Discuss the character of Faith in "Young Goodman Brown" by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

“Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne presents a problem for those readers that need to have a definitive answer about the truth of the events in the forest.  No one knows for sure what really happened to Goodman Brown or Faith. When Goodman Brown wakes up in the forest after the events or dream, Goodman Brown has lost his “(F) faith.”

The story can be divided into three parts: the times before Brown goes to the forest; his day and night in. the forest; and his return to society.  Each event adds to Brown’s journey toward his loss of “faith.”

Faith, Brown’s wife, begs him not to go on his errand. Apparently, Brown has made a pre-ordained agreement with Satan. He is hesitant to go, but something drives him on. Goodman Brown travels to the forest to meet the devil at an appointed time and place. On the other hand, Brown looks to her for his moral guidance and uses her as his reason for being late and his need to turn back from his journey. After this one night, Brown intends to follow his wife to heaven by clinging to her skirts

The reader must determine for himself whether he believes that the events in the forest were real or a dream which occurred in the mind of Brown. The truth of Faith’s character is contingent on this decision.

The character of Faith

Faith appears to be a young woman who loves her husband desperately.  The character of Faith is the picture of innocence. She is described as sweet, pretty, and angelic with pink ribbons on her cap.

The pink ribbons that adorn the cap which Faith wears are a badge of feminine innocence. The ribbons are in fact an direct link between two conceptions of Faith, connecting sweet little Faith of the village with the woman who stands at the Devil’s baptismal font. The pink ribbon from Faith’s cap flutters down from the sky and is caught on the branch of a tree. This is the tangible evidence of Faith’s going over to the other side.  Yet, Brown does not grab the ribbon for his proof.

Faith appears to be naïve and trusting. When Brown hears her on the path from his hiding place in the woods, Faith seems to be being coerced by the others she is traveling with. They encourage her to continue on. Faith is submissive and wants to please the others even though she has doubts and seems sorrowful. Thus, when Brown perceives that she too has been corrupted, he shouts "My Faith is gone" and rushes madly toward the witches’ gathering.

Then Brown hears a scream:

‘Faith! Faith!’ cried the husband, ‘look up to heaven, and resist the wicked one!’ Whether Faith obeyed, he knew not.  Hardly had he spoken, when he found himself and amid calm night and solitude, listening to a roar of the wind which died heavily away through the forest.  

Was this real or the nightmare of Brown? Only Faith knows that really happened and she did not share. No one knows whether she was at home waiting for her husband or in the forest cavorting with the devil.

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Young Goodman Brown

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