"Young Goodman Brown " Literary Analysis: Summary, Quotes and Theme

"Young Goodman Brown " Literary Analysis: Summary, Quotes and Theme
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Basic Summary

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). 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 was a dream. He dies a bitter old man.

Analysis & Quotes

Nathaniel Hawthorne (Public Domain)

I assume many of you have read the story and have been assigned a literary analysis. I suppose you could use some quotes to support the thesis statement in your literary analysis. Here you go. You might also want to familiarize yourself with the American Romantic Period in literature.

Quote: ““Prithee put off your journey until sunrise and sleep in your own bed to-night. A lone woman is troubled with such dreams and such thoughts that she’s afeard of herself sometimes. Pray tarry with me this night, dear husband, of all nights in the year.””

Literary Analysis: YGB sounds like a real dork, leaving his poor wife alone after being married for only three months. Faith is obviously a symbol and YGB is denying his faith and intends to make a pact with the devil. Although no specific sin is mentioned and YGB’s journey is symbolic of embracing sin in general, it can be assumed that a young man taking off at dark and not returning until the morning is probably being unfaithful to his marriage covenant. YGB gets what’s coming to him when he spots Faith in the forest. He should have realized that “a lone woman is troubled” and that there are plenty of forest dwellers who enjoy taking advantage of lonely, troubled women, whose husbands tramp about at ridiculous hours.

Quote: “The traveller knows not who may be concealed by the innumerable trunks and the thick boughs overhead; so that with lonely footsteps he may yet be passing through an unseen multitude.”

Analysis: This is the problem YGB does not take into account. He has set foot on a treacherous path and despite his future resolve to mend his ways, he may not get a chance on account of the “innumerable trunks and thick boughs overhead.”


YGB must choose between good and evil

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. That would be like heading to a strip bar and applauding oneself for not buying a lap dance. Irony 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 was 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 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.

This post is part of the series: Study Guide for Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Short Stories

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short stories are rich in meaning. Understand them better with these study guides.

  1. Symbolism in Young Goodman Brown
  2. “Young Goodman Brown” Study Guide
  3. “Rappaccini’s Daughter” Study Guide
  4. Study Guide for “The Minister’s Black Veil”