In the story Young Goodman Brown by Nathaniel Hawthorne, how is the nature of evil presented in the story?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As in others of his works, in "Young Goodman Brown," Nathaniel Hawthorne suggests an accusation of the "secret sin" of hypocrisy--the grievous evil in men's hearts.  Like so many Puritans, Goodman Brown is sanctimonious in "his evil purpose," declaring to the devilish old man who acts as his escort into the dark forest,

'My father never went into the woods on such an errand, nor his father before him.  We have been a race of honest men and good Crhistians since the days of the martyrs; and shall I be the first of the name of Brown that ever took this path and kep'--

While Goodman Brown deceives himself into thinking that he can walk with evil and not sin because he is such a good man, the devil's reply is a rebuttal of this hypocrisy and acts as foreshadowing for the double entendre, "loss of Faith," in "Young Goodman Brown":

'Such company, thou wouldst say....I have been as well acquainted with your family as with ever a one among the Puritans; and that's no trifle to say.  I helped your grandfather, the constable, when he lashed the Quaker woman so smartly through the streets of Salem; and it was I that brought your father a pitch-pine knowt, set fire to an Indian village....They were my good friends, both....

Yet, Goodman Brown continues his walk into the forest "applauding himself greatly, and thinking with how clear a conscience he should meet the minister in his morning walk..."  And, while an ambiguity is certainly established in Hawthorne's conclusion as Goodman Brown is uncertain the next day as to whether he actually "lost his Faith" in witnessing her joining the devil or whether he dreamt this act, Goodman Brown's Puritan heart that will admit no sin to himself, forestalls forgiveness of all who were supposedly present that night whether they actually sinned or not.  Herein, certainly lies the evil: This hypocrisy, the "secret sin" of the Puritans is what Hawthorne decries in his tale of "Young Goodman Brown."


ms-mcgregor eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The evil in the story allegedly comes from the devil and could be described as diabolical. According to the Bible, which the Puritans based their society on, the devil was both shrewd and a master of disguise, often taking on the form of an "angel of light" or in the case of Young Goodman Brown, a form resembling Brown's father. He lures Brown deeper and deeper into the forest by introducing characters Brown has known all his life. At the end of the story, the devil shows off his greatest achievement of the evening by implying that Faith, Brown's wife is also about to give her soul to the devil. However, Hawthorne in a typically ambiguous way, has Brown wake up in the forest, never really knowing if Faith gave into the devil or not. In fact, the alert reader may even question whether the entire dialogue with the devil actually took place or whether is was simply part of Brown's imagination. That interpretation would change the nature of evil in the story to that which can be imagined by man himself. Either way, Brown's life and trust is his fellow man is ruined and he never enjoys life again.

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Young Goodman Brown

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