Nathaniel Hawthorne, in his short story “Young Goodman Brown,” details the frailty of human morality when he has the story’s protagonist (Goodman Brown) journey through the forest on All Hollows Eve to witness/participate in a witches’ Sabbath just to see what evil/sin is all about. During Young Goodman Brown’s journey, his faith is shaken as he witnesses those he respects the most also journeying to and participating in the witch’s Sabbath. In “Young Goodman Brown,” Nathaniel Hawthorne demonstrates that an idealistic faith in our fellow man’s righteousness could lead to disappointment, distrust, and fear.
Nathaniel Hawthorne, like many writers, uses his stories to illustrate or criticize moral principles, and while it would be nice if they could simply state the principle, it seems using a story to illustrate the principle helps the reader understand better. According to Rena Korb, " ‘Young Goodman Brown’ takes the form of an allegory, which uses certain elements of a story (characters, plot, etc.), or the entire story itself to symbolize something else” (2). Indeed, Nathaniel Hawthorne makes liberal use of allegory and symbolism, with every person and just about every object being used in an allegorical or symbolic way to represent both good and evil.
But the heart of this story centers on a theme of initiation, an initiation that result in the demise of Goodman Brown’s happiness. To understand why Goodman Brown became “A stern, a sad, a darkly meditative, a distrustful, if not a desperate man…” (482), the reader needs to understand Goodman Brown’s childhood. Goodman Brown grew up in the late 1600’s, in Salem Village, Massachusetts; a village settled by the Puritans. The Puritans are a people know for their strict morals, strict codes of conduct, and harsh treatment of those who are caught violating their code of purity. The strictness of Puritan society makes an image of purity (especially for those in positions of authority) necessary for its citizens to be acceptable and to rise through the Puritan social strata, and it is this need for an image of purity that undoes Goodman Brown’s initiation from a spiritually immature, idealistic faith to a spiritually mature faith.
As a child in Puritan society, Goodman Brown would be given little chance to sin but would have seen those who are punished for their sins and (obviously) wondered what the attraction is that made those people sin even when being caught devastated their lives and sullied their reputations for the rest of their lives. This curiosity is what drove Goodman Brown to make a deal with Satan to guide him through the forest to where a witches’ Sabbath was being held on All Hollows Eve.
It was during this journey that Goodman Brown saw or heard several of the people he admired the most also traveling to the witches’ Sabbath. After arriving at the meadow...