Young Good Man Brown Essay, Research Paper
English 181 12A
September 25, 2000
Internal Conflict of Goodman Brown
The story of “Young Goodman Brown” exemplifies the struggle of one man’s internal conflict of good and evil. The main character, Goodman Brown, leaves Salem village and his wife, Faith, to travel into the depths of the dark forest. The Young Goodman Brown will be aged with the knowledge he faces in this one night. Brown keeps his appointment with the devil in the forest, and he must choose to go back to his “faith,” or explore the evils that the devil has to offer. Next, Brown is confronted with the virtuous people who live in his community, who will be attending the witch’s meeting with the devil. He has to decide if he will follow them along this path. Brown struggles to see if his wife is at the witch’s meeting, as he stands at the edge of the forest watching everyone he knows worshiping the devil. He must choose whether he will adjust his moral standings and join his group, or keep his original morals. He is led by Faith into this situation of evil. He and Faith are brought to the altar before the devil to be baptized into Brown’s self- created hell, a world of secrets in the human soul. Brown must choose to either look up to heaven and have faith in God, or doubt his own spirituality and follow others into hell.
Goodman Brown leaves his wife, Faith, and Salem village in the daytime to keep his appointment with the devil, and he ventures into the forest without his “faith.” This is a moment of irrationality because he leaves his wife, home, and security to take a dangerous and unknown path. He doesn’t want Faith to find out the evil intention of his errand because he says, “she’s a blessed angel on earth; and after this one night I’ll cling to her skirts and follow her to heaven”(Hawthorne 311). Brown believes that he can depend on his wife’s “faith” to save him, so it won’t matter if he leaves his own at home because it will be waiting for him. Brown meets the devil along a crooked path, and the devil asks why he is late; Brown replies, “Faith kept me back awhile”(311). The “faith” Brown has left behind is not just his wife, but also his literal faith to satisfy his burning human curiosity. Brown shows his desire to break loose from his normal life by meeting Satan, the spawn of all rebellion, in the forest. Brown tries to fight the evil inside of him to tell the devil he must go back to his faith, and the devil convinces him that they will walk the crooked path and reason as they go. The devil says, “and if I convince thee not thou shalt turn back. We are but little in the forest yet”(312). As they venture further into the forest the devil tries to strip Brown of his faith, but he realizes this and stops to exclaim, “Too far! Too far!”(312). Brown argues the good Christian background of his father and grandfather would never walk upon this crooked path with the devil by their side. The path that Brown is on causes him to gamble with his soul under the promptings of the devil, and he knows he must choose to either roll the dice or turn around and go home. The devil is prepared for such resistance and refutes Brown’s declaration of his ancestors by saying, “They were my good friends, both; and many a pleasant walk have we had along this path, and returned merrily after midnight. I would fain be friends with you for their sake”(312). The devil is telling Brown that all men have a basic evil and an attraction to devil worship, even the so- called “virtuous” people he knows. Brown makes the choice to follow his virtuous thoughts and stop his agreement with the devil. He tells the devil the reason he can’t is because of faith “[i]t would break her dear little heart and I’d rather break my own”(313). Brown will literally break his faith if he continues on the path of understanding the evils of the human condition. The devil tries to make him see that evil is the apparent nature of his kin and human kind as a whole. Brown doesn’t see clearly because without “faith” all human kind is blind to acts of evil.
Goodman Brown’s confidence is shaken when he sees Goody Cloyse, an old woman who taught him his catechism, converse with the devil about the witch’s meeting that she will attend. The devil convinces Brown to go further into the forest because he sees Brown is questioning his beliefs from the shock he just suffered. Brown stops again, he tells the devil “my mind is made up. Not another step will I budge on this errand. What if a wretched old woman do choose to go to the devil when I thought she was going to heaven: is it any reason why I should quit my dear Faith and go after her?”(314). Brown asks this rhetorical question, but in a sense he actually wants someone to make this decision for him. While Brown sits in the forest alone he congratulates himself for choosing his idea of good, and he believes his battle with evil to be over. Deacon Gookin and Brown’s minister ride through the path, and Brown overhears that they’re going to the witch’s meeting. Brown watched them as “they passed on through the forest, where no church had ever been gathered or solitary Christian prayed”(315). Brown has witnessed the people he admires turning away from God and embracing evil, and he finds the power of their example to be undeniable. Brown sits “faint and overburdened with the heavy sickness of his heart,” in the forest where the moral wanderings of his strange encounters have taken place (315). Brown gazes at the sky and wonders if there is a heaven and he cries, “with heaven above and Faith below, I will yet stand firm against the devil”(315). He realizes that he has nowhere to hide from the persuasive influence of evil, not even sitting by himself with his own thoughts. A black cloud of doubt literally sweeps over Brown and he hears his own townspeople, holy and wretched, at the devil’s communion table along with his wife’s voice. He shouts, “Faith,” and her pink ribbon she wears in her hair flutters down into his hands, which makes him think she is in the forest (315). The dark cloud representing his indecision vanishes along with Brown’s resolution of good and he cries, “My Faith is gone!” while he clutches the ribbon (315). “There is no good on earth; and sin is but a name. Come, devil; for to thee is the world given,” Brown cries madly as he runs in the heart of the dark wilderness (315). The heart of Goodman Brown has become a dark forest as he runs after the devil. He gives into the pressure and is led astray by the voice of Faith. He runs towards the evil more like a devil, than like a man at all.
