At a Glance

  • Young Goodman Brown, a pious newlywed who reluctantly leaves his wife one night to meet with the Devil.
  • Faith, Brown's wife, who may or may not have participated in the Black Mass that Brown witnessed.
  • Goody Cloyse, Brown's catechism teacher, whom he believed to be a devout Christian.
  • Deacon Gookin and the Minister, two church officials who display hypocrisy when they join the Black Mass.
  • The Devil, an evil figure who carries a staff with a serpent head.

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(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The central character, Goodman Brown, is presented initially as a good person devoted to his wife and well schooled in both religious and civic values. From the first paragraphs, however, he seems ill at ease, determined to enter on his mysterious nighttime journey. The reason for this nocturnal adventure is not clear at first, but Brown is steadfast in his purpose. That quality soon evaporates as he meets his guide and travels to the meeting place where he witnesses a diabolical ceremony which is a blasphemy of the Protestant communion. Easily swayed by suggestion and innuendo, by the time Brown arrives at the circle where the apparitions of his townspeople are engaged in devil worship, he is ready to believe that he is the only person whose faith has not been undermined. As a result, his good nature is immediately transformed; for the rest of his days he lives in despair, believing the outward goodness of his neighbors, including his wife, is merely a sham, covering their evil nature.

As one might expect in a short story, few other characters are well developed. Rather, Hawthorne briefly sketches in the types who represent the various occupations common to New England towns. Even Brown's wife Faith is little more than a stereotype of the faithful, loving spouse. What is interesting, however, is that Hawthorne uses language throughout the story to create doubt about the reality of the figures Brown meets in the forest. Rather, he suggests they are specters — a term which had religious significance in the seventeenth century, when people believed that a person's specter could be separated from the body and could appear in places away from it. In that case, these specters could simply be under the influence of the devil, bent on tempting the young man into believing everyone in the world has gone over to Satan's party. It may be hard for twentieth-century readers to treat such a notion realistically; however, it is not necessary to believe in the theory of specters to appreciate Hawthorne's aims, since the novelist is using this aspect of seventeenth-century theology to illustrate how Brown's reversal is really attributable to his own will to believe the worst about others.


(Short Stories for Students)

Faith Brown
Faith Brown serves an allegorical purpose in this story. It is Faith that Brown leaves behind, presumably for one night, in order to keep his appointment with the Devil. Explaining to the old man why he is late Brown says, "Faith kept me back a while." She...

(The entire section is 914 words.)