Type: Literary Analysis
Pages: 11 | Words: 3078
Reading Time: 13 Minutes

“Young Goodman Brown” written by Nathaniel Hawthorne is an allegorical story enriched with symbols many critics tried to decipher and explain. Sometimes they explain them in mutually exclusive way. The aim of the research is to investigate duplicity in characters and the process of the journey to the Sabbath and demonstrate that all these dual representations aptly serve for Hawthorne’s aim to disclose Puritan society.  

Duplicity of Goodman Brown

At the beginning of the novel Nathaniel Hawthorne introduces to a reader the main character Goodman Brown as a common young Puritan man. “God bless you!” says Faith when her husband leaves for the night journey; “Amen”, answers Brown. However, in the development of the story the writer unveils the other nature of the character. As Neary states, Hawthorne tends to use Biblical motives in his writing. Hawthorne himself calls them “allegories from the heart”. In “Young Goodman Brown” the writer uses elements from the story of the human’s Fall. That is why Brown in the novel appears to be not only an average Puritan who have no doubts that if he lives according to strict Puritan dogmas and continue the hard everyday work of self-limiting, he definitely is predetermined to heaven: “… with heaven above and Faith below, I will yet stand affirm against the devil!”.  The young man also appears to be the first man created on the Earth, Adam. In Genesis Adam is the second one who commits original sin, he follows his wife, Eve. In the novel Brown also follows his wife after he hears her voice in cloud and understands that Faith is going on the Sabbath: “My Faith is gone!” and maddened with despair,.. and set forth again, at such a rate that he seemed to fly along the forest path rather than to walk or run”. What is more, Hawthorne says about Brown and Faith in the story that they are “the only pair, as it seemed, who were yet hesitating” when the couple was about to commit its “Fall”. The stated evidences prove duplicity in character of Goodman Brown who symbolizes both: an average Puritan who lives according to the religion rules, and Adam, the progenitor of humankind.

Duplicity of Faith, Brown’s wife

Faith in the story is not only Brown’s wife. She also has an allegorical meaning of religion faith which young Brown hardly tries not to lose during the night adventures. In the novel Hawthorne, beginning with the name of Brown’s beloved, provides a reader with lot of evidences to unveil the allegory. Firstly, Faith is the reason of his doubts whether to go into the dark forest or not. “Faith kept me back for a while” from the journey, explains Brown to his “friend.” The meaning of it is that religion dogmas keep people from committing wrong (according to the dogmas) things. Secondly, his faith is the last thing that keeps Brown from the “Fall”, he is sure that it will help him to reach heaven: “… after this one night I’ll cling to her skirts and follow her to heaven.”. Finally, Faith is not the allegory of the true faith, the one of faith in God, it is rather the one which implies the blind acceptance of church’s dogmas. Hawthorne emphasizes that these dogmas help Brown to live light-heartedly in his own little paradise enjoying his total blindness and not noticing other people’s hypocrisy. Moreover, the evidence that Brown’s faith symbolizes actually fake faith, the one that only provides people with illusions in order to make their living “easier” and allows them not to take responsibility for their life is in the following. When Brown hears the voice of his beloved, who in the form of cloud flies by her husband to the Sabbath, it becomes the total disappointment to him. After that, the young man is fully disillusioned and his little paradise is ruined. “He looked up to the sky doubting whether there really was a heaven above him”. The illusion of heaven is destroyed, but there is the real truth behind it: “Yet there was the blue arch, and the stars brightening in it”. That is how Hawthorne indicates that Brown’s Faith is the fake faith that does not bring any salvation for a person, but only distracts him from what is really important in life. Hence, we can see the duplicity of the character of Faith who symbolizes Adam’s wife and his religion Faith.

Duplicity of Brown’s Family

The duplicity of Brown’s family plays an important role in the whole story. On the one hand, it is the young man’s family, members of which are common Puritans who all are hypocrits (as it is showed in the novel). On the other hand, these characters are also a hard memory for Hawthorne. In the story he actually describes his own disappointment in his family, especially in one of his ancestors. Hence, Brown’s father and grandfather who the young man mentions in the conversation with Satan, also symbolize the disillusionment of Hawthorne about his own ancestor. In order to prove that, a fact from the writers biography is worth to mention. Hawthorne’s family professed Puritanism since its beginning, and had to carry the shameful, to Nathaniel’s point of view, fame. William Hathorne, the writer’s ancestor, was not only a judge in the Great and General Court who took part in cruel witch trials in 1692, but also started a military campaign against the Indians in Maine. William Hathorne did everything possible to build Puritan paradise on the lands of New England.  The writer even added letter “w” to his last name in order to break the bound with the disgraceful fame his family carried through generations, (Day 2010). Nathaniel was disillusioned just as he showed the main character of “Young Goodman Brown” becomes. At the beginning he thinks about his family as a pious one and says to his fellow-traveler: “My father never went into the woods on such an errand, nor his father before him”. Brown does not believe Satan that he is well acquainted with the young man’s father and grandfather. All doubts disappears when the image of Brown’s father encourages him to commit the sin: “He could well-nigh sworn that the shape of his own dead father beckoned him to advance, looking downward from a smoke wreath” (Hawthorne 1996).

