Humanity’s Internal Struggle of Good vs. Evil in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown” Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown” is a story of a religious man’s journey through a forest and the inner conflict he faces when encountering a traveler who claims to be the Devil. Brown is an honest, hardworking, religious everyman that Hawthorne uses to symbolize humanity while the traveller character who appears to be the Devil represents the inheritable evil that lies within mankind. Young Goodman Brown” is the story of Brown’s internal struggle in which Hawthorne uses to represent the conflict that humanity faces when trying to resist it’s own evil nature.
Brown’s experience in the forest causes him great uncertainty and doubt. Upon his first encounter with the devil he says, “Faith kept me back a while” (Hawthorne 164). Faith is a homograph in this context. Literally, he is referring to his wife but it refers to his faith in his religion holding him back as well.
Brown struggles with his beliefs from very early on. Brown’s faith continues to dwindle throughout the story.
Hawthorne writes, “”Faith! ” shouted Goodman Brown, in a voice of agony and desperation; and the echoes of the forest mocked him, crying, “Faith! Faith! ” as if bewildered wretches were seeking her all through the wilderness” (167). The dual meaning of Faith remains consistent throughout the story. As Brown continues on his journey the tales told by the Devil cause him to become increasingly uncertain. The Devil speaks to him and says, “I helped your grandfather… your father… The deacons of many a church have drunk the communion wine with me” (Hawthorne 164-165).
Brown begins to doubt those he once respected and admired. The most detrimental doubt of all is the doubt in which Brown carries with him even after the sunrise. His experience in the forest causes him to be skeptical of all those in his community from that point forward. Hawthorne writes, “he shrank from the bosom of Faith; and at morning or eventide, when the family knelt down at prayer, he scowled and muttered to himself, and gazed sternly at his wife, and turned away” (171). Brown shrinks away from his wife, his community, and his religion.
It is said in the last lines, “they carved no hopeful verse upon his tombstone, for his dying hour was gloom” (Hawthorne 172) proving that Brown’s doubts destined him for a life of sorrow. Brown’s doubts symbolize mankind’s struggle when confronted with the idea that perhaps those who they love and admire are not who they thought they were. Brown makes many choices throughout his journey that influence the final outcome of his situation. He chooses to leave his wife and venture into the forest.
His wife begs him not to go, saying, “prithee put off your journey until sunrise and sleep in your own bed to-night” (Hawthorne 163) but Brown disregards her pleas and follows his temptation into the forest stating, “after this one night I’ll cling to her skirts and follow her to heaven”. Once in the forest, he chooses to talk to what he presumes to be the Devil. When the Devil speaks to him and says, “Come, Goodman Brown” (Hawthorne 164) Brown makes the choice to listen to the devil and continue on with him. As he travels deeper into the forest he is offered many opportunities to turn around and go back.
Although Brown makes meager attempts at excuses for why he must leave, saying, “having kept covenant by meeting thee here, it is my purpose now to return whence I came. I have scruples touching the matter thou wot’st of” (Hawthorne 164) then later on saying, “Not another step will I budge on this errand” (Hawthrone 166) he ultimately chooses to stay and carry on with the Devil. Hawthorne uses Brown to exemplify the many choices that man is faced with and the consequences that occur as a result of those choices.
There are indicators throughout the story that suggest that perhaps evil is not an internal source within Brown, but an external source within Brown’s environment but that is not the case. Hawthorne writes, “He had taken a dreary road, darkened by all the gloomiest trees of the forest, which barely stood aside to let the narrow path creep through, and closed immediately behind” (164). Although this symbolizes evil, it is not a source of external evil. Brown chooses to travel into the forest and to continue traveling even after he is given multiple opportunities to turn back.
The setting of the forest symbolizes Brown’s internal evil instinct since he is the one who choses to place himself in such an environment. The traveler character who is presumed by Brown to be the devil represents another source of evil, but this source is once again an internal source within Brown. Brown is not forced to talk with the traveler character, but he stays and talks with him due to his own internal evil nature. Hawthorne writes, “the second traveller was about fifty years old, apparently in the same rank of life as Goodman Brown, and bearing a considerable resemblance to him, though perhaps more in expression than features.
Still they might have been taken for father and son” (164). The similarities between Brown and the Devil represent the internal evil that is also present within Young Goodman Brown. When faced with the idea that perhaps it was all a dream, Brown’s internal evil affects his judgment once again. Hawthorne writes, “Had Goodman Brown fallen asleep in the forest and only dreamed a wild dream of a witch- meeting? ” (171) Whether or not the event was fact or fiction serves no purpose towards its impact on Young Goodman Brown. Hawthorne writes, “dream of evil omen for young Goodman Brown.
A stern, a sad, a darkly meditative, a distrustful, if not a desperate man did he become from the night of that fearful dream” (171). The experience be it a dream or not, Brown’s internal evil prevents him from carrying on with his previous life. His uncertainty ruins the trusting, religious, loyal man that Goodman Brown once was. Hawthorne uses this to show humanity’s internal struggle against it’s own evil nature and that one can easily fall prey to temptation and presumption if their faith is not strong enough to resist their internal evil.
Although Brown does not let himself be baptized by the devil, the consequences of his experience in the forest consume his life. It is ironic that Brown chooses to believe the Devil and becomes skeptical of his faith and community when he should have believed in his faith and community and been skeptical of the Devil. Brown being a Christian man still follows his own evil nature, which causes him to commit the sins of presumption and temptation. Hawthorne exposes the internal struggle against the evil within human nature and how easily it is for one to be seduced by it.
By trying to avoid the evil within him, Brown ultimately allows the evil to consume him. Hawthorne uses Brown as an everyman to represent humanity and show that anyone could succumb to their own evil nature and stray from the path of faith, and that sometimes, like in Brown’s case, once one has strayed from their path they may never truly walk the same path again.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “Young Goodman Brown” Litterature and The Writing Process. Canadian Ed. Elizabeth McMahan. Toronto, Ontario. Pearson Education Canada, 2005. 163-171. Print.
Cite this Young Goodman Brown Essay
Young Goodman Brown Essay. (2017, Jan 05). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/young-goodman-brown/