Young Goodman Brown Study Guide

Young Goodman Brown

Young Goodman Brown by Nathaniel Hawthorne

"Young Goodman Brown" is an 1835 short story by Nathaniel Hawathorne set in 17th century New England. The story critiques elements of Puritanism's cynicism and belief in predestination. Goodman Brown leaves his wife Faith to journey through the woods. There he meets a mysterious man who eventually leads him to a witches' sabbath where he and Faith are to be initiated. He pleas to God and is freed. Though he is unsure whether the experience was a dream, he is forever cynical and disillusioned.

Young Goodman Brown Book Summary

The story begins at dusk in Salem Village, Massachusetts as young Goodman Brown leaves Faith, his wife of three months, for some unknown errand in the forest. Faith pleads with her husband to stay with her, but he insists that the journey must be completed that night. In the forest he meets an older man, dressed in a similar manner and bearing a physical resemblance to himself. The man carries a black serpent-shaped staff. The two encounter Goody Cloyse, an older woman, whom Young Goodman had known as a boy and who had taught him catechism, in the woods. She complains about the need to walk and, The man rudely throws his staff on the ground for the woman and quickly leaves with Goodman.

Other townspeople inhabit the woods that night, traveling in the same direction as Goodman Brown. When he hears his wife's voice in the trees, he calls out but is not answered. He then runs angrily through the forest, distraught that his beautiful Faith is lost somewhere in the dark, sinful forest. He soon stumbles upon a clearing at midnight to find all the townspeople assembled. At the ceremony (which may be a witches' sabbath) carried out at a flame-lit rocky altar, the newest acolytes are brought forth—Goodman Brown and Faith. They are the only two of the townspeople not yet initiated. Goodman Brown calls to heaven and Faith to resist and instantly the scene vanishes. Arriving back at his home in Salem the next morning, Goodman Brown is uncertain whether the previous night's events were real ora dream, but he is deeply shaken, and his belief he lives in a Christian community is distorted. He loses his faith in his wife, along with all of humanity. He lives his life an embittered and suspicious cynic, wary of everyone around him. The story concludes: "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."

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