What allegorical meanings may be given to Goodman Brown? His wife? The forest? Night (as opposed to day)? Brown’s journey?

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karaejacobi eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Nathaniel Hawthorne's classic story "Young Goodman Brown" is an allegory because the story works on both literal and symbolic levels at the same time. The literal plot involves the title character taking what seems to be an obligatory journey into the woods one night and seeing the people from his town in the woods participating in some kind of satanic ceremony. Symbolically, Goodman Brown's journey represents a person's maturation and disillusionment, as he learns that everyone sins and has a dark side. 

Goodman Brown could represent any person. He is a generic character who sets out on a journey that he apparently must complete. Once we see what happens in the woods, we can infer that everyone has gone through a similar ritual. His name is very generic, as well, which further makes him seem like an "everyman." 

Brown's wife is aptly named Faith, and Brown looks to her as the embodiment of pure innocence. He believes in Faith's goodness. When he leaves his home to go to the woods, he leaves his Faith behind, temporarily. He joins the devil in the woods and goes to witness the satanic ritual. However, ironically, he sees Faith there, being initiated. Her pink ribbon represents the mix of sin and goodness that all people have inside of them (red for sin and white for innocence).

The forest represents the dark side of human nature. The sins and failures of the townspeople are exposed in the forest. The devil seems very comfortable in the forest, as do some of the townsfolk they pass along the way. The devil reveals to Brown the secrets of the people's histories and the wrongs they've committed while they walk together in the woods. The ceremony takes place in the forest at night: both the time and the place of this instance are appropriate symbols for the darkness within human nature.

The journey itself represents the process a person takes from innocence to knowledge. Goodman Brown learns about the sins of his community, even though some of them seem on the surface to be good and pure (clergy, for instance). After the journey, Brown is destroyed by what he has learned: he can never live his life peacefully again. However, the other townspeople seem to go on with their lives, able to reconcile their dark sides with the version of themselves they show to others in polite society. 

amymc eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Archetypes are instinctual and universal reactions to stimuli that is the same across culture and across time.  Carl Jung explains that archetypes are a part of the collective subconscious of man.  In expanding on the first answer, i will address each of your individual items:

Goodman Brown:  The name suggests that Young Goodman Brown could represent any person entering adulthood who attempts to live his life according to the prevailing moral beliefs and codes.  The surname is a common one, implying this universality.  However, the first name, Goodman, also implies a type of naivete on his part.  As he learns, he is not the first member of his family to enter the forest. 

Faith:  Faith as a person does represent faith as a concept.  Beyond that, faith is everyman's "solid rock" so to speak, something to believe in and someone who will always belief in him.  

The Forest:  Archetypally, the forest is a place filled with darkness, chaos, sin, and evil.   Its darkness provides a cover for evildoers, and it houses wild and untamed creatures.  Ironically, Goodman enters this evil to prove that he can overcome it. The reader comes to see that he cannot overcome sin and the devil on his own, particularly if his ancestors and town clergy have been unable to do so.  

Night:  Much like the forest, night is also dark, implying that people can hide their sins under this "cloak of darkness"  and participate in activities they would never dream of doing in the open light of day. It is the time of the devil and goblins.

The Journey:  Everybody is tested.  Everybody wonders if he or she can stand up to the test, particularly the test of good versus evil.  People succeed in proceeding down this path to varying degrees.  Very few, if anyone, succeeds without harm.  As we see, the price of Goodman's journey was his loss of Faith, both literally and figuratively.

bmadnick eNotes educator| Certified Educator

An allegory uses symbolism to represent human characteristics and situations. Goodman Brown's name refers to Everyman, and his wife's name, Faith, represents his own faith in God and in humanity. The dark woods come to represent Goodman's own hell because he's torn between his faith and giving in to evil, the struggle which every man must confront. Goodman tries to resist the temptation of the devil, but he continues his way into the darkness of the forest, unsure of what to do. In the end, he takes his own personal hell with him because he distrusts his wife and the other people for the remainder of his life. This alienates him and deprives him of the life he could have had.

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Young Goodman Brown

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