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Young Goodman Brown | Study Guide

Nathaniel Hawthorne

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Young Goodman Brown | Motifs


Light versus Dark

Typically light offers clarity and safety; darkness obscures vision and allows villains to hide in the shadows. Young Goodman Brown leaves home at sunset, when light and goodness are receding. Dusk and then darkness falls, and the woods are dense and ominous: the Dark Figure—the devil—appears. Is the Dark Figure's staff really a wriggling serpent, or is it a trick of the light? When Brown hears riders approaching, he struggles to see them in the dark. His uncertainty adds tension to the story. Are they truly invisible or just concealed by the night?

Brown looks to the sky for reassurance, and he sees the stars, pinpoints of light, representing the goodness of heaven; then evil blots them out in the form of a cloud bearing Satan worshippers. It grows even darker as Brown flies into the deepest wilds of the forest, among "black pines" heading straight for the evil gathering. He finds "a grave and dark-clad company" in communion with the devil.

In the morning, "in the early sunshine," goodness appears to rule once again. The pious community leaders are praying, blessing, and teaching as usual, but now Brown is imbued with darkness, so he perceives it all as a lie. At the end of his life even "his dying hour was gloom."


It's not happenstance that Young Goodman Brown's wife is named Faith; Nathaniel Hawthorne intends readers to consider the meaning of the word at every mention of her name. Hawthorne even says she is "aptly named."

When Brown says, "My love and my Faith ... this one night must I tarry away from thee," he is not only physically leaving his wife for the night but also putting some distance between himself and his religious convictions. He expects "no harm will come" after his night away, meaning Faith will be safe and his beliefs will be intact. When he is late meeting the Dark Figure, Brown says, "Faith kept me back awhile"; if not for his religious devotion Brown would have experimented with evil sooner. "My Faith is gone!" Brown says when his wife is whisked away on a cloud, and then he acknowledges the world belongs to the devil. Both his wife Faith and his spiritual faith are gone. In the morning Faith is ready to pick up where she and her husband left off the night before, but Brown doesn't embrace his wife or his religion ever again.

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