Anyone familiar with Nathaniel Hawthorne is well aware of his characteristic use of symbolic imagery in his stories, which are generally about the contradictory good and evil sides of humanity. Young Goodman Brown does not disappoint. Read at face value, Young Goodman Brown is a story about a Puritan settler living in Salem during the witch trials. This settler attends a witch’s meeting in the forest that forever changes him.
Whether the meeting was real or contrived is of little consequence, as the occurrence was real enough to Goodman Brown to alter his entire existence. But when looked at closer, an all too familiar truth can be seen in this eerie tale. The symbolism begins with the paradox that is Goodman Brown’s new wife, Faith. Her name alone is cause for attention. Each time Goodman Brown refers to her, it is only too clear that he may in fact be referring to his own personal faith in God, life, and humanity, which is questioned to the point of breaking in this narrative.
In fact, it seems that Faith is not even a character, so to speak. Rather, she is a tangible symbol of Goodman Brown’s faith and the changes that it endures when Goodman Brown loses his childhood innocence. With his use of symbolism to enhance the story, Hawthorne brings to life the struggles of faith and life during the puritan times when ignorance is not always bliss.
Normal vs. Evil
He opens Goodman’s eyes and uses the natural sinisterness of the dark forest to enhance the evil of the witches and what Goodman is experiences. Although we are never sure whether or not the witch meeting took place, we feel as though it has and take away a large amount of fear and anxiety right along with Goodman.