In "Young Goodman Brown," what foreshadows Goodman Brown's meeting with the supernatural?

Quick answer:

In Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown," there are several instances that point to Brown's plan to meet with the old gentleman who is actually the devil. (And Brown knows who he is meeting.) The first bit of foreshadowing comes not from Faith—as he insinutates—but from Brown's words to her. As she begs him not to got out for the evening, and he gently chides her, asking if she does not trust him. She has said nothing to convey any mistrust of her new husband: he presents the topic. My journey, as thou callest it, forth and back again, must needs be done 'twixt now and sunrise.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

As Hawthorne’s story opens, the reader sees Goodman Brown departing his home to go into the forest on his errand. The conversation that Goodman Brown and his wife, Faith, have merely expresses her regret that he has to leave when he does. It is not until Goodman Brown, having departed his home and heading through town, looks back at his wife still standing in their doorway. Seeing her standing there, Goodman Brown reflects on their conversation and surmises a sense of foreboding in her face; she thinks there will be trouble that night. Fearing this, she tries to convince him to delay his departure until the following morning.

Young Goodman Brown’s interpretation of his wife’s words does not foreshadow the particular nature of what will come to pass but simply foreshadows that something will happen. Goodman Brown already knows that his errand serves an evil purpose. Brown takes “a dreary road, darkened by all the gloomiest trees of the forest,” which serves to emphasize the evil purpose of his adventure. As he sees the forest around the path close in behind him, Brown makes a rather prophetic statement: “What if the devil himself should be at my very elbow!” This statement clearly foreshadows his meeting with the devil, for immediately after uttering this phrase Brown walks around the crook on the path and sees the figure before him. The figure greets him as if he had been expecting him.

While the words of Faith and those of Goodman Brown himself clearly foreshadow the nature of his meeting with the mysterious figure in the forest, very little evidence suggests the supernatural nature of the figure. The figure himself does not give Brown cause to wonder whether he is supernatural; however, the staff the figure carries with him is another story. Brown notices something interesting about the staff. Its shape and construction make it almost appear that it could be wrought from a black serpent. When the figure and Goodman Brown begin reasoning, both characters make allusions to the unnatural age of the mysterious figure, suggesting that he is old enough to have helped Brown’s grandfather whip a Quaker woman and set fire to an Indian village during King Philip’s War, all while the figure appears to only be about fifty years in age. Evidence for the figure’s supernatural nature lies not in his overt acts of trickery or sorcery but in his words, in the allusions he makes to religious practices, and to allusions he makes as to his unnatural age.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What foreshadows Goodman Brown's meeting with his fellow traveller in Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown"?

In Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown," there are several instances that point to Brown's plan to meet with the old gentleman who is actually the devil. (And Brown knows who he is meeting.)

The first bit of foreshadowing comes not from Faith—as he insinutates—but from Brown's words to her. As she begs him not to got out for the evening, and he gently chides her, asking if she does not trust him. She has said nothing to convey any mistrust of her new husband: he presents the topic.

My journey, as thou callest it, forth and back again, must needs be done 'twixt now and sunrise. What, my sweet, pretty wife, dost thou doubt me already, and we but three months married?

There is also foreshadowing in Faith's wish for him, as she sends Brown off on his "errand:"

And may you find all well when you come back.

Later we know that this will not be the case. There is also a sense of foreshadowing as Brown takes leave of his wife, offering words that sound almost like a spell against evil, or a child's prayer:

Say thy prayers, dear Faith, and go to bed at dusk, and no harm will come to thee.

As the young husband departs, he looks back as his wife who wears a sad countenance, and his commentary make one sure that he is doing something that he should not do—he infers that her goodness is such that to know what he is doing would do damage to her. He also makes a promise that after this one night he will do what is right and "follow her to heaven."

Poor little Faith!...What a wretch am I to leave her on such an errand! She talks of dreams, too. Methought as she spoke there was trouble in her face, as if a dream had warned her what work is to be done tonight. But no, no; 'twould kill her to think it. Well, she's a blessed angel on earth; and after this one night I'll cling to her skirts and follow her to heaven.

The setting described as Brown makes his way onward also foreshadows something dark and/or evil ahead, especially in that he has also resolved to be better in the days ahead (inferring he will not be "better" now)—that he has an "evil purpose."

With this excellent resolve for the future, Goodman Brown felt himself justified in making more haste on his present evil purpose. He had taken a dreary road, darkened by all the gloomiest trees of the forest, which barely stood aside to let the narrow path creep through, and closed immediately behind. It was all as lonely as could be...

So the reader gets the sense that Brown believes his wife is pure of heart and he is doing something he should not do. He utters words that sound like a protective spell—or perhaps a prayer. He infers that he will do this "thing" only one time, and never again. Then he walks a "dreary road," enters the woods (where Puritans believed the devil lived) which are dark and gloomy: where any evil could hide itself.

The fact that Brown meets the devil should be no surprise with the many examples of foreshadowing—they prepare the reader that there is some dark purpose to Brown's movements—and a dark person at the end of his "errand" is not unexpected.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on