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

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favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In a moment that foreshadows the arrival of his future companion, Goodman Brown says to himself as he walks into the forest, "'What if the devil himself should be at my very elbow!'" A moment later, he meets "the figure of a man" who meets him and begins to walk alongside him.

Our first clue that the man he's met is unnatural is when the man says that he was in Boston just fifteen minutes ago. The setting of this story is Salem, and it ought to take a great deal longer for a person to get from Boston to Salem; so, the fact that this man was in Boston only fifteen minutes prior is a clue that he is supernatural in origin.

Next, his staff bears "the likeness of a great black snake." The snake is often associated with the devil as a result of the story of Eve's temptation in the Garden of Eden. Further, the Puritans often referred to the devil as The Black Man. The narrator also calls this mysterious man "he of the serpent." So, his black snake staff and his association with the serpent are more good clues that he is the devil.

Third, this man also claims to have known the Brown family for many years. He helped Goodman Brown's grandfather lash a Quaker woman; he brought Brown's father a torch to fire an Indian village. It is unlikely that one man could be friends with both Brown's grandfather and father without Brown knowing him, unless their association was kept secret. Why would his relatives keep their common friend secret unless it was, for some reason, as shameful as an association with the devil would be?

If all this were not enough, this strange man conducts a Witches' Sabbath: a hellish meeting for all sinners who have devoted themselves to his service rather than to God's. He commands these sinners as only the devil could.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.