In Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story "Young Goodman Brown," how are Brown's assumptions challenged by subsequent events?

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During the course of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story “Young Goodman Brown,” the title character makes a number of assumptions which are later challenged or contradicted by ensuing events.  Among those assumptions are the following:

  • Brown seems to assume that he can deliberately flirt with evil and easily return unchanged; it doesn’t seem to occur to him, at first, that his journey into the forest might have fundamental and life-altering cionsequences. He thinks that after one night of deliberate contact with Satan, he can cling to his wife’s skirts (symbolic of religious faith) and follow her to heaven.
  • Brown seems to assume that he needs to fear forces outside himself (such as hidden Indians or concealed devils), whereas by the end of the story it is clear that Brown most needs to fear his own darkest impulses.
  • Brown seems to assume that his father and other members of his family were free from sin, when of course no human (according to standard Christian teachings) is free from sin:

"My father never went into the woods on such an errand, nor his father before him. We have been a race of honest men and good Christians since the days of the martyrs; and shall I be the first of the name of Brown that ever took this path and kept'' . . .

  • Brown assumes that the people of his community are also free from sin (“We are a people of prayer, and good works to boot, and abide no such wickedness") – an assumption that is wrong for the same reason just mentioned.
  • Brown seems to assume that evil deeds, once committed, cannot be repented and forgiven. He forgets the power of God’s grace and mercy. He assumes that any deviation from perfection is cause for despair, when nothing, in fact, should be cause for despair. Despair, after all, assumes limits to God’s powers of forgiveness and redemption:

"My Faith is gone!'' cried he, after one stupefied moment. "There is no good on earth; and sin is but a name. Come, devil; for to thee is this world given.''

Brown's faith may indeed be gone, but none of the other statements he makes here is true. Moreover, his faith can be recovered if he is willing to seek forgiveness.

  • Brown assumes that his experiences in the forest may actually, literally have occurred, when in fact the narrator explicitly raises the possibility that Brown’s experiences were merely the products of a bad dream:

Had Goodman Brown fallen asleep in the forest and only dreamed a wild dream of a witch-meeting?

  • Finally, after his return to the village, Brown assumes that he has the right to judge his wife and the other members of the community. He assumes that he is morally and spiritually their superior -- yet one more assumption contradicted by his subsequent behavior and final fate.


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