Student Question

In "Young Goodman Brown" by Nathaniel Hawthorne, how does Goodman Brown break the evil spell?

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Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown,” though written in 1835, takes place in a Puritan society, recalling his New England past. One day, Goodman Brown tells his wife, Faith, that he is going into the forest on an errand. While on his errand in the forest, Brown encounters a man who resembles him in his appearance and in his social status. Carrying a crooked staff, the man clearly represents the devil, though Goodman Brown fails to recognize this.

During the course of his day in the forest, Goodman Brown is shown many things about the “true” nature of the Puritan society of which he is a part. The devil instructs Goodman Brown about the inherent evil in the Puritan attitudes of intolerance towards those who do not follow their way of life, asserting that the Puritans, for all of their attempts to the contrary, have served the devil the whole time. At one point, the devil and Goodman Brown come into a clearing, and Brown witnesses the performance of a dark ceremony; to his horror, he finds his wife, Faith, at the center of the proceedings. He calls out to her, but she does not respond. At last, Brown cries out to Faith to “look up to heaven and resist the wicked one.” Brown’s plea breaks the evil spell which has gripped Faith. At his utterance, the ceremony and its participants disappear, and Goodman Brown finds himself alone. He has dispelled the influence of evil. By professing a faith that is genuine (rather than a shell of faith), Brown breaks the evil spell.

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"Young Goodman Brown" by Nathaniel Hawthorne often simultaneously fascinates and confuses students.  Young Goodman Brown has kept covenant with the devil and follows him to the coven to bring forth the new converts.  His feelings are climaxed when Faith and her pink ribbons appear, but he never consciously does anything to break the spell of evil.  He simply awakens somewhere outside of his home closer to the village but still within the forest.  When he awakens, the spell is broken but only momentarily.

He first begins to question whether or not the incident was a dream.  After that, he is tormented by feelings of doubt and dies a wretched man living through a mental torture until the end of his days.

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