Both stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne feature his signature dark outlook on humanity. In "Young Goodman Brown" the titular character, though a Puritan, does not fully surrender to the teachings of his faith and must witness for himself the temptations of the devil. As a result of his nocturnal foray into the forest, he loses his faith in both his fellow man and his religion. Hawthorne seems to suggest that to look too deeply into one's faith may not offer the security one expects—and that man might be inherently evil.
"The Birthmark" is similar in that Hawthorne offers a dark outlook on humanity. Aylmer does not accept Georgiana's "imperfection" and believes that he alone can "perfect" her beauty by removing her birthmark. Aylmer believes he possesses abilities beyond what most people possess, and he feels compelled to put it to an extreme test. Like Goodman Brown, Aylmer's "test" results in tragedy.
Thematically, the stories are similar in that both men consider themselves somehow more capable than others, they believe they possess more courage, skill, or knowledge, and they are brought down by their excessive pride.
The stories differ in their approach to how the protagonist is brought down. "Young Goodman Brown" uses the vehicle of faith as the means to the protagonist's downfall, while "The Birthmark" uses the vehicle of imperfectly understood science as the agent of the protagonist's destruction.
The main similarity between the two stories is the idealistic protagonists in each. In The Birthmark, Aylmer arrogantly believes that he has the skill to perfect in his wife what nature had left imperfect. His idealistic dreams lead to a tragic end, however, when the potion he gives his wife removes her one earthly imperfection, making it impossible for her to remain on earth any longer.
In Young Goodman Brown, the protagonist has an idealistic view of his religious faith and those who have instructed him in that faith. He arrogantly meets with the devil in the woods at night, thinking that he is strong enough to toy with evil and walk away unharmed. When he sees distinguished members of his church congregation heading toward the evil assembly, his faith is shattered. Like Aylmer, his idealistic pride led to a tragic end.
The most significant difference between the two stories is one emphasizes science and the other religion (or faith). The Birthmark deals with science as it was understood during Hawthorne's time period. Young Goodman Brown is set during the Puritan time period and focuses on their strict religious faith.
In the two short stories there is one theme that is clear cut in both of them. This theme is "Good vs. Evil." Both protagonists are faced with a conflict of deciding to stay virtuous or deciding to turn to evil.
- In "Young Goodman Brown" this theme is extraordinarily obvious. Should he stick to his Christian morals and believe that the townspeople truly are who they say they are (GOOD) or should he too follow the Devil since that is what other community members are doing (EVIL)
- In "The Birthmark" Alymer is faced with the decision on whether or not to listen to all the people who think that his wife Georgina's birthmark is cute (GOOD) or whether he should follow through with his plan of removing it since it's very presence irks him so much.
Also, consider the use of women in each story as a similarity. The men in the short stories (Young Goodman Brown and Alymer) both are the protagonists. However, their stories would be nothing without the women.