What evidence in the story suggests that Brown’s journey into the forest represents a journey into his own heart in Young Goodman Brown?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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As is characteristic of Nathaniel Hawthorne, there is an ambiguity to his story, "Young Goodman Brown" that Hawthorne himself pronounces after Brown's experience in the forest: 

Had Goodman Brown fallen asleep in the forest and only dreamed a wild dream of a witch-meeting?

Certainly, there are indications that Brown indeed has a dream in which his subconscious expresses doubt about his faith:

  • When he parts from Faith, Goodman remarks to himself, "She talks of dreams, too," suggesting that his "experience" is truly a dream.
  • As he travels, Goodman's perceptions are indistinct.  For instance, he feels that

with lonely footsteps he may yet be passing through an unseen multitude.

  • Goodman imagines apparitions, "a devilish Indian behind every tree." As it is supposedly dusk in the forest, Goodman cannot clearly see as he embarks on his journey.  Further in his dream, 


owing doubtless to the depth of the gloom at that particular spot, neither the travellers nor their steeds were visible.

  • Goodman Brown, perhaps, perceives his subconscious self in the old traveler who is in "the same rank as Goodman Brown, and bear[s] a considerable resemblance to him...."
  • When Goodman watches the staff of the traveler wriggle like a snake, he thinks this must be "an ocular deception," certainly a dreamlike experience.  Brown also hears voices talk "so strangely in the empty air,"

Aloft in the air, as if from the depths of the cloud came a confused and doubtful sound of voices.

  • Goodman expresses a desire to turn back, but cannot seem to be able to do so, a recurring experience of dreams.
  • Goodman goes farther than his ancestors and exclaims, "Too far! too far!" yet he continues as though the subconscious controls him. 
  • As Goodman continues with the traveler, the elder's "arguments seemed rather to spring up in the bosom of his auditor than to be suggested by himself"--another indication of subconscious activity.
  • Frequently, there is a blurring of what is real and what is not:

Then came a stronger swell of those familiar tones, hear daily...,but never until now from a cloud of night.  There was one voice of a young woman uttering lamentations, yet with an uncertain sorrow....

Either the sudden gleams of light flashing over the obscure field bedazzled Goodman Brown, or he recognized a score of the church members...[he] beheld a pink ribbon

  • Several magical things occur:  When the traveler laughs, his staff "wriggles in sympathy," Goody Cloyse flies on the staff of the traveler, and when he picks another fresh stick, the leaves on this stick immediately wither and die.  Also, one of the riders in the sky stops to pluck a switch. Even Goodman himself seems to fly along the forest path...

leaving him in the heart of the dark wilderness, still rushing onward with the instinct that guides mortal man to evil....But he was himself the chief horror of the scene, and shrank not from its other horrors.....On he flew among the black pines....

  • Hawthorne again hints at the subconscious of Brown, thus suggesting a dreamlike state in which Brown's doubt about his own goodness are expressed,

The fiend in his own shape is less hideous than when he rages in the breast of man.

In the end, Young Goodman Brown feels "a loathful brotherhood by the sympathy of all that was wicked in his heart."  This statement of Hawthorne points to powerful role of the subconscious in his narrative, that part of Goodman Brown expressed in his dream journey.

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