When looking at Young Goodman Brown, one of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s only novels, it is important to distinguish between the literal story being told and any underlying symbolism. Young Goodman Brown is a short novel that has been interpreted as an allegory by many scholars. Young Goodman Brown lives in Salem Village during its witch-hunting days. The setting itself can be viewed as symbolic because it reflects the persecuting mindset that was occurring within the village at this time.
Young Goodman Brown marries his fiancee Faith on the same day he decides to go into the forest (where he encounters evil) with his best friend Faith does not come with him; she makes him leave right after they are married because she feels uneasy about his plans. This can be seen as Young Goodman Brown’s descent into sin because he is married to Faith, but before she sees him off, Young Goodman Brown promises her that he will return by the end of the day. Young Goodman Brown leaves Salem Village to travel through the forest. After walking for some time Young Goodman Brown encounters a man who too appears to be on his way to the forest.
This man is wearing a dark cloak with a hood over his head so Young Goodman Brown cannot see who it is under there, but Young Goodman Brown states that he looks like an old schoolmate of Young Goodman Browns. Young Goodman Beck tries to ask this mysterious stranger where they are going but Young Gramdmaan Brown receives no response from him. The stranger Young Goodman Brown encounters is deceiving and Young Goodman Brown slowly begins to realize that all those people he has been encountering in the forest with him must be evil.
Young Goodman Brown ponders on whether or not he can escape from these people until Young Goodman Brown comes across a clearing in the forest with a large rock at the center of it. Young Goodman Brown notices that his name has been carved out of this rock, but Young Goodman Brown cannot remember carving it himself which leads Young Goodman Brown to question if he did carve his name into the rock because Young Goodman Brown’s memories are unclear due to all the strange things he is seeing.
As Young Goodman Brown’s travels continue his wife Faith continues to play an important role within this short story. Young Goodman Brown comes in contact with evil in the forest but Young Goodman Brown’s faith is still strong because Young Goodman Brown believes that his wife Faith back in Salem Village is waiting for him and Young Goodman Brown knows that he will be safe when he returns to her side. The short novel Young Goodman Brown can be interpreted as an allegory about sin, temptation, and redemption.
Young Goodman Brown’s steadfastness, when faced with evil, is symbolic of Young Goodman Brown’s choice to not give in to temptation or stray away from God which makes Young Goodman Browns’ return to Salem Village after facing evil important; Young Goodman Brown has returned saved rather than damned because of how faithful he was throughout the events of the story even though they were filled with evil.
Young Goodman Browns’ wife Faith can be interpreted as Young Goodman Brown’s faith in God because Young Goodman Brown never doubted her during Young Goodman Browns’ descent into sin. Young Goodman Brown also comes back to Salem Village with his faith restored, Young Goodman Brown has faced evil and come out stronger than before. Nathaniel Hawthorne used symbols within Young Goodman Brown to further convey the story of Young Goodman Browns’ temptation by evil and subsequent redemption due to Young Goodman Browns’ faithfulness throughout the events of the short novel.
The allegory represented in this short novel is important because it teaches readers that one cannot stray from their beliefs or give in to temptations even if one are surrounded by evil things; that good will always triumph over evil. Young Goodman Brown’s faith in both his wife and God is apparent throughout Young Goodman Browns’ travels through the forest until Young Goodman Brown finally returns to Salem Village with his faith restored.
The symbolism most important to the allegory in “Young Goodman Brown” is that of the natural world. One symbol that heavily draws on the theme of nature is the forest Young Goodman Brown encounters when he leaves his wife Faith to attend the witch’s meeting. The imagery in this scene, including Young Goodman Brown’s feelings about leaving his wife, are closely tied to the symbolism of nature. Nature continues to be a key feature in Young Goodman Brown’s journey to the witch’s meeting, and his return from it. Young Goodman Brown travels through a forest in order to reach the meeting place.
The symbolism of this forest is important because Young Goodman Brown has strong feelings about entering the dark forest. He says that he fears “the dreadful curse” on him (Hawthorne 94) and the “unknown depths of the forest” (95). Young Goodman Brown is so uneasy about entering the woods that he uses his staff as a weapon, as if to ward off any evil spirits. As Young Goodman Brown says: “I looked at my dim reflection in a pool of water; it said sadly, ‘Fear not, Young Goodman Brown! ‘ And when I had climbed the hill, it said mockingly, ‘Go up, Young Goodman Brown! Go up to the witch’s meeting.
Your wife Faith will be there. ‘” (Hawthorne 93-4) This demonstrates Young Goodman Brown’s fear of entering the forest and makes clear his uneasiness about the witch’s meeting. Young Goodman Brown’s fear is further confirmed when Young Goodman Brown reaches a clearing in the forest, which causes Young Goodman Brown to think about his wife Faith and wonder if she were watching him from their cabin window. Young Goodman Brown thinks of this as “an awful thing to be alone with Nature” (Hawthorne 96) because Young Goodman Brown feels as if he is being watched by something other than humans.
Young Goodman Brown’s fear of the dark forest, and his feelings about Faith, are a key part of this scene and establish a sense of foreboding in Young Goodman Brown for what awaits him at the witch’s meeting. The next time Young Goodman Brown enters the woods is when Young Goodman Brown returns from the witch’s meeting. Young Goodman Brown enters into a very different forest from that through which he came to attend the witch’s gathering: “the trees had not wholly lost their leaves” (Hawthorne 102).