Young Goodman Brown Summary

  • Last updated on March 25, 2021
"infobox Book "
name Young Goodman Brown and Other Stories
image caption Dover Thrift Editions cover
author Nathaniel Hawthorne
country America
language English language
genre(s) Short Stories
publisher Dover Thrift Editions
release date 1835
media type Paperback
pages 111
Young Goodman Brown is a short story by American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne. The story takes place in Puritan New England, a common setting for Hawthorne's works, and addresses one of his common themes: the conflict between good and evil in human nature and, in particular, the problem of public goodness and private wickedness

Character Summaries

Goodman Brown

A young man who uncovers a terrible secret about the people of his town. He lives the rest of his life miserable and suspicious of others.

Faith Brown

Goodman Brown's wife, who he believes has turned evil at the end of the story.

The Old Man/Devil

The one who has converted everyone in the town of Salem. He takes the form of Goodman Brown's grandfather, and appears just like an ordinary old man.

Goody Cloyse

A respected, pious member of the community but seemingly also a witch.

Deacon Gookin

A respected, pious member of the community but seemingly also a "wizard" and an evil man.


Plot Summary

At sunset Young Goodman Brown leaves his house in Salem Village, after kissing his wife Faith goodbye. Faith wants Goodman Brown to delay his journey until the next day, but Goodman Brown says he can’t delay the journey, and that both of them will be fine. He tells her that as long as she says her prayers, no harm shall come to her.

As he heads out on his journey, Goodman Brown feels remorse for leaving his wife, especially considering the job he has left to do. He comforts himself with the knowledge that after this job is done, he will not have to leave his wife again and he will be good for the rest of his life.

The road that Goodman Brown travels is through a thick, dark forest, and he feels a little wary of it, saying to himself “what if the devil himself should be at my very elbow?”

Suddenly, the figure of an old man appears. The old man is wearing formal attire, and sitting at the base of a tree. When Goodman Brown approaches the old man, the old man chastises him for being late.

The old man seems similar in appearance and lifestyle to Goodman Brown. He seems much more worldly, however. A strange thing about him is also his staff, which resembles a snake and seems to move like one too – although Goodman Brown thinks this must be an illusion.

The old man urges Goodman Brown to make haste on their journey, but Goodman Brown says that he does not want to go so deeply into the forest. He says that both his father and his grandfather were good, honest men, and that he is the first of his family to do something like what he is about to do.

The old man replies that he is well-acquainted with the family of Goodman Brown, having helped both his father and grandfather out of respective difficulties and having taken many strolls through the woods with them. Goodman Brown is at first surprised that neither of them mentioned knowing the old man, but then reckons that they kept it a secret so that they were not driven from town, as they would not accept any wickedness.

The old man replies that he has been accepted into many a home in the town, and that he even spends time with the deacons of many churches in New England. This again surprises Goodman Brown. He is also worried that if he continues down the path with the old man that he should never be able to look the town’s deacon in the eye again, but the old man simply laughs at him.

Goodman Brown is also worried about Faith finding out what he is doing, but the old man says that Faith will not come to harm.

The two men are then joined by an old woman named Goody Cloyse. She has a reputation in town as being very pious, and Goodman Brown is surprised to see her so far out in the forest at this time of night.

Goodman Brown tells the old man that they must continue on their way and not cross paths with Goody Cloyse, as he does not want to have to explain what he is doing out in the forest. However, the old man touches Goody Cloyse on the neck with his staff, and she screams out “the devil!”

The old man replies “then Goody Cloyse knowns her old friend?”

Goody Cloyse seems glad to see the devil again, remarking that he has come in the guise of the grandfather of Goodman Brown. She then laments that her broomstick has been stolen, and she suspects the witch Goody Cory to have done it.

She then continues to explain that she had no way to get to the meeting tonight, as her broomstick had been stolen. She had been eager to come because she had heard a young man (who, as it turns out, is Goodman Brown) was going to be taken into communion this night.

Goody Cloyse wants the devil to lend her his arm so that they can arrive at the meeting in an instant, but the devil says he can’t spare it. In recompense he lends her his staff, and she instantly disappears. Goodman Brown is astonished that Goody Cloyse is not the pious old woman he thought her to be.

The two men then continue on down the path, the devil drying up the boughs of the trees as he touches them. Goodman Brown eventually sits down and refuses to walk any further, saying that he no longer wants to complete his “errand”.

The old man says that he will change his mind eventually, and disappears. Goodman Brown is then alone, thinking that he has done a good thing by refusing to continue on down the path, that he will sleep well now and be able to face Deacon Gookin with a clear conscience.

Suddenly, he hears the sounds of horses and voices coming closer. It is the minister and Deacon Gookin. They are talking about who should be at the meeting that evening and that they need to hurry up so they aren’t late.

Goodman Brown is surprised to see them, and wonders what on earth they could be doing in the forest. He feels upset, doubting in heaven for a moment, but then resolves himself to “stand firm against the devil.”

As he says those words, the clear sky that he had been looking up at is suddenly filled with clouds. Then, he can hear strange voices in the forest, voices that sound like those from his town. He cries out for Faith, but the voices repeat his cries mockingly. He thinks he can hear Faith’s voice, but when her pink ribbon flutters down from the sky, he knows she is lost and has turned to evil.

He cries out that “there is no good on earth; and sin is but a name. Come, devil! For to thee is this world given!” and then runs through the forest, the voices still yelling and creaking and laughing at him.

Goodman Brown is no longer frightened by the strange sounds of the forest, however. He challenges them, saying that they best fear him because he does not fear them. He continues to run through the forest, until eventually he finds a clearing. In this clearing is a crude rock altar surrounded by four blazing pine trees. The congregation that fills this clearing is all people Goodman Brown knows, all of them so pious during the day, all of them esteemed members of the community. They are also joined by several Native American priests. All of them are singing a strange, mournful hymn. Goodman Brown is hopeful for a moment, because he cannot see Faith in the crowd.

Then, suddenly, a loud voice cries for the converts to be brought out, and Goodman Brown hesitantly steps out of the shadows. He thinks he has even seen his deceased father beckoning him to continue forwards. He feels he has no ability to leave, that he has no choice but to continue. Goody Cloyse and Martha Carrier (who has been promised to be “queen of Hell”) tell them that all the wickedness in the world will be revealed to the converts.

Another cloaked figure, a woman, is brought forth. It turns out that the woman is Faith, and she is here to convert too. Goodman Brown yells at her desperately to look up at the sky, at heaven, and resist. Then, he is suddenly alone.

The next morning Goodman Brown returns to Salem, but he lives the rest of his life in fear of everyone, never able to trust that they are not evil. He ends up dying an old, gloomy man, having lived a sad life of suspicion.

Categories: Short Stories