What does the young Goodman Brown experience in the forest primeval in "Young Goodman Brown"?
In the forest primeval, Young Goodman Brown suffers a fall from innocence that is not unlike that of Adam.
When Brown ventures into the forest in order to test his faith, he loses this faith after witnessing the black mass and seeing his wife Faith there. As the pink ribbons of his once innocent wife "flutter lightly down through the air," Goodman cries, "My Faith is gone!" and he learns the terrible significance of this loss.
Goodman Brown experiences such a dramatic change in his character because he is initially so confident in his faith. But, this faith is challenged as one by one the seemingly saintly members of his community demonstrate that they are in league with the devil. For instance, when Brown happens upon Goody Cloyse, who has taught him his catechism and who he recognizes as "a very pious and exemplary dame," he is surprised to see her in the forest. Then, he is shocked when this "pious old lady" notices the traveler "put forth his staff and touch her withered neck with what seemed the serpent's tongue" and she cries out, "The devil!....Ah, forsooth, and is it your worship indeed?" Furthermore, she laughs and engages in conversation with this traveler who has ironically assumed the form of Brown's grandfather.
Later, when Brown sees Deacon Gookin and Goodman Brown, he
...caught hold of a tree for support, being ready to sink down on the ground, faint and overburdened with the heavy sickness of his heart. He looked up to the sky, doubting whether there really was a heaven above him.
Of course, the most spiritually devastating sight for Brown is that of his wife Faith "trembling before that unhallowed altar" at the black mass in the forest. He calls to her, "Faith! Faith!...look up to heaven and resist the wicked one."
At this point Goodman Brown loses consciousness. When he does awaken, it is as a changed man. For, having confronted the universal nature of sinful man in the forest, Goodman Brown becomes cynical and misanthropic. Henceforth, "misery unutterable" pursues him as he has completely loss his religious faith and his belief in the goodness of humanity.
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