Judging from to the information, the ancestors of young Brown serve not only to demonstrate the diabolical features of Puritans who try to cover their sinfulness even from their children, but also symbolize personal experience of the writer who was disappointment when he discovered the truth about history of his family.

Duplicity of the People on the Sabbath

People who Brown sees on the Sabbath also represent the idea of duplicity in “Young Goodman Brawn.” During the day they all pretend to be good Christians. That is how Brown think about them all. For instance, when devil says to Brown that he has been “as well acquainted with your family as with aver one among the Puritans,” the young man does not believe him, saying: “We are people of prayer, and good works to boot, and abide no such wickednass.” As it appears later, people on the Sabbath serve to confirm the words of the dark minister that “evil is the nature of mankind. Evil must be your only happiness”. Two characters in the novel, Deacon and the minister, serve as a vivid example of the disclosure. Brown cannot believe his own ears when he hears the conversation between Deacon Gookin and the minister on their way to the Sabbath. After the disclosure of the “pious” individuals, others’ people point of view towards him does not matter for Brown anymore.

After the disillusionment and realizing that his “Faith is gone,” Brown in despair also desires to get on the Sabbath as fast as possible. When he reaches the aim of the journey, the Sabbath, he meets “a grave and dark-clad company” and it is strange for him to realize that “the good shrank not from the wicked, nor were the sinners abashed by the saints”. The writer does not separate good people from bad, and shows that even pious ones take part in such dark and evil venture as the Sabbaths. That is how the writer shows the hypocrisy of Puritans who, on the one hand, try to pretend good people, but, on the other, when to analyze their nature more deeply, appear to be not more than sinners who act not according to God’s word but according to what is advantageous for them.

Duplicity of Fellow-Traveler

The character of fellow-traveler is the one that represents the idea of duplicity in the most obvious way. Hawthorne provides a reader with numerous evidences that the fellow-traveler is devil. First of all, the man has a very special symbol of his diabolic nature. It is the wriggling staff the Brown’s fellow-traveler carries with him: “… staff, which bore the likeness of great black snake”. Without a doubt, the fellow-traveler in Hawthorne‘s story is Satan. Devil in the form of serpent that “was more subtle than any animal of the field which God had made” appears in Genesis for the only time when he seduces the first people in the Garden of Eden, and they commit the original sin. Another evidence is the episode when devil meets Goody Cloyse. “The devil!” cries the lady, “then Goody Cloyse knows her old friend,” answers Satan to her. Fellow-traveler also symbolize Brown’s father in the story as he bears “a considerable resemblance to him (Brown)” that “they might have been taken for father and son.” He was “as simple in manner” as Brown, but “had an indescribable air of one who knew the world” which Brown did not have. The author of the research believes that the fact of such appearance and behavior of fellow-traveler proves that this character represents Brown’s father because according to the text of the story he “knew the world” because he coped with the challenge of “eating the forbidden fruit,” committed sin and gained the sacred knowledge of good and evil.

Duplicity of Dark Figure

The “dark figure” on the Sabbath who explains the real state of things to the naïve couple, Brown and his wife, symbolizes both devil and a minister, who holds a ceremony in a church. As Williamson states, the dark figures “sermonic form of speech” his tone quite clear proves of his resemblance to a Puritan church minister. This state can be proven by the following words from the novel: “With reverence be it spoken…”, “the sacred truth of our religion” What is more, Dark figure talks about the wholesome evilness despite that on the Sabbath there are “good shrank not from the wicked, nor were the sinners abashed by the saints”. This is also characterizes him as a Puritan minister because according to Puritan system of beliefs, due to the original sin since birth everyone on the Earth are predetermined to hell.  

 The writer also represents the leader of the Sabbath as devil. Connoly says it is evidently that “Hawthorne has the devil preach a sermon at his communion service” (Connoly 374). In the novel we can find the description which can only be related to Satan, the fallen angel, who seduced first people to commit the original sin because of jealousy: “Lo. There ye, my children,” said the figure, in a deep solemn tone, almost sad with its despairing awfulness, as if his once angelic nature could yet mourn for our miserable race.” (Hawthorne 1996) The duplicity of this character serves for the writer to reveal the diabolic nature of Puritan church leaders and the religion itself.

