Why is Goodman Brown surprised by the people he sees in the forest?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As he travels with the old man who resembles his grandfather, Goodman Brown is surprised to see the highly esteemed members of the Puritan community. As he walks on a path leading deeper into the forest primeval, his faith is shaken when he recognizes Goody Cloyse, a "Christian woman" who was his catechism teacher, along with Deacon Gookin and the minister.

Goodman Brown is shaken by his encounter with Goody Cloyse, who is well-acquainted with the Goodman's companion—the Devil disguised in the likeness of Goodman's grandfather. Goodman wonders how Goody would be familiar with this man, since she represents the precepts of Puritan faith and what Goodman has considered good and pure. Then, as he continues along the path, Brown recognizes the voices of Deacon Gookin and the minister. They eagerly speak of the Black Sabbath that they will attend and of the "goodly young woman to be taken into communion."

"With heaven above and Faith below, I will yet stand firm against the devil!" cried Goodman Brown.

Shaken by the sight of those members of his community he has known to be "famous for their special sanctity," Goodman Brown's beliefs are destroyed when he witnesses their association with the wicked as they pay homage to the "prince of all." Nevertheless, he feels "a loathful brotherhood by the sympathy of what was wicked in his heart." Then, seeing his wife, Faith, Goodman calls out to her to "resist the wicked one."

After calling to Faith, Goodman Brown suddenly finds himself alone in the forest. Perhaps he has "fallen asleep and only dreamed a wild dream of a witch meeting." At any rate, Brown has lost his belief in the goodness of man, and he lives the remainder of his life in a "misery unutterable" because he has found the Puritan faith corruptible in people he previously considered good Christians.

favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Goodman Brown is surprised by the people he sees in the forest because he would never have expected so many folks who seem to upright and honest to be in attendance at a Witches' Sabbath or to be in league with the Devil.  Brown might have expected to see "men of dissolute lives and women of spotted fame," or other people who are suspected of terrible crimes and those who are well-known for their vices.  However, to see these kinds of people mixing with those church members who are "famous for their especial sanctity" as well as many others who all have excellent, pious reputations, is quite shocking to him.  The narrator says, "It was strange to see, that the good shrank not from the wicked, nor were the sinners abashed by the saints."  In other words, Brown is very surprised to note that there seems to be no difference at all in the behavior of those people he once believed to be good and those people he knows to be sinful.  Further, there is no sign that anyone is embarrassed to be seen there; it is as if the fact that every person in this crowd is actually a sinner is a surprise to no one except Brown.

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Young Goodman Brown

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