Hawthorne depicts a 17th century Puritan attempting to reach justification as Browns faith required. Upon completing his journey, however, Brown could not confront the terrors of evil in his heart and chose to reject all of society. Puritan justification was a topic Hawthorne was aware of as a journey to hell necessary for a moral man. Having referred to the heart of man as hell, Puritans founds themselves in the midst of Satan and his multitude of devils as he established his kingdom in mans heart. This was a dreadful revelation that caused Brown to grow bitter and distrustful.
Puritan communities, secured by their orthodox faith, dealt with the ungodly wilderness around them. Set in Salem during the early witchcraft day of then, Young Goodman Browns experience in the dark, evil forest correlated and would have been recognized by Puritans as a symbol of mistrust of their own corrupt hearts and faculties. Just as man could not trust the shadows and figures he saw hidden in the forest, he could not trust his own desires. Those desires had to be tested through his journey into the forest.
Those evil spirits constantly tortured the Puritan, constantly reminding him of his sin and the battle in his own heart. Hawthorne used the presence of this demon in “Young Goodman Brown” by demonstrating, through Brown, the Puritan Journey towards Justification. Going through the forest towards Justification was marked by the disappearance of the self. In place of the self, was the awareness of helplessness and the illusions of sin. This awareness would then assist the moral man to no longer depend upon material things or people, but to put his faith solely upon God.
Hawthornes knowledge of the historical background of Puritanism combined with the personal experience of his early life and the history of his own family merge into the statement that “Young Goodman Brown” makes. A system in which individuals cannot trust themselves, their neighbors, their instructors or even their ministers cannot create and atmosphere where faith exists. Hawthornes tale places the newly wed Puritan Brown upon the road to what may or may not be a true conversion experience.
The conversion experience, a sudden realization brought about by divine intervention, a vision, or perhaps a dream, easily translates into the dream of Hawthornes work and allows the author to use Puritan doctrine and the history of Salem to argue the merits and consequences of such a belief. At the storys outset, Young Goodman Brown bids farewell to his young wife. His pretty young wife Faith is identified by the pink ribbons in her hair. It is ironic that Brown associates her with something as insignificant as a ribbon. Faith tries to hold Brown back from his journey, but he insists on going.
Why he must go is not stated. Brown is leaving his house at sunset for a journey that will take him into the woods. Night time and the woods are believed to be the haunting grounds of witches. Nature, specifically the wind, the forest, the darkness of evening, symbolizes evil and sinfulness. For a man to be so pure of heart, he obviously had some questions about himself in order to risk losing his Faith and reputation upon a journey into the woods. While Brown is in the forest he sees many of the upstanding members of his community which confuses him as to what is right and what is wrong.
There is certainly irony in the fact that it is the most pious church people who appear at the evil gathering in the forest. The old woman who passes Young Goodman Brown and the devil on the path is recognized by Brown when he exclaims “That old woman taught me my catechism! ” Probably wondering what she was doing in the woods at night, not thinking that she would be involved with such a meeting. Characters such as Goody Cloyse, Deacon Gookin, and the Minister are leaders of the town of Salem. They are believed to be the most pious people of their community and are revered by all of their righteous in life.
The devil, whom Goodman Brown meets while in the woods, resembles Brown, and he carries a rod which resembles a live serpent. The rod represents evil and his appearance stands for the reflection of evil in every man. As Brown heads further into the woods he tries to figure out what is going on. He is very suspicious of every rock and tree, thinking something evil will jump out at him. When he finally does meet someone on the trail, who appears to be of evil origin, he feels confident that he can refuse any temptations.
This evil person makes several advances and Goodman refuses. This makes Goodman feel strong until they met his childhood catechism teacher and sees her turned. He continues down the trail looking for hope in the heavens but hears only howling voices. Goodman eventually reaches his destination and sees the rest of his community there participating in satanic acts. He believes his wife is there, and on being brought before the altar for the baptismal services, he sees that she is, in fact, there. Brown screams for faith to hold on to her God and everything vanishes.
The following morning he finds himself in the forest and wonders what happened the previous night. Whether the scenes he witnessed were real or his imagination, he believes what he remembers and trusts no one in the village, not even his wife. The author tells in the end that Goodman is distrusting after his journey, so he either did meet the devil or fell asleep. The story seems to lean toward him meeting the devil in person. If Goodman had dreamt the entire trip the author would have probably described his anxiety with more detail in the beginning.
This would have allowed the reader to believe that events were not real. When Goodman comes back he thinks he is better that the rest and judges everyone instantly. He then comes to the conclusion that he is the only person that is not a devil worshiper. Just as before with the witch trials, he is judging them as the so called witches were judged by his ancestors. A reference to Martha Carrier is made in the story, Goodmans predicament is similar to hers. She was isolated from the community because of her beliefs just like Goodman felt isolated or isolated himself.
The views and beliefs of the people of that era were if anything to an extreme. Whatever they believed they worshipped with a vengeance. This extreme faith can be compared to the people of today. If they feel they cannot pursue a career and succeed, they feel as if their life has no meaning. This most likely has its roots from the protestant work ethic. The ethic, in general, says that you must work hard to please God and compete for a place in heaven. This story is about such people. The modern day person has taken this work ethic and given it a greedy twist.
People of today fight for position, status or power just as much as the pioneer puritans worshipped and studied the bible. Hawthorne uses symbolism and irony to illustrate the theme of man not knowing that sin is and unavoidable part of human nature. The idea that man can lead a perfect life seems to dominate the view of Hawthorns Puritan everyman, Young Goodman Brown. Thus making Hawthornes character illustrate the consequences of embracing too pious of an attitude and too simplistic of a view.