As Hawthorne’s story opens, the reader sees Goodman Brown departing his home to go into the forest on his errand. The conversation that Goodman Brown and his wife, Faith, have merely expresses her regret that he has to leave when he does. It is not until Goodman Brown, having departed his home and heading through town, looks back at his wife still standing in their doorway. Seeing her standing there, Goodman Brown reflects on their conversation and surmises a sense of foreboding in her face; she thinks there will be trouble that night. Fearing this, she tries to convince him to delay his departure until the following morning.
Young Goodman Brown’s interpretation of his wife’s words does not foreshadow the particular nature of what will come to pass but simply foreshadows that something will happen. Goodman Brown already knows that his errand serves an evil purpose. Brown takes “a dreary road, darkened by all the gloomiest trees of the forest,” which serves to emphasize the evil purpose of his adventure. As he sees the forest around the path close in behind him, Brown makes a rather prophetic statement: “What if the devil himself should be at my very elbow!” This statement clearly foreshadows his meeting with the devil, for immediately after uttering this phrase Brown walks around the crook on the path and sees the figure before him. The figure greets him as if he had been expecting him.
While the words of Faith and those of Goodman Brown himself clearly foreshadow the nature of his meeting with the mysterious figure in the forest, very little evidence suggests the supernatural nature of the figure. The figure himself does not give Brown cause to wonder whether he is supernatural; however, the staff the figure carries with him is another story. Brown notices something interesting about the staff. Its shape and construction make it almost appear that it could be wrought from a black serpent. When the figure and Goodman Brown begin reasoning, both characters make allusions to the unnatural age of the mysterious figure, suggesting that he is old enough to have helped Brown’s grandfather whip a Quaker woman and set fire to an Indian village during King Philip’s War, all while the figure appears to only be about fifty years in age. Evidence for the figure’s supernatural nature lies not in his overt acts of trickery or sorcery but in his words, in the allusions he makes to religious practices, and to allusions he makes as to his unnatural age.