Young Goodman Brown Summary

Young Goodman Brown” is a short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne in which Goodman Brown, a Puritan, witnesses the residents of his town engaging in devil worship.

  • Goodman Brown meets with the devil in the woods and watches in horror as other members of his Puritan community gleefully confess their sins to the devil.
  • Brown reluctantly attends a Black Mass wherein everyone he once considered pious, including his wife, Faith, is in attendance. The scene dissolves around him after he urges Faith to “resist.”
  • Uncertain if what he witnessed was real, Brown becomes suspicious of everyone and eventually dies a miserable old man.


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Last Updated on September 6, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1184

Young Goodman Brown leaves home at sunset, kissing his aptly-named wife, Faith, goodbye and going out into the street in Salem village. Faith asks him to put off his journey until the morning and stay with her through the night, saying she is afraid of bad dreams, but Goodman Brown insists that his journey must take place that night. Faith gives him her blessing, and he tells her to say her prayers and go to bed at dusk. After leaving her, however, he reproaches himself, thinking that Faith is an angel and resolving to “cling to her skirts and follow her to Heaven” after this one night. With this thought, he takes a lonely road into the forest, looking around him fearfully in the gloom.

Ahead of him, Goodman Brown sees a soberly-dressed man sitting under a tree. This man, who is about fifty and could be taken for his father, gets up and walks beside him, remarking that Brown is late. The older man carries a staff, carved into the shape of a black serpent so lifelike that it almost seems to writhe and twist in the dim light. He complains of the slow pace at which they are walking, to which Goodman Brown replies that he has kept his word by meeting the man but has scruples about what they have agreed to do. He will be the first of his family “that ever took this path.” The older man, however, replies that he knew Brown’s father and his grandfather and helped them both in their cruel and disgraceful actions. He hopes to be Brown’s friend for their sake.

The older man goes on to say that he has a wide acquaintance in New England, including officials of church and state, and even the governor. Goodman Brown replies that the minister of his church in Salem is a good, pious old man, and he could not bring the traveler with the serpent staff into his presence, at which the traveler bursts out laughing. Goodman Brown is angry and says that it would break the heart of his young wife, Faith, for him to continue along this path. The traveler tells him to be on his way, since he does not wish to harm Faith, but at this point they see an old woman on the path. Brown recognizes her as Goody Cloyse, a pious old lady who taught him his catechism. He hides in the woods so that she will not see him in the traveler’s company.

Goody Cloyse greets the traveler as the devil and appears well acquainted with him, calling him “your worship” and remarking that he looks like Goodman Brown’s grandfather. She asks him to give her his arms, so that they can proceed quickly to the meeting together. The devil says he cannot go with her but gives her his staff instead. She disappears, and Goodman Brown remarks that this is the woman from whom he learned his catechism. The two of them walk on for a while, until Goodman Brown sits down on a tree stump and refuses to go any further, saying that even if Goody Cloyse chooses to go to the devil, there is no reason why he should leave Faith and follow her.

The devil tells Goodman Brown to rest, assuring him that he will soon change his mind. He gives him another walking stick, which he has just cut from a maple tree, and moves on. Goodman Brown is congratulating himself on making the right decision when he hears the sound of horses’ hooves and hides in the forest....

(This entire section contains 1184 words.)

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He soon hears the voices of the riders: the minister of his church and Deacon Gookin, both of whom are looking forward to the meeting in the forest. Goodman Brown is profoundly shaken but vows to stand firm against the devil.

As he looks up to the sky, Brown hears a confused tumult of voices and thinks he can hear Faith’s among them. He cries out in grief, fury, and terror, hears a scream, then sees a pink ribbon, of the type Faith wears in her hair, fluttering down through the air. At this, he cries out “My Faith is gone!” and acknowledges the victory of the devil. He rushes on through the forest, convinced that he is now as wicked as anything it contains and roaring out that the evil spirits may as well fear him as he fears them.

Goodman Brown hears the tune of a familiar hymn and comes upon a clearing in the forest, where there is a rock “bearing some rude, natural resemblance either to an altar or a pulpit” lit with flaming pine trees. There is a large congregation, consisting of some of the most respectable men and women in New England, including the minister and Deacon Gookin, but also some of the lowest criminals. American Indian priests are scattered throughout the crowd. However, Faith is nowhere to be seen.

A voice calls for the converts to come forward. Goodman Brown feels the evil in his heart drawing him forward, and then the minister and Deacon Gookin lead him to the rocky altar. A dark figure welcomes him and the other converts and tells them to look at the crowd. There they will see all the people they respected, whose lives they thought were righteous. The converts will learn the secrets sins of all these men and women, the adulteries, murders, and other crimes of which they have been guilty. He then tells the converts to look at each other, and Goodman Brown sees Faith as she stands trembling beside him.

The dark figure tells the converts that evil is the nature of mankind. As he prepares to baptize them with a red liquid, which may be blood or only water reddened by the firelight, Goodman Brown cries out to Faith to look up to heaven and resist the devil. He never hears her response, for as soon as he has spoken he finds himself alone in the calm, cold, and damp of the forest.

The next morning, Goodman Brown walks into Salem in a daze. He shrinks from the minister and Deacon Gookin and snatches away a little girl who is listening to Goody Cloyse “as from the grasp of the fiend himself.” He even ignores Faith when she rushes out of their house to greet him. The narrator asks:

Had Goodman Brown fallen asleep in the forest, and only dreamed a wild dream of a witch-meeting?

This question remains unanswered. If it was only a dream, however, it was a dream that blighted the life of young Goodman Brown. He became a sad, brooding, distrustful misanthrope, unable to listen to a psalm without thinking of sinful words, and turning pale when he heard the minister speak from the pulpit. He would shrink from his wife in bed at night and scowl when his family prayed. Although he lived a long life, and many people attended his funeral, there was no hopeful epitaph on his tombstone, “for his dying hour was gloom.”