What are the allegorical elements in "Young Goodman Brown" by Nathaniel Hawthorne?

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The allegory in the story is the journey into the forest to meet the devil. The story itself has two meanings: a literal meaning of events and a figurative meaning, a moral lesson. Hawthorne uses symbols that he commonly used in his writings, including the snakelike staff, Faith her pink ribbons and their color scheme throughout the narrative. The reader can also interpret this as an internal journey as well. Brown travels into his own soul through his night of sin with the devil. Brown’s character changes by becoming hardened and bitter after his experience with Satan in the woods. He loses his innocence forever and becomes suspicious of everyone around him.

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An allegory is a work of fiction in which the symbols, characters, and events come to represent some aspect of its culture. In American literature, allegories have often been used for instructive purposes around Christian themes.  The story has a figurative meaning beneath the literal one: a story with two meanings.  In American literature, the best example of an allegory is “Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Written in 1835, the story centers on the loss of innocence.

The story takes place in Salem during the witch crisis and religious disagreements.  The allegory includes Christianity, Satan, and the devil. From the names of the characters to the pink ribbons in Faith’s hair, this is a religious allegory.  The story centers on the journey of Goodman Brown into the woods to meet Satan.  He is an innocent, yet he has made this appointment with the devil for some reason.

The trip itself and the scenes that Goodman Brown encounter are vague and uncertain. Brown leaves his wife to go a meeting with the devil who awaits him.  Brown is late and blames it on his “Faith.”[Faith his wife or faith in his religion

This list of symbols and elements add to the allegorical interpretation of the story:

  • The snakelike staff-The devil offers his staff.  Eventually, this symbol becomes the medical profession symbol.
  • Faith Brown- The references to her by Brown indicate that Brown’s strength comes from his wife.  
  • Faith’s voice- Brown realizes that Faith is in the middle of the witch’s coven.  He speaks: “My Faith is gone!”
  • Faith’s pink ribbons-These indicate her innocence and purity.  When Brown sees them in the wind in the woods, Faith is struggling with her own “faith.”   
  • The basin of water- The basin of water is reddened by the light in the forest or is it blood to be used in the ceremony of witchery.   
  • The list of public figures- Those under the spell of the devil includes Brown’s own family, his teacher, the minister and most of the prominent people in Salem. These were people that Brown thought were righteous in their lives.
  • The black cloud-When Brown looks to the heavens to ask God to intercede for him, a black cloud prevents him from being able to look to the skies.

Hawthorne uses colors to represent various qualities of man: the pink of innocence; the black of evil; the red of the witches’ coven, and gray for those who are caught under the suspicious of evil.

When Brown returns to town, the reader nor Brown is not sure if the previous night’s events were dreams or actual events.

…he [Brown] spied the hand of Faith, with the pink ribbons, gazing anxiously forth, and bursting into such joy at sight of him that she almost kissed her husband before the whole village. But Goodman Brown looked sternly and sadly into her face, and passed on without a greeting.

Brown turns his back on everything that he had valued and loved the day before.  He changes forever and hardens his heart against everyone.  He looks for corruption behind every bush.  Young Goodman Brown never recognizes that it his soul that has become immoral and blind to God.  

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As an allegory, the narrative of "Young Goodman Brown" is an extended metaphor in which the characters are equated to concepts and more significant meanings outside the narrative itself. Here are examples of allegorical elements in Hawthorne's story:

  • Young Goodman Brown - The title of Brown denotes his youth and naivete. He tells his wife Faith,

"my love and my Faith...of all nights in the year, this one night must I tarry away from thee.

Further, he tells the traveler, "...and after this one night I'll cling to her skirts and follow her to heaven.

While Brown perceives himself as good, he deceives himself because his is a natural predilection for evil as, once introduced to the devil, he easily finds corruption in the members of the community and rejects his wife Faith, becoming distrustful and miserable.

  • Goody Cloyse and Deacon Goodkin - These names of real people, a witch and a participant in the Salem Witchcraft Trials, represent the sanctimounious Puritan hypocrites who are more guilty of sin than those that they accuse.  Their inherent evil is apparent when they attend the black mass.
  • The forest and the night - The forest and the night represent the darkness that lies in the heart of man, the innate predilection for evil that is in the nature of man.
  • Faith and her pink ribbons The soft and pure Faith and her pink--a color symbolic of innocence--represent the naivete of Brown's own faith in the beginning of the allegory.  When her ribbons waft through the air, they symbolize Brown's loss of innocence and his disillusion.
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What are the allegorical elements in "Young Goodman Brown"?

In allegories, characters are representative of certain traits.  For instance, Goody Cloyse, the Catechist, and Deacon Gookin--names of real people who participated in the Salem Witchcraft Trials--go into the forest and participate in the Black Mass.  Thus, they represent the sanctimonious hypocrites among the Puritans.  Young Goodman Brown's name is, of course, ironic.  He certainly perceives himself as good, but his rejection of his wife and others after he has formed his judgment demonstrates his lack of goodness.  For he is the quintessential Puritan that Hawthorne abhors:  he concludes that all human beings are hopelessly corrupt, totally damned, and must, therefore, be rejected. Brown's wife Faith and her pink ribbons represent the naivete of Brown's own faith in the beginning of the allegory.

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What are some of the symbols present in "Young Goodman Brown"?

Perhaps the most obvious is the forest itself.  It's a dark place, a place without clear paths, a place where you might easily get lost.  In our history, it is often associated with the home of Satan, and the home of the Indians, sometimes seen as Satan's agents. 

