Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
“Young Goodman Brown” is a perfect example of Hawthorne’s favorite theme: that human nature is full of hidden wickedness. The young hero’s journey in the story is symbolic of one’s journey through life, in which each individual gradually loses his or her naïveté and innocence as a result of exposure to greed, lust, envy, perversion, and the other sins of humanity.
The crowning blow to Brown’s naïve conception of the world comes when he discovers that his own meek and innocent wife, Faith, is one of the celebrants at the Walpurgis Night orgy. As is often the case, Hawthorne treats his theme with a tongue-in-cheek humor which arises mainly from the contrast between people’s real characters and the false faces they present to the world. The humor is vital to this story; the reader is enticed along the forest pathway by an illusion of frivolity and comes to realize the full horror intended only after finishing the last page.
Stories such as this entitle Hawthorne to be considered one of the principal founders of the modern short story, a form of literature in which American authors have excelled. The essence of a modern short story, as defined by Edgar Allan Poe in a newspaper review of Hawthorne’s Twice-Told Tales, is that every detail contributes to a single effect. Prior to Hawthorne’s time, short stories tended to be episodic and loosely structured, often resembling essays. The single effect of a modern short...
(The entire section is 420 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Young Goodman Brown is bidding his wife, Faith, farewell at their front door. It is evening in the village, and he is going on a guilty errand, a fact that he clearly recognizes and deplores but an errand he has chosen to undertake nevertheless. Taking a route into the forest, he meets, as by appointment, an older man who bears a fatherly resemblance to both Brown and the Devil.
Brown initially considers his decision to go on his unholy errand an exceptional one, but he soon discovers that other presumably exemplary villagers are on the same path, including, to his amazement, Goody Cloyse, a pious old woman who once taught him his catechism but who readily confesses to the practice of witchcraft. With Brown still confident that he can turn back, his older companion departs, leaving behind his curiously snakelike staff and fully expecting that Brown will soon follow.
Brown hides from another group of approaching figures, which includes the minister and deacon of his church and even—to his horror—his wife, Faith. At this point, he yields to despair and sets forth to join in what is obviously a witches’ Sabbath or Black Mass. Laughing and blaspheming, Brown rushes toward the throng in the forest. Literally everyone noted for sanctity seems to be gathered together in communion with known sinners before a rock altar amid blazing pine trees. He is led to the latter with another initiate; when her veil is removed, he recognizes Faith. A dark...
(The entire section is 371 words.)
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Newlywed Goodman Brown sets forth at sunset for the nearby forest, where he apparently has an appointment. Leaving Salem village, he promises his wife, Faith, that he will return after this single night. Confused by Brown’s odd behavior and mysterious errand, Faith fails to convince him to remain at home, or at least to delay his journey until the following morning. Criticizing her for doubting his purposes, Brown nevertheless seems conscience-stricken about his own motivations. He vows to be true to Faith and to their religious faith—after this one night. His wife can only hope that this experience, whatever it is, will not change their lives for the worse.
Soon after he walks into the darkening forest, Brown expresses fear that in the gloomy wilderness he could easily be ambushed by the devil himself. He then sees a man (actually, the text suggests that he looks “like” a man) who bears an uncanny resemblance to Brown’s own venerated grandfather. This man uses a crooked walking stick that resembles a serpent—from a distance and in the dim light it even seems to wiggle. Asked by the man why he is late for his appointment, Brown responds that Faith had delayed him. As the two walk and talk, Brown periodically voices his apprehension and says he must return to Salem and Faith.
Asserting his family’s virtue, Brown disbelieves his companion’s account of being well acquainted with the people of New England, including Brown’s...
(The entire section is 683 words.)
"Young Goodman Brown" opens with Young Goodman Brown about to embark on an evening's journey. His young wife, Faith, fearful for some unknown reason, beseeches him to delay his journey. Goodman Brown, however, stresses that he has a task that must be accomplished before sunrise, and so the newlyweds reluctantly part. As he walks down the street, Goodman Brown chides himself for leaving Faith while he goes on his journey and resolves that, after this night, he will stay by the side of his good and pious wife. Pleased with himself, Goodman Brown then hurries through the forest to accomplish some unknown task.
Deeper in the forest Goodman Brown spies an old man, who is actually the Devil in disguise, waiting for him. Goodman Brown blames Faith for making him late. The older man, who has a curious resemblance to Goodman Brown, carries a staff which resembles a black snake. When the older man urges Goodman Brown to take the staff to ease his walk, Goodman Brown expresses second thoughts and his intention to go home. The older man convinces Goodman Brown to walk with him, however, and listen to the reasons why he should continue. Goodman Brown agrees and murmurs that his forefathers, good honest Christians, would never go on such a walk.
To his surprise, Brown finds this is not true. His companion tells him that he is well acquainted with the Brown family and that he helped Brown's father and grandfather commit acts such as the punishment of...
(The entire section is 835 words.)