What does the snake symbolize in "Young Goodman Brown"?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Traditionally, the snake has been the symbol of evil and associated with the devil.  (e.g. the serpent in the Garden of Evil)  When Goodman Brown meets his guide who has "a staff, which bore the likenss of a great black snake, so curiously wrought that it might almost be seen to twist ans wriggle like a living serpent," there is an ambiguity established with this description just as there is an ambiguity about the interpretation of the incidents in the rest of the story. For, Hawthorne writes that the older man so closely resembles Goodman that they could be mistaken for father and son.  After completing the story, the reader is left to wonder how much of what happens is the imagination of a man who perceives himself as the only one who is "good." Thus, the older man may be what Goodman becomes after his he attends what he perceives as diabolic ceremony in the forest.  That is, the older man is Goodman Brown after he has lost his faith in people's goodness; he sees evil in the other people, and the "snake" may represent the twisting of evil interpretation in the mind of Goodman Brown.


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