For the bonus round: who is "the traveler with the staff?"
(1) The devil.
(2) The ghost of Goodman Brown's dad.
(3) Just a figment of the poor guy's imagination.
Stumped? We don't blame you. At one point, he's compared to young Goodman Brown's "father" (13). At another, he looks just like "the grandfather" of young Goodman Brown (32). And Goody Cloyse definitely seems to think that he's the devil. So—does he change appearance? Do different characters mistake him for different people? Where's the aspirin?
But all of this disorientation serves a real purpose. The traveler leads young Goodman Brown on a journey into a dark forest, toward a devilish assembly. And we're starting to think that he may be Satan himself. Why?
(1) He's devilishly good at winning over people who should know better: "the deacons of many a church," "the selectmen, of divers towns," "the governor."
(2) His staff is shaped like a huge serpent. Duh.
(3) Young Goodman Brown is repelled by his evil, but unable to resist his influence and arguments. Kind of like what happens when you meet the devil on a dark road.
Keep in mind all that "father/grandfather" stuff, too. Traditionally, Satan is a sneaky little dude. He'd rather win mortals over to his evil purposes than cow them into submission (see Paradise Lost for a super example of this. And this time, he doesn't do the whole "transform into a giant snake" thing. He's "simply clad" and "simple in manner" (13): pure Puritan. (That hurt us worse than it hurt you.)
And think about it: isn't dressing up like a strict old Puritan pretty much the best way to win over the authority-respecting, family-oriented young Goodman Brown? Sometimes confusion makes perfect sense.