Young Goodman Brown
by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Analysis: Plot Analysis
Most good stories start with a fundamental list of ingredients: the initial situation, conflict, complication, climax, suspense, denouement, and conclusion. Great writers sometimes shake up the recipe and add some spice.
Now Departing Salem on Woodland Track Two
Hawthorne starts us off in atmosphere of suspense and mystery. We learn that young Goodman Brown is going on a "journey" through the forest but we don't know where—or why (3). (But, if you've ever seen the New England woods at night—they're pretty spooky.)
We also get a little background info: young Goodman Brown is a happily married man from Salem village, he takes pride in his community and its leaders, and his family did some pretty wicked stuff back in the day. The ground is ripe for a moral conflict.
Shortly after heading into the woods, young Goodman Brown meets up with a mysterious traveler with a snake-shaped staff. This is where the weird stuff starts to go down. (Yeah, no kidding.)
This traveler leads our hero to witness some pretty freaky scenes. First, a pious old woman named Goody Cloyse is revealed as a witch. Next, a deacon and minister come riding along, chatting about their love of "deviltry" and devil-worship (43). And to top it all off, young Goodman Brown hears the voice of his wife, and becomes convinced that she's been up to some really naughty stuff.
Devils in the Details
These all lead to climax #1: our protagonist, convinced that his wife has turned evil, runs madly through the forest and right into—our second climax. This one's a freaky meeting that celebrates sin, guilt, and evil. But, this time, our hero manages not to give in.
So, two climaxes: one where young Goodman Brown gives in to wickedness, one where he doesn't. How's that for psychological drama?
The More Things Change…
Young Goodman Brown returns to town in the morning, shaken by what he has seen. A series of tiny conflicts emerge, as Brown tries to resist the hypocrisy and devilish influences of his townspeople. Okay, so we don't know how hypocritical and devilish they really are. But Brown thinks he does. End of story, as far as he's concerned.
Gloom, Gloom, and More Gloom
But is that really the end of everything? In his final paragraph, Hawthorne jumps years and years ahead to show what kind of a man young Goodman Brown becomes. Try gloomy. Try suspicious. Then try a couple extra doses of gloom. Basically, Brown spends the rest of his life suspecting the worst about people. How's that for a warning?