What actually happens at the end of "Young Goodman Brown"?

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The ending of Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown ," as your question implies, intrigues almost every reader because Hawthorne leaves it to the reader to decide whether Brown meets Satan in the forest and attends a satanic ceremony (with his wife, Faith) or has a dream vision in...

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The ending of Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown," as your question implies, intrigues almost every reader because Hawthorne leaves it to the reader to decide whether Brown meets Satan in the forest and attends a satanic ceremony (with his wife, Faith) or has a dream vision in which the events occur. In one sense, a definitive answer doesn't really matter: whether or not Brown has an actual experience with Satan, Brown believes he has had such an experience, and believing makes the experience real, at least as far as Brown is concerned. But in order to find an answer that suits our own sensibilities, which are far removed from those of the Puritans in the seventeenth century, we need to examine briefly Brown's Puritan belief system.

Goodman Brown, assuming he is a typical Puritan, believes that, among other things, Satan can be a real presence in his life—that is, Satan is not just a spiritual being but can manifest himself as a living person, sometimes in the form of someone Brown would know and trust. In addition, Brown, like other Puritans, believes that Satan can appear to him during a dream and tempt him to his darker side. For example, when Brown leaves Faith to go on his journey into the forest, Faith pleads with him to stay:

... put off your journey until sunrise, and sleep in your own bed to-night. A lone woman is troubled with such dreams and such thoughts, that she's afeard of herself, sometimes. Pray, tarry with me this night, dear husband, of all nights in the year!

Faith herself acknowledges that, if left alone, she may become a victim of temptation during a dream, the implication being that Satan may corrupt even her "dreams and ... thoughts." When Faith mentions "of all nights in the year," she may be alluding to All Saints' Eve—Halloween—the night during which people are more susceptible to Satan's temptation. Hawthorne is also subtly foreshadowing the Puritans' belief that dreams leave them vulnerable to Satan's manipulation.

We also have to recognize that, under most circumstances, no Puritan on his own would venture into the forest at night—even on a journey to explore evil. The forest, which houses wild animals and, more important, Native Americans who may or may not be friendly to a Puritan, is essentially a "no go" zone because the dangers are simply too great. The idea of a gentle stroll through the forest at night would not occur to Goodman Brown, so although an actual walk in the forest is possible, it is not probable, but, in the context of a dream vision, anything is possible.

Based on the events leading up to and including Brown's journey, we can reasonably conclude that the ending of the story—the witches' sabbath and Faith's participation—is the climax of Brown's dream vision. This vision, assisted ironically by Brown's strong beliefs in the Puritans' conception of Satan's presence in their lives, is so powerful that it affects his mind ever afterward and taints his view of mankind, including his wife, Faith, until he dies in "gloom."

Lastly, if we look at other Hawthorne short stories in which a man's dedication to an idea, however bizarre, creates havoc for others—"The Minister's Black Veil," "The Birthmark," "Rappaccini's Daughter"—we can see an author who consistently explores and deplores the effects of psychological aberrations especially in men—with women, like Faith, becoming collateral damage.

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If you're referring to whether Goodman Brown and Faith actually participated in the witches' Sabbath, the truth is, Hawthorne doesn't confirm the couple's experience in the story.

What we do know, however, is that Goodman Brown's mental state changed irrevocably after the supposed event. While neither Goodman nor Faith was shown to have pledged their complete allegiance to the devil, one thing is sure: the couple never again share the same emotional intimacy they enjoyed previous to the unfortunate witches' Sabbath.

Essentially, we have no confirmation regarding Goodman's actual experience. All we know is that his mind has registered the events he experienced as real. This is why he now shrinks from the leaders of his congregation. He suspects Old Deacon Gookin of privately worshiping the devil. As for Goody Cloyse, Goodman no longer sees her as a respectable Christian teacher. When he comes across Goody schooling a little girl in her catechism, Goodman snatches the child away.

Even more sadly, he shrinks from Faith's affection and love. In the end, Goodman loses his faith in his God, congregation, and marriage. He dies a deeply unhappy man, bereft of hope and comfort.

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Goodman Brown's frightening experience in the forest is purposely open to interpretation, and the reader must decide whether or not Goodman Brown actually participated in the terrifying Black Mass. Whether or not the wicked events transpired in the forest, Goodman Brown's perception of his wife, neighbors, and religious figures is forever tarnished. After Goodman Brown walks out of the forest, he views everyone with suspicion and disgust.

Hawthorne mentions that Goodman Brown becomes a stern, distrustful man, who is no longer naive or happy. Goodman Brown refrains from listening to hymns and can no longer receive the minister's Sunday messages without fear that "the roof should thunder down." At the end of the story, Goodman Brown dies a miserable man, and there is no hopeful verse carved upon his tombstone. Hawthorne ends the short story by writing that Goodman Brown's "dying hour was gloom."

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To expand upon the answer from the other editor, young Goodman Brown's adventure in the woods (regardless of whether or not it was real of imagined) shakes his faith in himself, his wife, humanity as a whole, and even in his religion.

The rest of his life is spent questioning not only what happened in the woods, but it is also spent questioning the behaviors and beliefs of everyone around him. Young Goodman Brown grows more and more cynical with every passing day. This is the "gloom" that consumes him until his dying hour.

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At the very end of the story, Young (I guess he's not young anymore ) Goodman Brown dies.  He is followed to his grave by Faith and by their kids and their grandkids.  When they bury him in his grave,

there is no hopeful verse upon his tombstone, for his dying hour was gloom.

If you are asking about the part a bit before that, what happens is that what he sees in the forest makes him lose his faith and his hope.  He thinks everyone is corrupt and evil, so he has no good thoughts about anyone.  We don't know whether what he saw in the forest really happened, but it doesn't matter.  He acts as if it does and it ruins his life.

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