Study Guide

Young Goodman Brown Community

By Nathaniel Hawthorne

Community

Young Goodman Brown came forth, at sunset, into the street of Salem village, but put his head back, after crossing the threshold, to exchange a parting kiss with his young wife. And Faith, as the wife was aptly named, thrust her own pretty head into the street, letting the wind play with the pink ribbons of her cap, while she called to Goodman Brown. (1)

In the very first sentence of his story, Hawthorne identifies the "Salem village" community that young Goodman Brown belongs to. Brown's own home is a place of comfort and compassion. And as the story shows, Brown has been taught to see all his fellow villagers—not Faith alone—as kindly individuals.

"Dearest heart," whispered she, softly and rather sadly, when her lips were close to his ear, "pr'y thee, put off your journey until sunrise, and sleep in your own bed tonight." (1-2)

In this case, two is definitely company: Faith and Goodman Brown are a cozy little pair. In fact, things start to get scary when we see the whole community gather together.

"Wickedness or not," said the traveler with the twisted staff, "I have a very general acquaintance here in New-England. The deacons of many a church have drunk the communion wine with me; the selectmen, of divers towns, make me their chairman; and a majority of the Great and General Court are firm supporters of my interest. The governor and I, too—but these are state secrets."

This is some community: deacons, selectmen, the courts, and even the governor are all bound in a nefarious collection of evil. (They probably have a really nifty secret handshake.) Hey, we always knew the leaders were corrupt.

"Can this be so!" cried Goodman Brown, with a stare of amazement at his disturbed companion. "Howbeit, I have nothing to do with the governor and council; they have their own ways, and are no rule for a simple husbandman like me. But were I to go on with thee, how should I meet the eye of that good old man, our minister, at Salem village? Oh, his voice would make me tremble, both Sabbath-day and lecture-day." (20-21)

Young Goodman Brown is afraid that he won't be able to face his community if he follows the traveler. The irony is, he can't face them anyway—but because of their sin, not his. Hey, sometimes it really is easier just to go along with the crowd.

"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. Moreover, there is a goodly young woman to be taken into communion." (43)

This "meeting" overturns the criteria of region and race that normally separate Salemites from Rhode Islanders, and colonists from Indians. It's like a Coke commercial, but (slightly) more evil.

At least there were high dames well known to her, and wives of honored husbands, and widows, a great multitude, and ancient maidens, all of excellent repute, and fair young girls, who trembled lest their mothers should espy them. Either the sudden gleams of light flashing over the obscure field bedazzled Goodman Brown, or he recognized a score of the church members of Salem village famous for their especial sanctity. Good old deacon Gookin had arrived, and waited at the skirts of that venerable saint, his revered pastor. (56-57)

Even though everyone's meeting for a middle-of-the-night evil party, Hawthorne's narrator identifies them by their daytime good deeds. Reputation is a powerful thing.

But, irreverently consorting with these grave, reputable, and pious people, these elders of the church, these chaste dames and dewy virgins, there were men of dissolute lives and women of spotted fame, wretches given over to all mean and filthy vice, and suspected even of horrid crimes. (57)

There is something perversely democratic about the assembly. People from all branches of society come together. Our question: is Hawthorne suggesting that democracy itself is evil? Whoa. Mind blown.

On the Sabbath day, when the congregation were singing a holy psalm, he could not listen because an anthem of sin rushed loudly upon his ear and drowned all the blessed strain. When the minister spoke from the pulpit with power and fervid eloquence, and, with his hand on the open Bible, of the sacred truths of our religion, and of saint-like lives and triumphant deaths, and of future bliss or misery unutterable, then did Goodman Brown turn pale, dreading lest the roof should thunder down upon the gray blasphemer and his hearers. (73)

Check out the way that all the things Goodman Brown hates involve a community spirit—prayer, worship, public singing. It's almost like his experience of the evil community in the woods has taught him to distrust communities of all kinds.

Often, waking suddenly at midnight, he shrank from the bosom of Faith; and at morning or eventide, when the family knelt down at prayer, he scowled and muttered to himself, and gazed sternly at his wife, and turned away.

Yep, this is not a family man. It's kind of a tragic ending: the cheerful, community-minded guy we knew has now become a bitter introvert. He's about two steps from moving to a cabin in the woods and mailing an anonymous letter to the newspaper, if you ask us.

And when he had lived long, and was borne to his grave a hoary corpse, followed by Faith, an aged woman, and children and grandchildren, a goodly procession, besides neighbors not a few, they carved no hopeful verse upon his tombstone, for his dying hour was gloom. (73)

Here's the thing: Goodman Brown opposes his community without standing outside of it. He's not quite ready to leave the community entirely; he's just going to hate on it from within. And the Salem community has taken a half-measure of its own. Although the Puritans don't reject Brown outright, they realize that he rejects their spirit of hopefulness.

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