How is the story "Young Goodman Brown" an allegory based on an inward journey?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The journey of Goodman Brown is one which is allegorically connected to the Puritan-Calvinistic concept of the innate depravity of man. Young--as one who is innocent--Goodman Brown, the Puritan Everyman, decides to test his faith and journey with the old man who resembles Goodman's grandfather, a traveler in possession of a staff that is "in the likeness of a great snake." Committed to Faith, Brown leaves his wife behind to journey alone for one night into the primeval forest where the black mass is celebrated. Brown believes his personal goodness will arm him against any evil:

"We (the Puritans) are a people of prayer, and good works to boot, and abide no such wickedness."

However, his faith is shaken when along the way he and the old man encounter Goody Cloyse, who once taught him his catechism, and Deacon Gookin [historical figures from the Salem witchcraft trials]. Goody Cloyse recognizes the "elder traveller" and calls him "your worship" as she notices Brown, saying "...there is a nice young man to be taken into communion tonight." 

After this encounter, Brown considers returning to his Faith, but, upon further consideration, he decides to venture into the forest, imagining with what a clear conscience he will meet the minister the next morning as he will have so "happily turned" from temptations. However, when Brown realizes that he has come upon the black mass, he falters, grabbing a tree to support him. vowing to "stand firm against the devil." Then, he hears a familiar voice and he cries out, "Faith! Faith!" as a dark cloud sweeps over him, the cloud of religious doubt. Then, when Goodman Brown beholds the pink ribbons waft downward to earth, he cries aloud,

"My Faith is gone...There is no good on earth, and sin is but a name. Come, devil for to thee is this world given."

At this point Goodman grasps the staff and seems to fly along the forest path, embracing what he perceives as the innate depravity of man. This, indeed, is Goodman's inward journey:

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 heart of man.

The truth that Goodman learns is that no one is immune to temptations of the devil. Therefore, human relationships become problematic, even inscrutable, since no one is pure. Faith's ribbons are pink, not white; her soul has some of the scarlet of sin. Thus, after his journey into the primeval forest and his crisis of faith, Brown finds evil in places where there is none, and by doing so, he alienates himself from all others, such as Faith who exists in a complex world of both good and evil. And, "his dying hour is gloom" because Goodman Brown finds nothing for which he can merit salvation.

The moral of this allegory is predicated upon the experiences of Young Goodman Brown and the psychology of sin: He who looks for evil where there is none finds little but misery for himself.