Young Goodman Brown: Symbolism from a Dark Tale

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Updated: Mar 06, 2023
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Young Goodman Brown by Nathaniel Hawthorne tells a compelling story that brings readers to think about society set up by group values, principles, and the concept of personal moral decisions. The short story is enriched with symbolism that focuses on the everlasting battle between good and evil. Hawthorne creates a character to represent an everyday man, his journey on losing his innocence and entering the force of evil’s darkness. The story contains society corruption, the lack of personal moral choices, and an encounter with the devil himself.

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While the story ends vague, the idea of Goodman not knowing if the devil encounter was reality or fantasy gives readers a hint that Goodman experience society corruption in front of his eyes or Goodman is having morbid thoughts. Good vs. Evil is the overall theme that is supported by the protagonist and his wife’s names, the wife’s pink ribbons, along with the story setting.

The protagonist’s name helps develop the short story’s overall theme. Goodman Brown is a play on words. Goodman can be separated into “good man”. While it is clear that the protagonist represents the average man, the irony of his name will stimulate the theme of the short story. Goodman is first presented as an innocent, godly man who is freshly married. Though, in the scholarly article, How Young Goodman Brown Became Old Badman Brown by Robert W. Cochran, the discussion of the symbolism Goodman’s name has appeared. Cochran states that Goodman was never a “good man” as he was the one to choose to leave his Faith (154). To support Mr. Cochran, as the short story furthers the corruption and consumption of evil come over our “good man”. Readers will quickly take note that Goodman Brown may present a “good man” to his society but when he sees his father, grandfather, Goody Cloyse, Deacon Gookin and his wife on the Devil’s side, he is quick to forget his personal morals and religious beliefs to follow the same footsteps as his community. As ironic as the protagonist’s name can be, he is not the only character in this chilling tale to have some irony behind their name.

The main character wife’s name developed the Good vs. Evil theme as well in the short story. Goodman Brown wife’s name is Faith. Her name symbolizes the faith Goodman Brown carries in his soul. Though at the start of the literature, readers are informed that Goodman is leaving his wife Faith at night to attend a mysterious journey. Goodman claims after the late night encounter he will never leave Faith’s side. “ She’s a blessed angel on earth; and after this one night, I’ll cling to her skirts and follow her to Heaven” (Hawthorne 7). As the appearance of Mr. Brown’s wife disappears so does his own personal faith as well. In the scholarly article, Young Goodman Brown’s “Heart of Darkness” by Paul J. Hurley, the importance of Goodman Brown’s departure from his wife Faith is written. Hurley notes that Goodman leaving his wife Faith also was the beginning of him losing his faith (religious faith in this context) (412). “What a wretch am I, to leave her on such an errand! She talks of dreams, too. Methought, as she spoke, there was trouble in her face, as if a dream had warned her what work is to be done to-night. But, no, no! ‘t would kill her to think it”(Hawthorne 7). Goodman Brown knows that this “errand” he is going to run will kill his Faith. In the scholarly article, Young Goodman Brown’s “Heart of Darkness” by Paul J. Hurley, Hurley claims that when Goodman Brown is being scolded for being late for the night encounter, he says that Faith held him back. Though Faith (his wife and his religious faith) did not stop him to continue his journey (413). Having an encounter with the devil made Goodman Brown become full of doubt, confusion, and loss of religious principles and values.