Brown stops running once he spies an open field “hemmed in by the dark wall of the forest, arose a rock, bearing some rude, natural resemblance either to an altar or a pulpit, and surrounded by four blazing pines, their tops aflame, their stems untouched, like candles at an evening meeting”(316). The field resembles the ideal hell, and Brown is standing at the gates deciding whether or not to enter. The fire represents his intense emotions and feelings because he is surrounded by sin, and this heavily influences him. He looks around the fire and sees the pious and unholy consorting with each other, and “[i]t was strange to that the good shrank not from the wicked, nor were the sinners abashed by the saints”(316). Brown continues to look for his wife, Faith, when the devil appears to call forth the converts. Brown comes out from hiding behind the shadow of the trees and approaches the congregation “with whom he felt a loathful brotherhood by the sympathy of all that was wicked in his heart”(317). Brown knows he shouldn’t join the congregation, but he feels a kinship with them. The warmth of the fire is familiar association, opposed to the coldness of his isolation in the forest. Brown thinks he sees his own father encouraging him into the evils of manhood. Brown also sees a figure resembling his mother who “threw out her hand to warn him back” because she wants him to stay a child who is na?ve of the existence of evil and sin (317). Brown saw them, “[b]ut he had no power to retreat one step, nor to resist, even in thought,” and he is led to the altar (317). The devil shows Brown his wife, Faith, standing before him and he says, “[d]epending upon one another’s hearts, ye had still hoped that virtue were not all a dream. Now are ye undeceived. Evil is the nature of mankind. Evil must be your only happiness”(318). The devil is telling them that virtue, or good, is just a dream, and evil is the reality of humankind. The devil prepares to baptize them into this reality of evil together, and Brown realizes that he will see the evil nature of his pure Faith. He shudders at the mere thought of Faith being able to see that he contains evil and secret deeds. Brown then cries to her, “look up to heaven, and resist the wicked one”(318). Brown makes his final decision to not look upon the evils in himself or anyone else when he looks up at the sky, but “[w]hether or Faith obeyed he knew not”(318).
Brown wakes up in the forest and returns to Salem “ a bewildered man,” and he shrinks away from everyone that he passes, including his wife, Faith (318). Brown knows the whole experience was a dream, but “it was a dream of evil omen for Young Goodman Brown”(319). He lost his faith in other people as well as in himself, and he can’t look at anyone the same way. He has become a human embodiment of doubt because he refused to look at evil, and he is left with a moral uncertainty that is much worse than the actual evil itself. He isolates himself from everyone, including his wife, and “[a] stern, a sad, a darkly meditative, a distrustful if not desperate man did he become from the night of that fearful dream”(319). He has lost faith in both senses of the word, and “he shrank from the bosom of Faith”(319). He shrinks from his own spirituality because he knows he has been required to face and acknowledge the evil in himself and others, and that frightens him more than anything else. His inability to judge between good and evil also prevents him from cuddling or accepting “faith,” and interacting with the other townspeople. He lived a long miserable life and died with “no hopeful verse upon his tombstone, for his dying hour was gloom”(319). His death was gloom because he didn’t know where he was going to end up, above or below his deathbed. Brown’s moral and social isolation is the worst possible evil that a man can ever have happen to him. If he would have looked at the evils in mankind, he could’ve recognized the good in people. That was the full intention of the dream, but he failed the test miserably.