Young Goodman Brown Questions and Answers
by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Young Goodman Brown book cover
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To what biblical story does Hawthorne allude through the allegory of "Young Goodman Brown"?

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When Goodman Brown meets the Devil in the woods, the Devil has a remarkable staff

which bore the likeness of a great black snake, so curiously wrought, that it might almost be seen to twist and wriggle itself like a living serpent.

The Devil actually offers the staff to Brown, since the young man seems already weary. At various times, the staff is described as "twisted" and as appearing to "actually [...] wriggle in sympathy." The Devil touches Goody Cloyse's neck with the end of the staff that "seemed the serpent's tail." He offers the old woman his staff, and then throws it on the ground at her feet. We can likely assume that she picks it up. The narrator says that,

perhaps, it assumed life, being one of the rods which its owner had formerly lent to the Egyptian Magi.

This particular line seems to refer to the book of Exodus, which, in chapters 4-8, God tells Moses to throw his staff on the ground, and when Moses does, it turns into a snake. God tells Moses to go to Egypt with his brother Aaron and confront Pharaoh, demanding that he release the Israelites. When Pharaoh demands a miracle, Aaron throws his staff in front of Pharaoh and it changes into a snake (by God's doing), but then Pharaoh calls magicians forth who can do the same thing. The line quoted from Hawthorne's story, above, suggests that the Devil actually loaned those seemingly magic staffs to the Egyptians, supporting the idea that they were on the Devil's side, working against God. In Hawthorne's story, then, anyone who takes possession of the Devil's staff—such as Goody Cloyse and, later, Goodman Brown himself—is putting himself in the same position: refusing God and accepting the Devil in his life instead.

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