Explain the point of view in and its importance to the story "Young Goodman Brown" by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"My love and my Faith," replied young Goodman Brown, "of all nights in the year, this one night must I tarry away from thee. My journey, as thou callest it, forth and back again, must needs be done 'twixt now and sunrise. What dost thou doubt me already, and we but three months married!"

With this  quotation from the protagonist in the story “Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, the journey begins.  As the reader goes with Brown on his mission, frustration sets in because no one not even the main character in the story knows for sure what happened in the forest. Whether the events of the forest were real or a dream, Young Goodman Brown changes to a bitter and hateful man.


The story falls into the category of an allegory.  An allegory uses symbolic elements to represent human characteristics, and  situations.  For example, the main character is one of the symbolic elements.  He has no first name. The Goodman  title was used for any man who was not wealthy or a land owner.  Brown’s title tells the reader that before he goes into the woods that night, he was an ordinary good man who worked hard and loved his wife.

When Brown leaves his wife that morning, she has pink ribbons in her hair.  Again, this suggests innocence and purity.  When Brown sees the ribbons again, they are in the woods as Faith is brought into the meeting place ready to  be taken into the witches’ group.  Even Faith’s name is suggestive of an aspect of religion and Brown’s faithful wife, who he apparently loves. 

Point of view

The story is told in third person limited omniscient point of  view.  The narration comes from  an interested observer and from the dialogue in which  Brown engages with other characters.  The narrator is able to see into the mind of Brown.  Throughout the story, the change between narrator’s observations and Brown’s conversations makes for an interesting way of telling the story. 

Toward the end of the story, the only voice that the reader hears is the narrators. Unable to understand what happened in the forest, Brown loses everything that he values, particularly his “Faith.”

Goodman Brown begins the story as a loving husband  who is acquainted and knowledgeable about the townspeople of Salem.  For some reason, Brown has made an appointment with an old man that the reader is led to believe is Satan.  This fact changes the reader’s view of the young man since he has already make some kind of contract with the devil. Obviously, he is there to assuage his curiosity. 

His understanding of life comes into question.  The mention of his father and his association with the devil shake Brown. When he begins to see people that he has known all of his life, his entire view of Christianity comes under scrutiny. 

The real test comes when  he sees the pink ribbon, and then sees Faith being taken in to the coven or group.  When Brown awakens in the forest, not only does he question what has happened; the reader does as well.   Did he sit down in the forest and take a nap and dream everything? Was he under the spell of the devil? Did the events actually happened?

It really does not matter  whether it happened or not.  The result of the night spent in the forest is an altered Young Goodman Brown.  He lost his religious faith, his belief in his wife, the trust he had in the other citizens of Salem, and the guidance of the puritan minister. 

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Young Goodman Brown

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