Did Goodman Brown fall asleep and dream of a witch meeting? Which parts of the story are real, and which are a dream?

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At the end of the story, it doesn't really seem to matter whether or not Goodman Brown dreamed the witches' meeting because he believes it was real, and it changes him for the rest of his life. When he sees his wife, Faith, again, he "looked sternly and sadly into her face, and passed on without a greeting." This is very unlike the feelings he had before he saw her (or dreamed that he saw her) in the woods the night before; then, he loved Faith and felt somewhat guilty for leaving her alone for the night. For the rest of his life, Brown remained "A stern, a sad, a darkly meditative, a distrustful, if not a desperate man [...]," and "his dying hour was gloom."

If it was a dream, it seems to have begun after Brown left home and sometime after he entered the forest, as his choice to leave Faith behind is crucial to his character's change. As he walked into the forest, he thought, "she's a blessed angel on earth; and after this one night, I'll cling to her skirts and follow her to Heaven." In other words, he purposely decides to abandon his Christian faith, represented by his wife, Faith; he intends to have this one last night of sin (he obviously knows he's doing something bad) and then he will follow his wife's good example. However, this is not how faith works: one cannot simply abandon and then resume it whenever it is convenient. It seems to be this choice, to turn his back on God, even if just for one night, that leads to the loss of all faith, and his inability to see Faith the same way, in the end. Again, if Brown experienced a dream, it seems to end when he finds "himself amid calm night and solitude [...]," just after he orders Faith to resist the devil and when he suddenly finds himself in the "chill and damp" night, alone.

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I'll answer the first question of the two that are being asked.  

Personally, yes, I believe that events of the story really happened to Goodman Brown.  I do not believe that he experienced a dream.  I will admit, there are parts of the story that seem like a dream.  For example, when the devil's staff turns into a serpent and then Goodie Cloyse and the staff disappear is quite strange.  

So saying, he threw it down at her feet, where, perhaps, it assumed life, being one of the rods which its owner had formerly lent to the Egyptian magi. Of this fact, however, Goodman Brown could not take cognizance. He had cast up his eyes in astonishment, and, looking down again, beheld neither Goody Cloyse nor the serpentine staff, but his fellow-traveler alone, who waited for him as calmly as if nothing had happened.

The part of the story when Goodman Brown grabs the staff and quickly moves through the forest seems like a dream too.  

And, maddened with despair, so that he laughed loud and long, did Goodman Brown grasp his staff and set forth again, at such a rate that he seemed to fly along the forest path rather than to walk or run.

I've had dreams of flying, so it does sound like something that isn't real.  But I have also been driving myself somewhere, arrived, and then been surprised at how quickly I got there.  At times, the details of the drive are often fuzzy too.  That sounds terrible of me, but it does show that waking moments of reality can feel dreamlike as well.  

As a reader though, I'm not willing to accept parts of the story as a dream and other parts as reality.  It's either all a dream or all reality for Goodman Brown, and I lean toward the events being all reality.  

A large part of my feelings on this are coming from my own faith based background.  I believe in heaven and hell and that the devil has real world power.  Many religions throughout the world believe in similar supernatural forces being able to affect waking reality.  The staff to serpent "trick" in the story is a direct reference to the story of Moses and his work to free the Israelites from their Egyptian captors.  I completely understand reading the entire story and interpreting it as if Goodman Brown dreamed the entire thing.  In fact, I think it is easier to justify and understand the events of the story, if you believe they are all part of a dream.  I just don't interpret it that way myself.  

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What is your answer to this question? "Had Goodman Brown fallen asleep in the forest and only dreamed a wild dream of a witch-meeting?"

However, an argument could be made that the scene is too contrived to be real.  The whole town is out in the forest on the one night that Goodman Brown decides to travel through it?  The pink ribbons he has just seen on his wife just happen to be laying in sight?  There are many elements of this "journey" that are coincidental and mystical to suggest that it is a dream.  In which case, one could fault the protagonist for having such serious doubts about his neighbors.  You could also fault him for placing people too high on a pedastal, expecting them to always be pious and true.  If Goodman Brown were to accept that to be human is to sin and repent, then he might not have turned his back so drastically on society, and might in turn have been able to lead and happier and fuller life.

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What is your answer to this question? "Had Goodman Brown fallen asleep in the forest and only dreamed a wild dream of a witch-meeting?"

I don't know that there is a definitive answer.  Personally, I like to the think that it was not a dream.  I like this interpretation because it helps reveal the dual nature of humanity.  We are not strictly good, as Brown certainly thinks he is as he leaves Faith behind.  We all have the potential for evil in our natures.  I like how this is revealed to Brown by the devil.  Not only does he learn that his lineage is not so saintly as he would like to think, but he also realizes that his peers are not as pious as he would like to believe.  However, Brown appears to ultimately pass the very test he set out to in the beginning.  He does not seem to abandon his faith, for at the very moment when he and Faith are about to take communion into the black mass, he tells her not to give in and to look heavenward.  It is at this moment that he passes the test; he proves his faith, though it has been severely shaken.

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What is your answer to this question? "Had Goodman Brown fallen asleep in the forest and only dreamed a wild dream of a witch-meeting?"

This is a personal opinion type of question. It is never conclusively stated in the story whether it was a dream or a reality. The outcome is tragic, Young Goodman Brown lives the rest of his life a bitter, angry man who turns his back on his religion, his wife, and his community. Even to his dying day he is never able to forgive.

My students seem to come to the conclusion that it was to vivid to just be a dream. They look at the details and decide that the devil would further torture Brown in never letting him no the truth of the matter.

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