There is the symbol of the staff that looks may look like a snake.  The snake is a universal symbol of evil, stemming back from the Bible and the story of The Fall. 

Then there is Faith/faith.  Faith, the person, and faith, the religious belief, are both lost.  Faith is symbolized in the pink ribbon.  Pink is associated with innocence, and the original innocence of Brown's faith is shown in the pink ribbon that Faith wears and that appears falling into the forest just before Brown "wakes up." 

The last word in the story, gloom, mirrors the setting in the forest; instead of leaving the light, travelling through the gloom, and returning to the light (of faith), he never escapes the gloom of the forest.

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What are the symbols and allegory present in "Young Goodman Brown"?

An allegory is a story with a moral message. The author uses symbols to help reveal the theme. The main message of this story is often said to be Hawthorne's rejection of the Puritan belief system, which was a belief in predestination---a person is saved and goes to heaven not on the basis of what he does, necessarily, but on whether God chooses to save him. However, people that have been chosen by God will act like in Godly ways. Obiviously, his can leave one in doubt about their salvation, as Goodman Brown discovers. The symbols in the story include Brown's name. It is a common name and he is meant to represent the common man. His wife's name, Faith, is also significant. She makes him late for his meeting ("Faith kept me back awhile.") However, her pink ribbons, which represent innocence, are left behind while she attends the forest meeting with the Devil. So, after his forest experience, Brown does not know whether to believe in "Faith" or not. The old man Brown meets is obviously the devil. The first clue is his staff which looks like a serpent. In Western literature, the forest is often a symbol for the unknown or the far corners of the mind. Thus, Brown's walk with the devil is a spiritual journey in which he moves from from innocence to recognizing that evil exists in the hearts of everyone.

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Identify some of the symbols in "Young Goodman Brown."

The pink ribbons Faith wears in her cap at the very beginning of the story are mentioned three times in the first six paragraphs alone, and so this is a good clue that they are symbolic.  Because Young Goodman Brown is going into the forest to meet the Devil, and because he is clearly relying on Faith's goodness to help redeem him, saying "'after this one night, I"ll cling to her skirts and follow her to Heaven,'" the pink ribbons seem to be symbolic of her innocence and goodness.  Further, when Brown later sees one of these ribbons on a tree branch near the witches' Sabbath, he cries, "'My Faith is gone!'" linking her ribbons to her innocence once again.  If she is attending the witches' Sabbath, then her innocence surely is as lost as her ribbon is.

Moreover, the old man Brown meets with in the forest carries a staff "which bore the likeness of a great black snake" that seemed so real that it appeared to be a "living serpent."  Because the Devil appeared in the shape of a snake or serpent to Eve in the Garden of Eden, snakes are often symbolic of evil.  This symbolism is appropriate here since we later learn that the old man is the Devil.

In addition, the fact that Brown enters the forest in order to meet with the devil, and because it is the setting for the witches' Sabbath they attend, the forest can be read as a symbol as well: a symbol of temptation, since it is here that Brown and Faith are both tempted by the Devil and all of their peers to join them in sinfulness and vice.

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What type of symbolism is found in Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown"?

Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown" is a moral allegory that serves to illustrate the Puritan doctrine of inherent depravity as the Brown, the Puritan Everyman, tests his faith by entering the forest primeval by joining the man "of grave and decent attire" for an evening in the wilderness. Clearly, then, the symbols are of a religious nature.


  • Goodman Brown - "Goodman" is the Puritan form of address for any man, so Brown becomes in this allegory an Everyman.
  • Goody Cloyse - "Goody" is the short form of "goodwife"; ironcally, the witch who rides upon a broom and accompanies Deacon Gookin (a real-life character) into the forest is given this name. She it is, Brown says, that has taught him his catechism. Using these real characters lends Hawthorne story more historical reality.
  • The Traveler - The old man who accompanies Goodman into the forest resembles Goodman, suggesting that evil is pervasive in his family, and "wickedness in every human heart."
  • Faith - Representative of Brown's innocence, Faith becomes lost when Goodman enters the forest, and loses his beliefs in the precepts of Puritanism that are present. "My Faith is gone!" he cries in a fit of loneliness, and loss of belief in the precepts of Puritanism. Faith, too, becomes lost when Goodman enters the forest; later, he cries out, "My faith is gone!" as he realizes that his belief in the precepts of Puritanism has dissolved, symbolized by the wafting ribbons.
  • the Evil Assembly - The Black Mass in the forest and the assembly of Puritans who present a public morality that is not their own suggest the hypocrisy of the sect as well as the dangers (the burning pine trees) of entering a moral wilderness when one adopts the beliefs of others, without being fully convinced as an individual


  • The serpent-like staff of the old traveler - Of course, the serpent in Christian literature represents the devil, and in the Massachusetts of 1727, he was referred to as "Old Scratch" as exemplified by Washington Irving in his story "The Devil and Tom Walker." 
  • The pink ribbons - Symbolic of ingenuousness and innocence, the ribbons are inadvertently removed from Faith after she enters the forest primeval. 
  • The forest - A symbol of the subconscious and the unknown, the wilderness is a dark area to enter; it suggests confusion and nightmare; it is a sinister path upon which Goodman Brown sets out on a spiritual journey that turns into a dark dream in which he questions his beliefs and those around him and finds no answers. "The fiend in his own shape is less hideous than when he rages in the breast of man." 

One critic writes of Young Goodman Brown, "The effect of horror and disillusionment spiced with sardonic humor is produced by the prevailing  mood of 'Young Goodman Brown.'"

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