What is Brown's motive for going into the forest, what does he expect to find, and how does he expect the rest of his life to be?Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown"

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Nathaniel Hawthorne's allegorical story,with the utmost confidence in the goodness of his society and in himself, Brown embarks upon his trek into the forest despite the protestations of his wife, Faith.  Along the way, he encounters an older man who bears a curious resemblance to Goodman Brown himself; he carries a snake-like staff.  Self-assured, Brown accompanies this man into the forest primeval. When he sees Goody Cloyse, a real person who was involved in the Salem witch hunts, Brown becomes somewhat fearful, but he believes that he is too good to be harmed; he expects to return unscathed spiritually. After all, his ancestors were all good people.  In Goodman Brown's embarking on this trek into the forest, it seems he wishes to confront temptation out of a curiosity and to prove his resistance to temptation.  Interestingly, when the old man appears, Brown tells him that Faith has kept him back.

When Brown witnesses a carriage pass by with the minister and Deacon Sykes in it, he feels faint as he hears them discuss the evening's meeting and the young woman who will join this meeting. But, Brown's love for Faith propels him into the forest.  As he lifts his hands to pray, he hears Faith's voice; Brown cries out to Faith to resist the devil; however, Brown suddenly finds himself alone in the forest.

This ambiguity about what has transpired is pivotal to the loss of Brown's personal faith, an unexpected turn of events for him.  Because he has doubted that Faith has resisted, he becomes "a hoary man," a man who is skeptical of the goodness in anyone.  He rejects his faith in his religion; he rejects his wife, Faith.  He feels "a loathful brotherhood by the sympathy of all that was wicked in his heart."  This "loathful brotherhood" is what causes him to reject others and become "a stern, a sad,...if not a desperate man. His guilt in his lack of faith causes him to see only evil. His life ends emptily.

gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hawthorne writes that Goodman Brown departs on an errand for a "present evil purpose," which suggests Brown's curiosity and willingness to succumb to temptation. On his journey in the forest, Goodman Brown is tempted by the devil to continue traveling and participate in the wicked ceremony later that night. It is never specifically stated what Goodman Brown hopes to find on his journey, but it is implied that he wishes to experience something forbidden that will satiate his repressed sinful desires. However, Goodman Brown does not expect to discover that such religious and pious individuals participate in the demonic ceremony in the forest. Goodman Brown expects that he will briefly satisfy his sinful desires for one night and return back to the village a better man. Unfortunately, Goodman Brown succumbs to temptation and travels deeper into the forest, where he participates in the demonic ceremony. After witnessing the sinfulness of respected members of his community, including his wife, Goodman Brown suddenly awakens alone in the forest. Upon returning back to the village, Goodman Brown is a changed man. Goodman Brown no longer trusts or respects the reputable members of his community and lives the rest of his life as a miserable, fearful man.

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Young Goodman Brown

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