Young Goodman Brown

Infobox short story |
name = Young Goodman Brown
title_orig =
translator =
author = Nathaniel Hawthorne
country = flagicon|USA United States
language = English
series =
genre = short story
published_in = "Mosses from an Old Manse"
publisher =
media_type =
pub_date = 1835
english_pub_date =
preceded_by =
followed_by =

"Young Goodman Brown" (1835) is a short story by American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne. The story takes place in Puritan New England, a common setting for Hawthorne's works, and addresses one of his common themes: the conflict between good and evil in human nature and, in particular, the problem of public goodness and private wickedness.

Plot summary

The story begins at sunset in 17th century Salem, Massachusetts, with young Goodman Brown leaving his home and Faith, his wife of three months, to meet with a mysterious figure deep in the forest. As he and this mysterious figure meet and proceed further into the dark forest, it is broadly hinted that Goodman Brown's traveling companion is, in fact, the Devil, and that the purpose of their journey is to join in an unspecified but obviously unholy ritual. Goodman Brown is wavering and expresses reluctance, yet they continue on. As their journey continues Brown discovers others also proceeding to the meeting, many of them his townsfolk whom he had considered exemplary Christians, including his minister and deacon and the woman who taught him his catechism. He is astonished and disheartened and determines, once again, to turn back. But then he hears his wife's voice and realizes that she is one of the ones who is to be initiated at the meeting. Recognizing that he has lost his Faith (in both senses), he now resolves to carry out his original intention and enthusiastically joins the procession.

At the ceremony, and carried out at a flame-lit, crude rocky altar in a clearing deep in the forest, the new converts are called to come forth. He and Faith approach the altar and, as they are about to be anointed in blood to seal their alliance with wickedness, he cries out to Faith to look to heaven and resist. In the next instant he finds himself standing alone in the forest, next to the cold, wet rock.

Arriving back in Salem the next morning, Goodman Brown is uncertain whether his experience was real or only a dream, but he is nevertheless deeply shaken. His view of his neighbors is distorted by his memories of that night. He lives out his days an embittered and suspicious cynical man, wary of everyone around him, including his wife Faith. The story concludes with this dismal statement:

"And when he had lived long, and was borne to his grave...they carved no hopeful verse upon his tombstone, for his dying hour was gloom."


"Young Goodman Brown" is often generalized as an allegory about the discovery of evil, the true nature of humanity. [Bell, Michael Davitt. "Hawthorne and the Historical Romance of New England". Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1971: 77. ISBN 0-691-06136-X] The story is set during the Salem witch trials, during which Hawthorne's grandfather John Hathorne played a role as judge. Hawthorne, for years plagued by guilt by his ancestor's role, vindicates his grandfather by featuring two fictional victims of the witch trials who really were witches and not merely innocent victims of the witch-hunt. [Mellow, James R. "Hawthorne in His Times". Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1980: 60. ISBN 0-395-27602-0] It was also this ancestral guilt that inspired Hawthorne to change his family's name, adding a "w" in his early twenties, shortly after graduating from college. [McFarland, Philip. "Hawthorne in Concord". New York: Grove Press, 2004: 18. ISBN 0802117767.]

Critical response and impact

Herman Melville said "Young Goodman Brown" was "as deep as Dante" and Henry James called it a "magnificent little romance". [Miller, Edwin Haviland. "Salem Is My Dwelling Place: A Life of Nathaniel Hawthorne". Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1991: 119. ISBN 0877453322.] Hawthorne himself believed the story made no more impact than any of his tales. Years later he wrote, "These stories were published... in Magazines and Annuals, extending over a period of ten or twelve years, and comprising the whole of the writer's young manhood, without making (so far as he has ever been aware) the slightest impression on the public." [McFarland, Philip. "Hawthorne in Concord". New York: Grove Press, 2004: 22. ISBN 0802117767.] Contemporary critic Edgar Allan Poe disagreed, referring to Hawthorne's short stories as "the products of a truly imaginative intellect". [Quinn, Arthur Hobson. "Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography". Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998: 334. ISBN 0801857309.]


External links

* [ Summary of Young Goodman Brown]
* [ Unabridged reading of Young Goodman Brown by B.J. Harrison of The Classic Tales Podcast]

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