What did young Goodman Brown experience in the forest?

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ladyvols1 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hawthorne's story of Young Goodman Brown was a story of morality and hypocrisy. This short story is a perfect example of the seventeenth-century Puritan society.  Hawthorne wrote the story as a commentary on the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. 

Brown is in the Forest and makes a deal with the Devil. The reader cannot be sure if Hawthorne writes this story as something Brown really experiences, or if it is a dream, but what happens to Brown is a total breaking of his Faith in God and the people he trusted as honorable people.  His sees Goody Cloyse, the Minister, and Deacon Gookin at a Black Mass in the woods.  He also sees either in his mind or in reality his wife, Faith, interact with the Devil during this Mass. It is not lost on the reader that when he meets the Devil in the woods he leaves his wife, Faith, although she begs him not to leave.  He also tells the Devil that the reason he is late to the meeting is that he had to "leave Faith behind."

Whether, real or imagined, Goodman Brown loses not only his Faith, but he dies a lonely bitter man because he can no longer trust those people in his life that he felt were honorable God loving people. His wife welcomes him back home after his night in the woods, but he never really forgives her for her perceived sin.

"The fact that Goodman Brown only has to make his journey into the evil forest once suggests that the spiritual quest is a ritual all humans must undergo at some point in their lives. Brown, however, proves incapable of accepting this part of the human condition and cannot move forward with his life as a result."

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