Goodman Brown’s experience in the forest–whether dream or reality–causes him to lose his faith in others and die an unhappy man. Note the last words of the story: “They carved no hopeful verse upon his tombstone; for his dying hour was gloom.”
Goodman Brown discovers that even highly respected people in Salem fall victim to the forces of darkness. Today–when corporate executives cheat stockholders, politicians lie to win elections, and members of the clergy defraud their congregations–this theme still resonates. “There is no good on earth,” Goodman Brown observes, “and sin is but a name.” In other words, whether an action is good or evil appears to depend on who is viewing the action.There are, of course, absolute moral values which should prevail for everyone, regardless of their religion or lack of it. For example, murder is always wrong; child abuse is always wrong. However, the devil figure succeeds in confounding Brown on what is truly right and what is truly wrong.
Hawthorne leaves open to question whether Goodman Brown’s experience is real or imagined, as in a dream. Keep in mind that normal, mentally stable people–like you or those around you–sometimes accept delusions, fantasies, or fabrications as real events. Keep in mind, too, that they sometimes see evil in a person who has done no evil.