In Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown," how and when does Young Goodman Brown know that his companion is the devil?

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ecofan74 | College Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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From the beginning of the story, it is clear to the reader that Young Goodman Brown realizes his errand is for an evil purpose. Based solely on this, one could assume that Brown understands that his meeting would be with the devil is a real possibility. Perhaps Brown’s first real indication that his companion is truly the devil occurs when he sees the nature of the figure’s staff. The crooked staff appears as if it possessed the characteristics of a black serpent. On more than one occasion, Brown indicates that the staff seemed to wriggle not unlike a serpent would.

The conversation between the figure and Young Goodman Brown also provides hints that the Brown’s companion is indeed the devil. He tells Brown that he was responsible for his grandfather whipping a Quaker woman simply because she did not share Puritan beliefs. He supplied the wood that allowed his grandfather to set fire to an Indian village during King Philip’s War. The figure’s role in both of these acts is consistent with the common perception of the devil, even in Goodman Brown’s time. The devil’s power rests in influencing others to commit acts of evil. The Puritans, to this end, have achieved a great deal in the name of “faith.”

In their conversation together, the figure and Brown come across an elderly woman, Goody Cloyse, who had served as Brown’s spiritual advisor in his youth. When the figure approaches the woman, she makes no mistake in identifying him as the devil. The figure confirms her assertion, but rather than showing astonishment at his admission, Goody Cloyse takes to calling him “your worship.” Being the most devout person he knows, Goodman Brown reaches two conclusions from this encounter. He finally surmises the extent of the devil’s influence on his village and he receives unequivocal evidence that the figure is indeed the figure of the devil.

 

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