Rena Korb argues that even though Young Goodman Brown is strictly steeped in
Puritan history and culture and similar to many works of literature, the story
can be read on a more universal level as well. Young Goodman Brown takes the form of an allegory which uses
elements of a story such as the characters and plot to symbolize something
else. Goodman Brown represents the everyday man and the title “Goodman” were for those who were
beneath the social rank of gentleman. Faith represents his religious devotion.
In leaving his wife, Brown forsakes his belief in the godliness of Brown’s humanity
(Korb 1). The forest is shown as a “symbolic physical location in which he will
explore his doubts and conflicting desires where he feels ambivalent about
forging an alliance with the devil” (Korb 1). This is obvious from his first
entry into the forest as he tells the man that Faith has kept him back a while.
He pledges to return to Faith and to his belief in humankind several times as
he continues with his journey toward the Black Mass which symbolizes his
descent into hell. Hawthorne presents us with a predominantly allegorical story
where characterization and plot succeed in its purpose of creating explorative
themes (Korb 1).
Thomas F. Walsh Jr. argues that in
order to obtain better understanding of what happens to Goodman brown, we
should be aware of three major symbols within the text: first, we have Faith,
who is Brown’s wife who represents religious faith and faith in mankind.
Second, we have the forest which shows Brown’s journey which represents the
inward escape into the black and despairing depths of his soul. Third, the
Devil represents Brown’s darker side which is filled with doubt, which
eventually believes that evil is the nature of mankind (F. Walsh Jr. 1). The
symbolic movement of the forest scenes is from the bosom of Faith to the loss
of Faith which includes despair, from the village of belief to the depths of
the forest of despair, and from a doubting balance of Brown’s personality to
the complete submergence of the brighter side into the darker side which
objectifies despair. He says that these three symbols “tell the story of a
young and naïve man in the ways of the world” (F. Walsh Jr. 1). He eventually
finds out that men are all not good and he became so convinced they are all bad
that he could remove the doubt of the universal evil from his mind.
Korb discusses how Brown is an
inconstant character in the story. Hawthorne presents Brown as a “naive young
man who believes his own free will to turn back on his sinful promise and we
also see his increasing struggles to resist evil which then show his
development as a man” (Korb 1). For example, Brown decides to challenge his fellow
partner who happens to be the Devil for “any reason that I should quit my dear
Faith” (28). But when he has affirmed his decision to stand up to the Devil, he
discovers that his dear love Faith is on her way to the Black Mass (Korb 1).
Brown then turns into a personification of Devil and soon finds out that there
is no real good on earth. Brandishing the Devil’s own staff, he rushes through
the dark forest and against the fearful backdrop of beasts and Indians, he
becomes “himself the chief horror of the scene” (30).
Kelly King Howes touches upon the
role the Devil plays and how figure of the Devil in Young Goodman Brown is shown as an older man who wields a twisted,
snake-like stick. He seems to vaguely resemble Brown and he could be looked at
as a “reflection of the darker side of Brown’s nature” (Howes 1). The Devil
claims he has had relations with Brown’s grandfather who was involved in the
persecution of the Quakers, and his father who was involved in an attack on the
Indian village. Deacon Gookin, Goody Cloyse, and the minister serve as great
examples of the wickedness that may hide in the souls of those who appear most
virtuous (E. May 1). The three are “distinguished from among the crowd of
townsfolk at the gathering due to the fact that they represent a standard of
piety and godliness that is destroyed, and for Brown, by his experience” (Howes