Young Goodman Brown Allegory

What are the allegorical elements present in "Young Goodman Brown" by Nathaniel Hawthorne?

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

An allegory is a work of fiction in which the symbols, characters, and events come to represent some aspect of its culture. In American literature, allegories have often been used for instructive purposes around Christian themes.  The story has a figurative meaning beneath the literal one: a story with two meanings.  In American literature, the best example of an allegory is “Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Written in 1835, the story centers on the loss of innocence.

The story takes place in Salem during the witch crisis and religious disagreements.  The allegory includes Christianity, Satan, and the devil. From the names of the characters to the pink ribbons in Faith’s hair, this is a religious allegory.  The story centers on the journey of Goodman Brown into the woods to meet Satan.  He is an innocent, yet he has made this appointment with the devil for some reason.

The trip itself and the scenes that Goodman Brown encounter are vague and uncertain. Brown leaves his wife to go a meeting with the devil who awaits him.  Brown is late and blames it on his “Faith.”[Faith his wife or faith in his religion

This list of symbols and elements add to the allegorical interpretation of the story:

  • The snakelike staff-The devil offers his staff.  Eventually, this symbol becomes the medical profession symbol.
  • Faith Brown- The references to her by Brown indicate that Brown’s strength comes from his wife.  
  • Faith’s voice- Brown realizes that Faith is in the middle of the witch’s coven.  He speaks: “My Faith is gone!”
  • Faith’s pink ribbons-These indicate her innocence and purity.  When Brown sees them in the wind in the woods, Faith is struggling with her own “faith.”   
  • The basin of water- The basin of water is reddened by the light in the forest or is it blood to be used in the ceremony of witchery.   
  • The list of public figures- Those under the spell of the devil includes Brown’s own family, his teacher, the minister and most of the prominent people in Salem. These were people that Brown thought were righteous in their lives.
  • The black cloud-When Brown looks to the heavens to ask God to intercede for him, a black cloud prevents him from being able to look to the skies.

Hawthorne uses colors to represent various qualities of man: the pink of innocence; the black of evil; the red of the witches’ coven, and gray for those who are caught under the suspicious of evil.

When Brown returns to town, the reader nor Brown is not sure if the previous night’s events were dreams or actual events.

…he [Brown] spied the hand of Faith, with the pink ribbons, gazing anxiously forth, and bursting into such joy at sight of him that she almost kissed her husband before the whole village. But Goodman Brown looked sternly and sadly into her face, and passed on without a greeting.

Brown turns his back on everything that he had valued and loved the day before.  He changes forever and hardens his heart against everyone.  He looks for corruption behind every bush.  Young Goodman Brown never recognizes that it his soul that has become immoral and blind to God.  

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As an allegory, the narrative of "Young Goodman Brown" is an extended metaphor in which the characters are equated to concepts and more significant meanings outside the narrative itself. Here are examples of allegorical elements in Hawthorne's story:

  • Young Goodman Brown - The title of Brown denotes his youth and naivete. He tells his wife Faith,

"my love and my Faith...of all nights in the year, this one night must I tarry away from thee.

Further, he tells the traveler, "...and after this one night I'll cling to her skirts and follow her to heaven.

While Brown perceives himself as good, he deceives himself because his is a natural predilection for evil as, once introduced to the devil, he easily finds corruption in the members of the community and rejects his wife Faith, becoming distrustful and miserable.

  • Goody Cloyse and Deacon Goodkin - These names of real people, a witch and a participant in the Salem Witchcraft Trials, represent the sanctimounious Puritan hypocrites who are more guilty of sin than those that they accuse.  Their inherent evil is apparent when they attend the black mass.
  • The forest and the night - The forest and the night represent the darkness that lies in the heart of man, the innate predilection for evil that is in the nature of man.
  • Faith and her pink ribbons The soft and pure Faith and her pink--a color symbolic of innocence--represent the naivete of Brown's own faith in the beginning of the allegory.  When her ribbons waft through the air, they symbolize Brown's loss of innocence and his disillusion.
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Young Goodman Brown

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