Though, innocence does not only comes from Faith’s name but her attire as well. The pink ribbons on Faith’s (the main character’s spouse) cap is a symbol to enrich the overall theme of Young Goodman Brown. In the short story, we are introduced with Faith wearing her cap with pink ribbons. Nathaniel Hawthorne describes Faith in the beginning as a bubbly, young, pure woman and her pink ribbons enhance Hawthorne’s image of Faith to readers. The color pink is often associated with modesty and innocence. The color pink is usually directed towards young girls especially on their clothes and their bedroom decor. Even ribbons are associated with delicacy, modesty, and pureness as they can be found in little girls’ hair, and their clothes like dresses, shoes, and socks. Readers can make the connection that the pink ribbons also further develops Nathaniel Hawthorne’s image for Goodman Brown’s wife. As readers continue to read the short narrative, Goodman sees familiar faces when meeting the devil including his wife, Faith. In the scholarly article, Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown”: Cynicism or Meliorism? By Paul W. Miller, he touches upon what happens to Faith’s pink ribbons during their devil encounter. Miller proclaims when Goodman sees Faith’s pink ribbons fly away through the forest, it was a sign of Faith’s loss of innocence (260). “But something fluttered lightly down through the air, and caught on the branch of a tree. The young man seized it, and beheld a pink ribbon” (Hawthorne 49). Removing those accessories from Faith is a sign of removing the element of innocence that Hawthorne added when creating the character Faith.

This also showed Goodman Brown that his image of his wife was wrong as she is not a bubbly, pure and modest woman but a woman who is committing the same sin as him. The tale may have mainly focused on the main character’s corruption, it fits the overall theme of Good Vs. Evil because Hawthorne hints to readers that Goodman is not the only character to become corrupted. To continue with the loss of innocence of Goodman Brown and Faith, the setting of tale helps support the overall theme. The narrative takes place in Salem, Massachusetts. In the 1600s, Salem was notorious for their Salem witch trials. The characters encountering with the devil, living in Salem during the time the Puritans lived there make readers question if this story was about the witch trials. In the scholarly article, The Sources of Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown” by Fannye N. Cherry, the topic of characters being possible witches was discussed. Cherry claims, the characters Goodman sees at the encounter may be people with positions in their community, average folk during the day time but during the night time, they take part of these nightly activities, fitting the characteristics of being accused as a witch in Salem (345). To support Fannye Cherry’s claim, the fact that Goodman’s community does not react to the night encounter the next morning can help prove that Goodman’s community members may be witches or that it was all a bad dream. Historically in the Salem trials, the accused citizens were recorded as being tempted by the devil. So if Goodman Brown was dreaming the whole encounter, that must mean Goodman Brown could have some dark temptations that could have come from the devil himself. If Goodman Brown did not dream the encounter and it actually happened, the members that were involved could have pretended it did not happen. Like Cherry said, certain citizens that were accused were often labeled as average citizens during the day and witches at night so why would Goodman’s community bring up what happened at night when they are trying to keep it a secret during the day? The setting being Salem, Massassachussetts created a foundation to bring forth the chilling theme of Good Vs. Evil in the short story.

The unsettling narrative about Goodman Brown centers around the theme Good Vs. Evil by highlighting symbolisms that shows personal loss of innocence. The irony of Goodman Brown’s name shows readers that even though Goodman represents a “good man” at first but as the story continues, readers find out that Goodman is not actually oh-so-good. Goodman is not the only character with meaning in their names. Goodman’s wife Faith represents Goodman’s religious faith. Readers find out that Goodman leaves his wife Faith to go on this “errand” just like he left his religious faith when he attended the errand. Faith’s pink ribbons represent innocence and modesty by color and design. When Goodman sees the ribbons flying through the sky, Hawthorne hints that Faith has lost her innocence. Having Young Goodman Brown taking place in Salem, Massassachussetts sets the mood for the iconic battle between Good and Evil by introducing the historical Salem Witch Trials concept. Having Goodman see certain members of his community partake in the satanic encounter can bring up the question if there are some witches in the community. Overall, Young Goodman Brown weighs on the idea of losing innocence, losing religious faith, the historical concept of demons and witches, and evil temptation. Nathaniel Hawthorne fills this literature with symbolism that can make readers even question their own moral choices. Young Goodman Brown raises the question of how far curiosity can go to bring up one’s deepest and darkest temptations.

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Young Goodman Brown: Symbolism From a Dark Tale. (2021, Mar 08). Retrieved from