Who is Goodman Brown's traveling companion? What clues tell you so?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Because one of the Puritan problems is that of distinguishing the elect from the damned, and the innocent from the corrupt, there is often ambiguity.  As an example of this ambiguity of character, Goodman Brown's traveling companion in Hawthorne's story "Young Goodman Brown" resembles his grandfather "though perhaps more in expression than features," while at the same time he has the "indescribable air of one who knew the world."

Other suggestions that the man dressed in "grave and decent attire" may be devilish are in the description of him as "he of the serpent," and in his knowledge of evil.  For instance, he tells Goodman that he helped his grandfather lash the Quaker woman

so smartly through the streets of Salem; and it was I that your father pitch-pine know, kindled at my own hearth, to set fire to an Indian village....They were my good friends, both....

With his twisted staff, this devilish man states that he is well-acquainted with the deacons of many churches and a majority of the "Great and General Court," who are firm supporters of his interest.  And, when Goodman mentions that his minister's voice makes him tremble on Sabbath Day, the old man laughs:  "Wll, go on; but prithee, don't kill me with laughing.

Finally, when Deacon Gookin and Goody Cloyse pass by, real historical characters who participated in the witch trials, and Goody Cloyse is touched by the old man's staff with "what seemed the serpent's tail, she exclaims, "The devil!"

 Yet, while there are these indications that the old man with the staff is likely the devil, there is present still some ambiguity, for the man throws Goodman the staff and leaves him.