Does Goodman Brown finally escape the clutches of the devil? What are Hawthorne's views of human nature and of evil? How do you interpret the end of the story?
Hawthorne shows in this and other stories that human beings are both good and evil. About half way through "Goodman Brown," the narrator says “in truth, all through the haunted forest, there could be nothing more frightful than the figure of Goodman Brown….The fiend in his own shape is less hideous, than when he rages in the breast of man.” It is significant that none of the other villagers that he meets in the forest are so “frightful”; in fact, they look very ordinary. One interpretation is that others have accepted their evil nature while still maintaining their goodness, and as a result can still live productive lives. This is what Brown cannot do. Satan says “Evil is the nature of mankind,” and this is partly true. He also says, “Evil must be your only happiness,” and but Satan lies, for evil is hisonly happiness, not necessarily that of others. Here is where Brown deeply sins and succumbs to Satan for he accepts those words, discounting the simultaneous goodness in himself and others including his wife. Brown dies a miserable man because he cannot accept the complexity of humankind and continues to separate the good from the bad. Not accepting the nature of evil in others nor in himself, and that it coexists with goodness, he dies an unhappy man.
As YGB judges his fellow villagers for their sins, he elevates himself to a level reserved for God. By doing so, he fails to achieve salvation, and falls forever into the clutches of the devil. Puritans believed that one's death indicated one's afterlife. Since YGB's "dying hour was gloom," so was his afterlife.