Study Guide

Young Goodman Brown Section 1

By Nathaniel Hawthorne

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Section 1

  • It's sunset in colonial Salem. Young Goodman Brown steps out into the street and gives a goodbye kiss to his wife, Faith. 
  • No giggling, please.
  • (And let's get this out of the way now: "goodman" and "goody"—short for "goodwife"—are polite ways of referring to people—like saying "Mr." and "Mrs.")
  • Faith begs young Goodman Brown not to leave her alone at night. (Okay, now you can giggle. Faith's afraid of the dark!)
  • But Brown declares that his journey "must needs be done 'twixt now and sunrise" (3), reassures his wife, and sets off.
  • Brown makes his way into the forest, mulling over "his present evil purpose" and fearing for his safety (8).
  • Okay, now we're intrigued.
  • Soon, he comes across a man "in grave and decent attire, seated at the foot of an old tree" (10).
  • Brown talks with his new companion, who carries a staff "which bore the likeness of a great black snake" (13). 
  • (Didn't his mother ever tell him not to talk to strangers, especially strangers who carry around big weird sticks?)
  • We learn that Brown had evidently agreed to meet with the guy, but he doesn't want to go on and complete "the matter" (15).
  • The traveler with the staff declares that Brown's ancestors, and the leaders of Salem, are guilty of cruel and devilish deeds. (Uh, like this?)
  • Brown isn't too thrilled to hear this, but they keep on walking.
  • The two travelers come across "a very pious and exemplary dame," Goody Cloyse (26). Afraid of being recognized on his evil errand, Brown hides.
  • However, he overhears a conversation between Cloyse and the traveler—a conversation that reveals Cloyse as a witch and a devil worshipper.
  • Brown and the traveler begin walking again, yet Brown quickly decides that his "mind is made up" (39): he doesn't want to continue.
    Take that, dude with the stick!
  • The traveler, however, believes that Brown will fulfill his errand, and leaves Brown with the serpent-shaped staff.
  • Gee, thanks.
  • Brown sits beside the forest road, happy that he has overcome wickedness and will be able to face his upright townspeople. Let's have a round of applause!
  • Soon he hears two horses coming along. The horses' riders seem to be the local deacon and minister. Surprise, surprise: they're on their way to an unholy meeting.
  • Already bummed by what he hears, young Goodman Brown soon encounters a new source of distress: he looks up to Heaven for reassurance, but instead hears a chaos of voices coming from the dark sky. He can make out the tormented voice of his wife, Faith. (If this makes you giggle at Faith, then you're a bad, bad person.)
  • The voices fade away, but something flutters down. Brown catches it: it's one of the pink ribbons that Faith was wearing on her cap.
  • He's now obviously convinced that his wife's soul is lost and that "there is no good on earth," so he runs through the forest "maddened with despair" (50-51). Like you do.
  • In his rage, Brown is drawn to a red, fiery light. He gets closer and hears voices, and soon realizes that he has discovered a large assembly.
  • It's made up of moral and immoral people alike—"the good shrank not from the wicked, nor were the sinners abashed by the saints" (57)—and they have gathered around a blazing altar for some questionable purpose. 
  • Yeah, this can't possibly be good.
  • Soon their leader—who resembles "some grave divine of the New-England churches" (59)—steps forward. Feeling a "loathful brotherhood" to the group, Brown steps right up (61).
  • And look, there's Faith!
  • After delivering a speech on the universal sinfulness of humankind (cheerful topic), the preacher man invites Brown and Faith to "communion" with the wicked assembly (66).
  • Brown cries out, imploring Faith to "look up to Heaven, and resist the Wicked One!" (69). Aaaaand…
  • Presto, change-o! All at once, Brown is in the forest, "amid calm night and solitude" (70). The assembly has vanished. Now that's a neat magic trick, isn't it?
  • The next morning, Brown returns to Salem village. (Not like he has anywhere else to go.)
  • When he runs into all the people he saw in the forest, he's a little grossed out. He knows their secrets now.
  • At this point, Hawthorne's narrator wonders whether Brown had "only fallen asleep in the forest, and only dreamed a wild dream of a witch-meeting" (72). But the story doesn't answer this question.
  • Instead, the final paragraph shows us what kind of a man young Goodman Brown became later in life. And it's not pretty.
  • He stayed in Salem for the rest of his long life, and he never stopped distrusting the other townspeople or fearing the wrath of God. As the narrator declares, "his dying hour was gloom" (73).

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