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.


(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...

(The entire section is 367 words.)


(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 represents the force of good in the world. Thus, when Brown perceives that she too has been corrupted, he shouts 'My Faith is gone''' and rushes madly toward the witches's gathering.

The pink ribbons that decorate Faith's cap have drawn more critical attention than any other symbol in the story. On one hand they have been said to represent female sexuality, while on the other, innocence. Or, they may merely signify the ornament of a sweet and cheerful wife. Whatever their purpose, Faith's pink ribbons are integral to the story's structure. They are mentioned three times: at the beginning when Brown is leaving Faith behind, near the climax when Brown sees a pink ribbon floating down from the heavens, and at the end when Brown is greeted by his wife upon his return.

Young Goodman Brown
Much of this story's extensive body of criticism centers on its title character, whose name suggests he represents the average man. Brown makes his journey into the dark forest because he is curious and even tempted by the darker side of life. His brush with evil, however, leaves a permanently negative mark. Critics agree that whether the Black Mass...

(The entire section is 547 words.)