons in her cap (Hawthorne para. 1). She is a pure, innocent, and sometimes silly woman who makes her husband want to protect her from the dark side of his life. In short, Faith is Goodman Brown’s only incentive to stay righteous and godly.
Third, the companion is a symbol of Satan who persuades all the pure and virtuous people into worshiping the sin. The character is described as an ordinary-dressed man with “an indescribable air of one who knew the world, and would not have felt abashed at the governor’s dinner-table, or in King William’s court” (Hawthorne para. 13). The most revealing part about the character is his staff that reminds a seducing snake of the heavenly garden. He is acquainted with all the important men to Brown and describes them all as sinners. In brief, the traveler accompanying young Goodman is a clear picture of the Devil confusing and deceiving all the people through showing that everyone is a sinner.
Interpreting the Symbols
The interpretation of symbols leads us to understand that the only to stand against sin is with the help of faith and family. Before joining the dark meeting, Goodman Brown shouts “My Faith is gone!” (Hawthorne para. 48). By these words, he acknowledges that both his wife and his belief in God left him. The main protagonist of the short story is ready to abandon his idea of fiend worshiping before realizing that his wife, who is a symbol of both faith and family, has joined Satan. At the same time, virtuous people can resist the temptation of sin by only looking in the face of their family members and his principles.
While the interpretation of symbols leads to the realization that family members and faith in God are the crucial incentives to fight against Devil, there are other motives present in the story. A careful reader might realize that there is evidence that Goodman Brown has joined the fiend worshippers, as “his dying hour was gloom” (Hawthorne para. 72). There is a possibility that the man has become broken by the incident. In conclusion, the story is not univocal and can find different interpretations depending on the character and experience of the reader.
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Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “Young Goodman Brown.” Web.