How does Hawthorne use irony in "Young Goodman Brown"?

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teacherscribe eNotes educator| Certified Educator

All three types of irony are present.  In fact, sometimes all three are present in a very scene. 

An example is early in the story when Brown fears someone might see him walking and conversing with the dark stranger.  Of course, he spies a woman hurrying toward them.  Brown notices that it is Goody Cloyse, whom he states is his is his spiritual advisor.  Here Hawthorne is setting us up for all kinds of irony. 

First, situational irony - what do we expect to happen (and maybe if you have read a lot of Hawthorne's work, it really isn't ironic at all)?  The first time I read it, I didn't expect this pious Salem woman, who also taught Brown his catechism, to be a witch.

Next, verbal irony - Brown has already admitted that Cloyse is a very important person to him, but Cloyse admits to the devil that Brown is really a silly fellow, so Brown hears the exact opposite of what he expects from his former catechism teacher and his current spiritual advisor.

Finally, dramatic irony - from Cloyse we learn that there is a new lad to be welcomed into the community of witches and sinners via the black mass.  This comment seems to be lost on Brown, but the reader realizes that the new lad is likely going to be none other than Brown himself.

These are just a few examples of the irony used by Hawthorne.  There are certainly others - the climax of the story and the resolution are also great examples.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are several instances of irony in "Young Goodman Brown," most notably situational irony.

One such instance of situational irony—when an event occurs that is not what is expected—relates to the man seated at the foot of an old tree who rises and walks with Goodman, and also resembles him. Goodman believes that he is the first of his family to take the path into the woods because his relatives were pious Christians; however, "he of the serpent" (the man resembling Brown) tells Goodman that he knew the Brown family, claiming they were his good friends. Apparently, then, the Browns were not righteous people as Goodman believes.

Perhaps the most significant situational irony of the story is the fact that, all along, Goodman Brown believes that his wife Faith is a good woman to whom he will return after the one night that he goes into the forest primeval. For he declares that after he returns he will "cling to her skirts and follow her to heaven." But, when he arrives in the forest, Faith is already at the black mass. After this, in another ironic twist, a despairing Goodman calls to the devil, "Come, devil; for to thee is this world given," and, like Adam, he suffers a great fall from innocence: "A stern, a sad, a darkly meditative, a distrustful, if not a desperate man did he become from the night of that fearful dream."

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Young Goodman Brown

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