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Symbolic Analysis of Nathaniel Hawthorn's "Young Goodman Brown"

Updated on December 7, 2011

Symbolic Analysis of Nathaniel Hawthorn’s Young Goodman Brown

A symbolic analysis of Nathaniel Hawthorn’s, Young Goodman Brown, reveals that Young Goodman Brown is on a journey to see what the devil has to offer because of his doubts in the Puritan religion and his suspicions of his neighbor’s possible hypocrisy. As Goodman Brown journeys into the forest, the stronger his doubts and suspicions become. Goodman Brown wants to see what the devil has to offer but still hold on to his puritan faith.

In the beginning of the story Faith, Goodman Brown’s wife, urges him to stay and not go into the forest; this is his conscious trying to warn him of the dangers to come. Goodman Brown tells Faith, “Say thy prayers … and go to bed at dusk, and no harm will come to thee” (81), he is trying to serve God while entertaining his desire to indulge in what the devil has. Against his better judgment he goes into the forest anyway. Goodman Brown’s wife, Faith, symbolizes his faith in God.

As Goodman Brown starts his journey into the forest he comes across two travelers. The first person Goodman Brown meets is a traveler with a staff that looks like a black snake. The traveler is a representation of Satan, in the Bible Satan is referred to as the serpent. (2085) The traveler, Satan, is pulling Goodman Brown deeper and deeper into the forest. When Goodman Brown starts to realize that questioning his faith is a dangerous thing to do and something his father and grandfather would have never done Satan counters his statements by sharing the truth with Brown that his father was a hypocrite who overly beat a woman and his grandfather murdered Indians. Satan also tells Brown that he is good friends with many church deacons and that they have also come into the forest and made a pact with him. These statements further solidify Goodman Brown’s doubts in the Puritan faith.

The traveler (Satan) also carriers with him a staff which is black in color: a symbol of evil. The staff is also in the shape of a snake, a snake represents deception and temptation and in this story it symbolizes the guilty purpose that has brought Brown to the forest. When someone takes hold of the staff they seem to travel faster through the forest, just like in real life when we yield to temptation we end up deeper into the mess then we intended.

The second person Goodman Brown meets on his journey is Goody Cloyse, she represents Goodman Brown’s doubts in the honest living of his neighbors. In the woods Goody Cloyse is revealed to be a witch but in his waking life he knows Goody Cloyse because she was the woman who taught him his catechism. He then hears the voices of a few travelers with horses; their voices seem to sound like some of the church deacons. These people represent the hypocrisy in the puritan church. By day the deacons and Goody Cloyse teach the scriptures and follow the religious customs of the church but by night they take part in the communion of the devil.

Throughout the story Brown makes remarks about Faith’s pink ribbons. Pink ribbons are something many young girls wear and girls are a sign of purity and innocence. Faith’s ribbons are symbolic of Goodman Brown’s innocence as it slowly fades. When he is deep into the forest he realizes he’s past the point of no return when Faith’s pink ribbon is carried by the wind and lights upon a branch near him, he then cries out “My Faith is gone!”, a metaphor that his actual faith in God is gone.

Even though the events Good Brown experienced were a dream, it was so vivid that he can’t get it out of his mind. When he’s awake he thinks everyone he knows is hiding a dark secret. He thought going into the forest to make communion with the devil would allow him to see the honest truth of his neighbor’s hidden secrets but still be able to live a good Christian life. He finds out the hard way that even in a dream his bond with the devil stills holds power on him in his waking life. In the end Goodman Brown is completely consumed by his doubts and suspicions and life for him will never be the same. The symbols of Goodman Brown’s dream embody his doubts and suspicions allowing the reader to see a glimpse into the twisted dark side of the early Puritan church.

Work Cited

Hawthorn, Nathaniel. “Young Goodman Brown.” Literature: The Human Experience. Richard Abcarian, Samuel Cohen , Marvin Koltz. Bedford/St. Martins: Boston and New York, 2010. 81-91. Print.

Life in the Spirit: Study Bible. Revelation 20:2. Ed. Donald C. Stamps and John Wesley Adams. Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan. 1992, 2003. Print. King James Version.


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