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"Young Goodman Brown" Teacher's Guide

written by: Trent Lorcher • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 9/11/2012

This Teacher's Guide contains a summary of "Young Goodman Brown," as well as an analysis and suggested lesson plans. Teach Hawthorne's short story in your High School class. You won't be disappointed with the results, or this guide!

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    "Young Goodman Brown" is a short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne. This allegory makes a great teaching subject for High School students. Trying to find a lesson plan and winding up with nothing? Read this collection of teaching ideas.

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    Summary of the Story

    The man on the stump symbolizes evil. 

    Young Goodman Brown plans a late night excursion into the forest, much to the protestations of his wife, 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).

    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--Goody Cloyse, Deacon Gookin, and the town minister-- have communed with the devil. In fact, everyone has communed with the devil, even Faith.

    He begs Faith to resist and poof, YGB wakes up, uncertain whether the entire incident were a dream.

    Unable to withstand his loss of innocence, YGB dies a bitter old man.

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    Suggested Teaching Ideas

    1. "Young Goodman Brown" is an allegory (for an in depth look at symbolism in "Young Goodman Brown," check out the Study Guide).
      • Explain that an allegory is a story in which everything is a symbol. An allegory has two meanings: a literal one and a symbolic one. The symbolic meaning contains moral, social, religious, or political significance, and characters are often personifications of abstract ideas, such as charity, greed, or envy. Allegorical symbols in "Young Goodman Brown" are straightforward--Faith, Young Goodman, The Forest, The Old Man in the Forest, The Dark Path, for example.
      • Create a chart: (1) in the left hand column, list symbols in "Young Goodman Brown; (2) in the right hand column, write what these symbols mean. The symbolic explanations should be more than just one or two words. Students should explain symbolic interpretations in complete sentences. Be careful of what lurks in the forest, Young Goodman Brown! 
        • For example, Faith represents YGB's faith, which he chooses to abandon to go on his journey. It also represents the general abandonment of faith in which all humans participate, even the more righteous among us. The fact that Faith herself participates in the devil's ceremony indicates that the predominant faith in Salem Village has been corrupted by the devil, further evidenced by the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 and the connection between Hawthorne's ancestor's participation in the trials (OK, they don't need quite that much of an explanation, but you get the point).
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    More Ideas

    1. A study of American Romanticism helps neophyte literary scholars understand the story better. As students read, instruct them to identify (1) examples of the supernatural; (2) the idealization of women; (3) an impulse toward reform (perhaps the church in Salem needs reformed; after all the Deacon and the minister have a pact with the devil); (4) a celebration of individualism (keep in mind that Young Goodman's Brown reliance on the goodness of others and not self reliance causes his downfall).
    2. Instruct students to imitate Hawthorne's story by writing their own folk tale: the story could have the same theme but with different symbols and setting or it could be a parody of Hawthorne's.
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    Sample Outline for an Essay on the Moral of the Story

    Nathaniel Hawthorne Use this outline to give you essay ideas for your students:

    I. Introduction

    A. Capture the reader's attention and lead into the thesis statement - You may want to briefly discuss allegory.

    B. Write the thesis statement at the end of the introduction (Find excellent thesis statement writing tips) - The thesis statement must include the moral of "Young Goodman Brown." Sample Thesis Statements:

    1. Young Goodman Brown's loss of innocence symbolizes the loss of innocence for all humans.

    or

    2. Once you abandon Faith, it's difficult to regain it.

    II. Body Paragraph #1 - Topic Sentence. The topic sentence should support the thesis statement (this is based on thesis statement #2). My example - Although Young Goodman Brown is free to abandon Faith, he is not free to choose the consequences.

    A. Fact from the Story - YGB consciously chooses evil over Faith.

    1. Analysis, Insight, or Interpretation - The analysis must explain how the fact supports the topic sentence.

    2. More Analysis, Insight, or Interpretation - The analysis must explain how the fact supports the topic sentence.

    B. Fact from the Story - YGB sees many righteous people journeying in the forest.

    1. Analysis, Insight, or Interpretation - The analysis must explain how the fact supports the topic sentence.

    2. More Analysis, Insight, or Interpretation - The analysis must explain how the fact supports the topic sentence - You definitely need to mention that what YGB sees as a result of his choice causes him to lose his Faith and his innocence.

    III. Body Paragraph # 2 - Topic Sentence - The topic sentence should support the thesis statement. My example - The ultimate consequence of YGB's decision is a complete loss of Faith.

    A. Fact from the Story - YGB spots Faith at the devil's communion.

    1. Analysis, Insight, or Interpretation - The analysis must explain how the fact supports the topic sentence.

    2. More Analysis, Insight, or Interpretation - The analysis must explain how the fact supports the topic sentence.

    B. Fact from the Story - YGB sees many righteous people journeying in the forest.

    1. Analysis, Insight, or Interpretation - The analysis must explain how the fact supports the topic sentence.

    2. More Analysis, Insight, or Interpretation - The analysis must explain how the fact supports the topic sentence - You definitely need to mention YGB's encounter with his wife and its ramifications. You should probably tie it in to YGB's claim that he will resolve to do better (at the beginning of the story) after his ill intended journey into the forest.

    IV. Conclusion - Tie it up.

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