Why is "Young Goodman Brown" an allegory?

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litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

“Young Goodman Brown” is an allegory of the temptation to do wrong instead of right in life.

“Young Goodman Brown” is an allegory of man’s journey through life.  As the title character walks through the woods, he begins relatively innocuously but not a clean slate. 

From the very beginning, Goodman makes a choice. Instead of staying with his wife, he chooses his journey.  He is steadfast, but he does feel guilty for leaving her alone when she begs him to stay.  This represents the ties that bind us in our quest for independence.  Sometimes we break free of them anyway.  Hawthorne would seem to indicate that this is not the best choice, given what happens to Brown.  His purpose is described as “evil.”

As Brown is traveling through the forest he comes upon an old man who has a devilish air (literally), but also looks kind of like Brown.  The reader would do good to remember that Brown chose this journey.  He is described as looking to meet up with someone.  He seems to know that he is going to make a deal with the Devil.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the story is when Brown says that his father would have never gone on this kind of an errand, and the old man sets him straight.

"Such company, thou wouldst say," observed the elder person, interpreting his pause. "Well said, Goodman Brown! I have been as well acquainted with your family as with ever a one among the Puritans; and that's no trifle to say…”

It turns out that the Brown family fortune was made with similar deals with the Devil, and this Brown is just following in their footsteps.  It brings to mind the old nature versus nurture debate.  Do we really make our own choices in life, or are they made for us?  Did Brown set out in the woods to make a deal with the Devil, or was the choice made for him long ago, by his father and his father before him?

The choices we make in life are our own, whatever influences them.  Brown made his own, there in those woods.  Hawthorne ends his tale with Goodman Brown losing everything.  He lives a life of bitterness, seeing the Devil in everything.  He can get no pleasure from life any longer, and sees in everyone around him the capacity for evil.