“Young Goodman Brown” Study Guide
This “Young Goodman Brown” literary analysis includes a “Young Goodman Brown” summary, “Young Goodman Brown” quotes with analysis, a look at the theme of “Young Goodman Brown,” and an analysis of irony in “Young Goodman Brown.”
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Young Goodman Brown plans a late night excursion into the forest, much to the protestations of his wife, Faith (yes, Hawthorne hits us over the head with symbolic names, which you can read about in part 2 of the “Young Goodman Brown” study guide). As he wanders from his faith he is filled with regret and doubts, which, however, do not stop his journey into the forest, which by the way, was the devil’s domain in Puritan literature (of course, everything was the devil’s domain in Puritan literature).
YGB (that’s what the kids call Young Goodman Brown) meets a man sitting on a tree stump, who we can presume is the devil (note to reader: if the devil joins you on your journey, you’re probably headed in the wrong direction). YGB is shocked to discover his father and his grandfather have journeyed once upon a time into the forest. He is even more shocked to discover some of Salem’s more prominent citizens have communed with the devil. He is really shocked to see Faith at the clearing in the forest.
He begs Faith to resist and poof, YGB wakes up, uncertain whether the entire incident were a dream. He dies a bitter old man.
Quote: “The young man sat a few moments by the roadside, applauding himself greatly, and thinking with how clear a conscience he should meet the minister in his morning walk, nor shrink from the eye of good old Deacon Gookin.”
Analysis: YGB fails to realize that the sin has been committed and that he has no real reason to applaud himself or to have a clear conscience. Irony in “Young Goodman Brown” soon follows as the reverend and the deacon pass by.
Quote: “”Of the two, reverend sir,” said the voice like the deacon’s, “I had rather miss an ordination dinner than to-night’s meeting. They tell me that some of our community are to be here from Falmouth and beyond, and others from Connecticut and Rhode Island, besides several of the Indian powwows, who, after their fashion, know almost as much deviltry as the best of us.””
Analysis: Don’t you hate it when everything you thought good isn’t? It would be like finding out politicians are corrupt, or professional athletes use steroids, or that college football coaches cheat. What a horrible world that would be. What YGB doesn’t realize is that everyone is guilty of sin, even those whom he considers above reproach. Perhaps YGB’s faith is misplaced.
Quote: “With this excellent resolve for the future, goodman Brown felt himself justified in making more haste on his present evil purpose.”
Analysis: YGB has engaged in an ironic self deception, believing his iniquitous acts have no consequences. It is this same mentality that deceives humans into racking up credit card debt, buying things they cannot afford, eating themselves into obesity, smoking, not saving for retirement, committing adultery, waiting until the night before an assignment is due to do it, and achieving mediocrity (learn how to avoid this mentality by setting goals).
Quote: “He beheld the figure of a man, in grave and decent attire.”
Analysis: The devil is dressed decently enough. He does not resemble the traditional image of a horned, tailed figure with a pitchfork. In fact, he bears a similar resemblance to YGB and “had an indescribable air of one who knew the world.” If not for the fact he resided in the devil’s domain, he would be difficult to detect. Note the pun: “grave means serious and where dead people go.”
Quote: “The fiend in his own shape is less hideous than when he rages in the breast of man.”
Analysis: Who knew? It is man who gives the devil his hideousness. That certainly contradicts what YGB expects.
Quote: “”Now are ye undeceived. Evil is the nature of mankind. Evil must be your only happiness. Welcome again, my children, to the communion of your race.””
Analysis: YGB certainly never expected that all were evil by nature, symbolizing his loss of innocence. Even Faith, his trusting wife is not pure as he imagined. He certainly did not expect that.
The Literature Network: YGB