Is "Young Goodman Brown" a predictable story?

“Young Goodman Brown” is either predictable or unpredictable, depending on the reader's knowledge of the history of Puritan New England. Readers familiar with this history may know what to expect from the story at each point, while those less familiar may be surprised by the turns the plot takes.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The predictability of Nathaniel Hawthorne's story “Young Goodman Brown” depends upon the reader. Readers familiar with the Salem witch trials or with the history of Puritan New England more generally may find the story relatively predictable. The young eponymous protagonist goes off into the woods at night and sees a man who represents the devil. He also sees many of his own neighbors, including the minister, and his very own wife coming together in a horrible ceremony—just as people were accused of doing during the Salem witch trials. The protagonist then finds himself alone, perhaps waking up from a horrible dream. When he returns to the village, he cannot forget what he has seen. Everyone looks different to him, and he treats them differently. He cannot even love his wife as he used to. His experience has affected him greatly. Readers who know history will understand that Hawthorne is critiquing Puritan culture and perhaps even identifying some of the tendencies that gave rise to the Salem witch trials. The way Goodman Brown mistakes his dream for reality represents how incidents can be misinterpreted through fear and confusion. And the way he completely denounces the presence of sin in others represents the moral rigidity and simplicity of Puritanism during that time.

Readers less familiar with the history of Puritan New England might be more surprised at the events of the story. In fact, the story may seem quite odd. These readers might not know what to expect when Goodman Brown wakes up, either from his dream or after the ceremony, although they might not be entirely surprised by his subsequent behavior, considering what he thinks he has seen his neighbors and wife doing.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial