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In the story of Young Goodman Brown the main character finds much more then he imagined by venturing into the forest. Leaving from the town of Salem, Massachusetts, Young Goodman Brown travels into the forest to confront and conquer the temptations of evil. However, the artistry of this story lies in what Goodman Brown finds, realizes, and becomes. In “Young Goodman Brown” the main character goes through a period of self-realization, and; ironically comes to harbor the evil he fears so much.
The time period in which the story is set contributes heavily to the irony of the events. The group to which Young Goodman Brown belonged is the Puritans. This religious group had very strict Christian beliefs, morals, and ethics. Shortly before the story of Goodman Brown the Puritan peoples of Salem had condemned people believed to be witches. Obviously, in the time of the Puritans evil was by no means tolerated. It was more or less hunted out and destroyed.
Being the wildly religious Puritan he is, Goodman Brown sets of into the forest on a quest to find evil and relinquish its temptations once and for all. Brown expresses that by doing so he will gain some unworldly benefit when he states “ . . . after this one night I’ll cling to her [his wife, Faith] skirts and follow her to heaven” (444).
Brown meets Satan during his journey throughout the forest and manages to resist his evil. However, Brown becomes discouraged when he finds his old religion teacher in the forest whom has already succumbed to Satan. Next, Brown reaches an altar of sorts in the forest, and finds the entire town worshiping Satan. At this instant Goodman Brown comes to a realization, and ultimately loses his faith.
Goodman Brown wakes the next morning in the forest alone, with no sign of the devil worshiping citizens. Whether or not it was all just a dream, or reality, we will never know, but regardless it bestowed Goodman Brown with a sense of betrayal. The epiphany comes when Brown sees that there is evil in everyone and the Puritan beliefs cannot hold fast against it. Brown’s quest to denounce evil brought him to realize it was all for not.
As a result of his findings, Brown becomes a hardened, distrusting soul. As stated by Hawthorne: “A stern, a sad, a darkly meditative, a distrustful, if not a desperate man did he become from the night of that fearful dream” (453.
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Goodman Brown failed to realize that all people are born with original sin, and all people succumb to evil at some point in their lives. By being suspicious and distrusting of everyone around him Goodman Brown has come to harbor the evil he fears. Ironically, Goodman Brown has become very similar to the witch hunters of Salem. By condemning those closest to him Brown ultimately possesses an evil worse than that which he seeks to destroy.
When Brown leaves his wife Faith on that fateful journey he in turn relinquishes his true faith. He lives out his days a disheartened soul suspect of all evil around him. “And when he had lived long, and was borne to his grave a hoary corpse, followed by Faith, and aged woman, and children and grandchildren, a goodly procession, besides neighbors not a few, they carved on no hopeful verse upon his tombstone, for his dying hour was gloom” (453).
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “Young Goodman Brown.” The Borzoi Book of Short Fiction.
Ed. David H. Richter. New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1983. 444-453.