What created Goodman Brown? A man so tormented by what even he considered to be a dream that it changed his life in a profound negative way forever. Goodman Brown was man plagued by his own conscious; he was someone who believed himself to have committed grave sin by meeting with the devil and participating in a witches meeting in his dreams. This spoke of an era where people were overcome with religious guilt and superstition. As a result of Brown’s dream he suspected everyone in the town of being cohorts with the devil, in addition his superstition and questioning of his own self overcame his ability to trust or believe in anyone else. He died a bitter, unhappy, miserable man.
In order to fully understand the character of Young Goodman Brown we must first understand the era he comes from. Although Hawthorne does not state directly whether or not the plot of this story takes place in Salem in the seventeenth century, his references to other characters clearly imply it does. His references to Martha Carrier, Martha Cory, and Sarah Cloyse, all women hanged as witches in 1692; as well as his reference to King William who ruled England from 1650-1702 tell of this horrid time where people killed, tortured, burned, executed and suspected that everyone from their sister to there neighbor might be in contact with the devil. As a result of this environment of suspicion and paranoia Goodman might have felt as though his dream was in reality a lack of faith on his part. He may have felt so guilty for experiencing this dream that he thought he, as well as the people in his life were guilty of coercing with the devil.
Goodman Brown might have been Hawthorne’s expression of his own struggles with his faith in humanity and himself. Hawthorne was a guilt ridden person and I believe that he had many instances when his faith was tested. Brown is Hawthorne to a lesser extent. Goodman Brown starts out as a good, happy, decent man; he seems very content. All of this changes when he decides against the advice of his wife faith (the symbolism is obvious here) that he should go out on a journey into the woods to meet with the devil. I believe path in the woods to be his continued decent into metaphorical as well as literal darkness. As he continues down the woods he reaches the pinnacle of his journey when he comes upon the witches meeting. Once Brown reaches this point he loses his faith despite his last ditch effort to save his wife. He never knows if he was able to save her. This doubt is what destroyed him.
Brown’s motivation for meeting with the devil is never made absolutely clear and can only be speculated by the devil’s references to others that have come into his fold. He speaks of the King, Goodman’s father and grandfather, the deacon, minister and mayor. The devil makes it appear that everyone with any power, success or for that matter anyone that means anything to Goodman is in fact allied with Satan. Although Goodman resists the devils temptations at first; as more and more people are brought to his attention as being followers of the dark one, the idea becomes more acceptable. I believe Brown’s motivation to meet with the devil was power; he wanted an advantage over others to achieve his goals. This may have contributed to his last ditch effort to save faith when he shouted “Look up to Heaven, and resist the Wicked One”. When he arrived at the witches meeting he discovered that everyone already had the advantage of being on the wicked side and had already sold there souls for money, power, or prestige. He was able to see that nothing would put him ahead of anyone else by following through with his original task. He had nothing to win and everything to lose by making an alliance with the devil. Unfortunately for Young Goodman Brown it was too late for his soul to be saved. He reached the point of no return and not only didn’t he reap any benefit from his ordeal but lost every bit of happiness he previously possessed.
Goodman Brown was a man destroyed by his own obsession. He lived a miserable life as a result of the guilt he felt for embarking on a dark journey in his dreams; which resulted in his suspicion of everyone and a lack of trust for individuals in his community, himself and humanity. The only way Goodman Brown would have been able to save his faith would have been to never embark on the dark path.
by John Schlismann