Duplicity of Goody Cloys

Another important character in the story is Goody Cloys, Brown’s teacher of catechism. The teacher is the first who disillusions Brown when he sees the woman steering her course to the Sabbath. Brown believed that she was just a teacher but he has to change his mind after the horrible truth reveals to him. “That old woman taught me catechism,” says Brown, and the writer adds than: “… there was a world of meaning in this simple comment”. Devil talks to her, not Brown, but the conversation gives a reader the hint that it is not much time left for Brown to enjoy his naivety about not only hers saintfull nature, but, as was mentioned, about sainfull nature of his family. Goody Cloys says the following to devil when she recognizes the young man: “Yea, truly is it, and in the very image of my old gossip, Goodman Brown, the grandfather of the silly fellow that now is” (Hawthorne 1996). Word “gossip” here is used in its old meaning which is totally different from the modern one. According to Oxford Dictionary, nowadays noun gossip means “casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details which are not confirmed as true.” As Williamson states, this definition goes aptly with the text because, to his point of view, the writer tells the story not only as a narrator but with the voices of some characters of the tale. One of them is Goody Cloyse who, as Williamson thinks, tends to gossip. In order to support his idea, Williamson also attributes this feature to the writer proving it with the following narrator’s words: “some affirm that the lady of the governor was there” (Williamson 87). However, this statement is not really accurate because the narrator’s words rather relate to the criticism of Puritan society than to his inclination of spreading gossips. That is why Middle English interpretation of the word “gossip,” which, according to Oxford Dictionary meant “a close friend, a person with whom one gossips”:

“Late Old English godsibb ‘godfather, godmother, baptismal sponsor,’ literally ‘a person related to one in God,’ from god ‘God’ + sibb ‘a relative’ (see sib ). In Middle English the sense was ‘a close friend, a person with whom one gossips,’ hence ‘a person who gossips,’ later (early 19th cent.) ‘idle talk’ (from the verb, which dates from the early 17th cent) serves the text better than the modern one. It also proves that Brown’s family took part in such Sabbaths before, which means that every member of it decided to “eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”.

The fact that Goody knew Brown’s grandfather clearly demonstrates that she is an experienced witch. On the one hand, the old woman is only a simple teacher who teaches catechism, on the other, she is a witch, an absent-minded one because forgets her broom at home and has to go to the Sabbath on foot.

Duplicity of the Journey to the Sabbath

Not only characters in the novel represent the idea of duplicity, but the journey itself has a meaning of a dream or hallucination and a real event happened to Brown. Providing a reader with the question whether the travel was a dream or that it really happened, the writer does not answer it: “Had Goodman Brown fallen asleep in the forest and only dreamed a wild dream of a witch-meeting?”.  Hawthorne leaves it to a reader to decide whether the journey to the dark forest was only “a wild dream of a witch-meeting”. This is the duplicity of the event, it is actually both: the dream and real Brown’s experience.

Psychology gives the proofs that the journey in “Young Goodman Brown” is a dream of the young man. From the psychological point of view, Brown’s night journey into the dark forest “stands for the descent into the subconscious” (Predmore 251). For the research, it is essential to prove that the whole occasion happened to Brown is actually his dream, which has a broad allegorical meaning. This ability or, in other words, the supreme knowledge according to transcendentalism, the movement some ideas of which Hawthorne approved, lies at the level of intuition, or the subconscious level. The allegorical meaning of the journey in the story is the shift of human’s mind from the conscious to the subconscious, where the Divine knowledge is meant to be. According to Jung, “the purpose of the descent… is to show that only in region of danger can one find the treasure hard to attain” (Predmore 252). While travelling, Brown describes the dark forest in special words such as “unconcerted wilderness” with “innumerable trunks” and “thick boughs” which symbolizes the chaos, the archetype of the subconscious (Predmore 252), hence, indicates that the forest is the level of subconscious.

Another evidence that the whole journey is a dream, which is, according to Hurley, who describes the occasion as “an ego-induced fantasy, the self justification of a diseased mind,” Hallucination experienced by Brown is the fellow-traveler’s reasons “so aptly that his arguments seemed rather to spring up in the bosom of his auditor (Brown) than to be suggested by himself”. One more proof that the nature of the night experience is rather psychological than real is that Brown “was himself the chief horror of the scene, and shrank not from its other horrors”. The whole atmosphere of evil magic and witchery also hints that the event is “a wild dream of witch-meeting”.

The evidence of the reality of the adventure is in the dark figure’s words. He says “… ye had still hoped that virtue were not all a dream”. This reality is in the choice Brown has to make whether to commit his personal fall or not. The consequences of the journey for Brown also indicate that the event is real. His life changes forever because it is hard for him to live among hypocritical people. To sum it up, this journey symbolizes the dream of descent to the subconscious level, and the reality of the predetermination of everyone to making the choice between good and bad.


The idea of duplicity is presented throughout the whole story of Goodman Brown. Brown represents an average Puritan man and Adam; his wife, Faith, is a symbol of Eve and religious faith, Brown’s family is not only a common family of hypocritical Puritan people, it symbolizes Hawthorne’s family. People who live in the Puritan village are Christians during the day but witches during the night. Satan is represented by both: fellow-traveler and the dark figure. Dark figure also symbolizes a Puritan minister while fellow-traveler Brown’s father. Duplicity is very important for the novel because expressing in one character two personalities, or, allowing them and the process of journey to symbolize two different, sometimes even mutually exclusive, ideas, the writer puts much more meaning in the novel using fewer number of words.

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