The short story Young Goodman Brown by Nathaniel Hawthorne, is a story of a man, Goodman Brown, who comes to find out that the people he surrounds himself with are not perfect. During a journey testing his faith, a traveler, the devil, is able to use Browns naivete against him. After the devil has his way with Goodman Browns mind, Brown is never again able to trust even his wife, who is aptly named Faith, let alone anyone else. Browns view on humanity there on is one of deceit. This story has numerous associations with symbolism including the story of Goodman Brown himself, his wife Faith and her pink ribbons, the traveler he meets, and the journey he takes.
Goodman Browns name plays as a symbol in the story. His name Young Goodman Brown makes reference to him as being a young and a good person. Then Hawthorne gives him such a common last name that it relates him to any and everybody. The idea that it would be anyone or everybody symbolizes that it was a reference to all society. In spite of his name, there is no proof that Goodman Brown was ever a good person at all. Throughout his whole journey in the forest, he never makes the argument that he should stop because it is morally wrong. Brown most likely only resists during the ceremony because he realizes that his sins will be exposed.
Faith, Browns wife and her pink ribbons are used as symbols throughout the story. Her pink ribbons symbolize her youth, innocence and purity, and her name symbolizes her husbands childlike spirituality at the beginning of the story. The name Faith is symbolic of Browns lost hope. When he says, My love and my Faith, he is using his wife as a symbol and is really referring to his love and faith in God. He goes on to say this one night I must tarry away from thee. He means that he must part from his faith in God to carry on with his journey. He also says to the devil, Faith kept me back awhile and is making reference to a higher being that is trying to keep him from making his journey by delaying it. When Brown finds the pink ribbon that his wife was wearing lying in the forest he says, my faith is gone that is referring to himself as losing his faith in God. This quote has multiple meanings because after seeing all the pious and godly figures of his town turned to evil he has lost his faith in the all the inhabitants of his world except his Faith and now theyve got her too. If he can believe that his wife can have this secret presence of evil inside her, there is no hope for anyone else to gain his trust. Brown tells himself that the Devil will not take hold of his faith although he has to keep reassuring himself.
The traveler is symbolic of the devil and Goodman Browns dark side. When Goodman enters the dark forest it is as if the forest is a palette where the devil can paint images to cloud and tempt the faith of Goodman Brown. In the forest he
meets up with a second traveler, about fifty years old, apparently in the same rank as Goodman Brown, and bearing considerable resemblance to him. The second traveler is portrayed as the devil. He carries with him a staff, which bore the likeness of a great black snake. Snakes of course signify the devil, making the reader think he represents a devilish symbol. The staff, which looked like a snake, symbolizes the snake in the story of Adam and Eve. The snake led Adam and Eve to their destruction by leading them to the Tree of Knowledge, just as Brown is being led to unfathomed knowledge by the devil, and in turn is being led to his destruction. Just like Adam and Eve, when Brown finds the fountain of all wicked arts his faith is exiled from him just as Adam and Eve were cast from the garden. The devil tells him about how his grandfather and his father had done all these atrocities with the help of the devil. Upon hearing this Goodman Brown has lost faith in his father and grandfather. The devil then moves on to others that are significant in Goodman Browns life. Goodman Brown is being made to believe that everyone is inherently evil and that their piousness is only a faade for their covert interactions with the devil. He imagines himself seeing Goody Cloyse, and influential spiritual advisor that taught him his catechism cavorting with the devil. He is seeing what he wants to see. The devil is making all his sub-conscious suspicions come alive in this venture into the dark forest. He is being made to suspect everyone, his grandfather, father, the minister, Deacon Gookin, and even his wife Faith. The devil uses Browns lack of faith, especially in his wife, against him, and Brown is so drawn in by the devil he does not take heed when he sees what is done to the branches of the trees and to the staff the devil is carrying.
The forest that Goodman Brown ventures into is a symbol of the test of strength, courage, and endurance. As Goodman Brown is about to leave for his journey, the exchange between Faith and himself foreshadows the outcome of the journey. As he travels through the forest he knows he should go back to his faith and Faith, but his fascination with evil compels him to go on. He leaves his wife after she asks him not to go, and says thinking out loud, After this one night, Ill cling to her skirts and follow her to Heaven. Taking the dark drearing road into the forest symbolizes his act of plumbing into the road leading to despair. The move into darkness gives the feeling of upcoming danger. During the trip Brown must decide for himself whether people are basically good, evil, or both, and his journey into the woods parallels his journey into his soul. Brown leads himself down a journey of curiosity. It destroyed Browns ability to trust anyone ever again including his wife.
The story as a whole symbolizes that the potential for evil resides in everybody. The rest of Browns life is destroyed because of his inability to face the truth of sin and live with it. Instead of bravely battling down the dangers of the forest and emerging a more mature person, Goodman Brown emerges a ruined man. The story, which may have been a dream, and not a real life event, planted the seed of doubt in Browns mind, which him to lose his faith in his fellow man and leaves him alone and depressed. His life ends alone and miserable because he was never able to look at himself and realize that what he believed were everyone elses faults were his as well, and this led to his isolation from the community. Brown was buried with no hopeful verse upon his tombstone; for his dying hour was gloom.Enlightenment can impact great wisdom, but only those minds, which are open to receiving it. Goodman Brown was not.