What is Brown's motive for entering the forest in "Young Goodman Brown" and what does he expect to find?

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In "Young Goodman Brown," the eponymous protagonist heads off into the forest to participate in a kind of strange Satanic ritual that, in his view, represents everything evil and debased. Living as he does in a small Puritan town full of God-fearing people, Brown is clearly keen to...

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step outside the moral boundaries of his strict culture.

But regardless of his motivations for entering the forest, Brown soon finds himself utterly unnerved by what he sees. The presence of so many respectable pillars of society participating in this devilish mass forces him to reconsider his previously high opinions of them. It also makes him realize how sinful he is being in looking for a thrill.

He figures that from now on he will dedicate his life to God, which will entail shunning those local worthies who participated in the Satanic ritual in the woods. Unfortunately, it also entails his turning into a solitary, miserable old man. Because Brown cannot trust anyone, and because no one comes up to the high standards of religious morality he's set for himself, he is all alone in the world.

One cannot help thinking this is a just punishment for Brown's great hypocrisy. After all, he too went into the forest on a "present evil purpose." So it's arguably fitting that he should suffer for his own double standards.

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Young Goodman Brown's purpose is to go just one time on what he repeatedly calls an "evil" or "wicked" mission in the woods to participate in a Satanic ritual or "witch-meeting."

He expects he might find "a devilish Indian" lurking behind each tree or the devil himself at this elbow. He expects to be among strangers. Therefore, he is very surprised to see himself amid the town's most religious and seemingly pious people, including the deacon, Goody Cloyse, and even his dear wife Faith as he arrives at the meeting.

Brown is disillusioned by realizing—or perhaps dreaming, as Hawthorne brings up the idea that the witch-meeting was all a dream—that so many of his neighbors, people he thought were good Christians, are actually evil. This turns him into a stern, fearful, and gloomy person whose religious faith is lost as well as his trust in others.

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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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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.

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What does Brown expect for his life and for his journey by entering the forest? What his his motive for entering the forest in the first place?

Brown has promised to meet someone, "the figure of a man, in grave and decent attire, seated at the foot of an old tree (736.) What is curious about this man is his staff, "which bore the likeness of a great black snake" (737).  On their journey into the woods, Brown begins to learn that most of the people of his village, people whom he believed to be God-fearing, are engaged in a form of witchcraft.  This is confirmed when he and his travelling companion, who is clearly the devil or one of his minions, reach their destination, a meeting of the devil-worshipers.

Since the story does not make clear whether these events really happen or are all a dream Goodman Brown has, some interpretation of the story is necessary.  Does he go to the wood with his companion in the hope of proving that his fellow villagers are good people and that the devil is incorrect in his assessment of them?  Does he go because he is secretly tempted to join the villagers in devil-worship, thus bringing himself some sort of success?  There is evidence for both interpretations.  For example, Brown continues throughout the journey to protest the evil his fellow villagers are accused of.  But at the "ceremony," someone says, "Bring for the converts," and Goodman Brown "felt a loathful brotherhood by the sympathy of all that was wicked in his heart" (742).  So, did he go to join in, or did he go to prove that he and the rest of the village were above reproach?

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