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While we may easily identify Young Goodman Brown as the protagonist in "Young Goodman Brown" by Nathaniel Hawthorne, it may be less obvious as to who the antagonist is.
By definition, a protagonist is a character around which the story revolves—who the story is mainly about. Hawthorne's tale is about Brown's journey into the forest one evening on an "errand."
The antagonist has to do with the story's conflict (though there may be more than one conflict), and is seen as the character "or force" that opposes the protagonist. In reading the story, one might first believe that the antagonist in the story is the old man who represents the Devil. His appearance frightens Brown, though the text notes that he is not surprised to see the "man" there.
“You are late, Goodman Brown,” said he. “The clock of the Old South was striking as I came through Boston, and that is full fifteen minutes agone.”
“Faith kept me back a while,” replied the young man, with a tremor in his voice, caused by the sudden appearance of his companion, though not wholly unexpected.
As Brown and the old man travel, we learn that his companion has known many of Brown's ancestors; as they continue on together, many of the most prominent citizens of this Puritan community are also in league with the Devil, heading to a Black Mass in the middle of the woods. Not once does Brown complain or attempt to leave the old man, suggesting that Brown is there by choice. However, when he sees his wife, Faith, at the gathering, he loses his trust in her goodness. In fact, it is after this that Brown loses trust in the virtuousness of mankind. This knowledge is what changes Brown.
The next morning young Goodman Brown comes slowly into the street of Salem village, staring around him like a bewildered man.
Brown perceives his neighbors in a new way: he sees "the good old minister" and "shrinks from him." Old Deacon Gookin is praying at his window, and Brown wonders,
What God doth the wizard pray to?
As he continues, Brown sees the woman he once revered:
Goody Cloyse, that excellent old Christian, stood in the early sunshine at her own lattice, catechizing a little girl who had brought her a pint of morning's milk. Goodman Brown snatched away the child as from the grasp of the fiend himself.
Finally, Brown sees his new wife, who he so loved before his visit to the woods. Now, he can only see her based upon his experience the night before, something he is not even sure actually happened. However, his lovely wife is now an "anathema." He walks past her without speaking. And from then on, he is a cynical, broken man.
Had Goodman Brown fallen asleep in the forest and only dreamed a wild dream of a witch-meeting?
Be it so if you will; but, alas! It was a dream of evil omen for young Goodman Brown. A stern, a sad, a darkly meditative, a distrustful, if not a desperate man did he become from the night of that fearful dream.
The question regarding who the antagonist is does not, as I see it, point to the Devil. The antagonist is Brown himself. In terms of the story's conflict, it is man vs. self. His lack of faith in others, perhaps in knowing he is not the man he wishes he could be, destroys his relationships with everyone he knows. His inability to accept imperfection in others and self, are what destroy Young Goodman Brown.
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