Michael J. Cummings...©
in 2010 ©
Goodman Brown is a short story, one of the greatest in American literature.
One may read it as an allegory centering on the temptation everyone faces
and on the human tendency to prejudge others on insufficient evidence.
The story was published in 1835.
Goodman Brown was published in 1835 in New England, a magazine,
and in 1846 in
Mosses From an Old Manse, a collection of Hawthorne's
action takes place in the second half of the seventeenth century in Salem,
a town northeast of Boston in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Puritan settlers
established Salem in 1626 under the name of Naumkeag. Several years later,
the town changed its name to Salem, apparently after the Hebrew word shalom,
peace. (Jerusalem derives the last two syllables
of its name from the same Hebrew word. In full, Jerusalem means
was a theocracy in which the Christian moral law, as interpreted by the
Puritan settlers of the town, was supreme. “Young Goodman Brown” takes
place around the time of the Salem witch trials, held in the spring and
autumn of 1692. During these infamous trials, twenty innocent women and
men were found guilty of witchcraft and executed.
Goodman Brown: Recently
married Puritan who lives in Salem in the 1600's. He believes in the goodness
of the townspeople until he sees many of them attending a witches’ sabbath
in the forest. Goodman is a title equivalent to Mister.
Faith: Goodman Brown’s
The Devil Figure:
Mysterious man who meets Goodman Brown in the forest and accompanies him
part way to the witches’ sabbath, where Brown is to be inducted into an
leader who leads Goodman Brown to the unhallowed baptismal altar in the
Deacon Gookin: Salem
Churchman who attends the witches' sabbath.
Goody Cloyse: Teacher
of cathechism who attends the witches' sabbath.
Martha Carrier: Salem
resident, described as a "rampant hag," who attends the witches' sabbath.
The devil had been promised her that she would be the queen of hell. With
Goody Cloyse, she leads Faith to the unhallowed baptismal altar.
Powwows: Indian medicine
men who attend the witches' sabbath.
is dusk in the village of Salem, Massachusetts, a community of god-fearing
Puritans. At the threshold of the front door of his house, a young man
named Goodman Brown kisses his wife, Faith, goodbye and embarks on a journey
into the forest. He is not to return until the next morning. What activity
would lure him away from his pretty wife, whom he married three months
before, and into the dark and menacing uncertainty of the woods? It is
a witches’ sabbath, a meeting at which he and others from Salem and surrounding
communities are to be inducted into an evil brotherhood.
Michael J. Cummings...©
may be simple curiosity that motivates Brown; after all, would it not be
interesting to see witches performing their rituals before a blazing fire?
On the other hand, it could be the challenge of braving the forest and
confronting the temptation posed by evil forces. Such would
be a colonial American version of a modern extreme sport or adventure.
Then, too, Goodman Brown may truly wish to join the evil brotherhood.
the forest, he meets a mysterious man with a staff resembling a snake,
and together they travel on. The man appears to be a devil figure. From
time to time, Brown expresses a desire to turn back, but his feet continue
to carry him forward. Along the way, upright citizens–even members of the
clergy—pass by on their way to the meeting while Brown hides behind trees
and watches. At the site of the meeting, he suffers a terrible shock when
he discovers that his wife—beautiful, innocent Faith—is also there. When
a “Shape of Evil” prepares to baptize the newcomers into “the mystery of
sin,” Goodman Brown tells his wife: “Look up to Heaven, and resist the
as soon as those words pass his lips, he finds himself alone in the forest
with only the sound of the wind for company. The next day, after he returns
to Salem, life goes on as usual, and Brown wonders whether he had “fallen
asleep, and only dreamed a wild dream of a witch-meeting.”
the case, Goodman Brown is never the same again; he becomes “a stern, a
sad, a darkly meditative, a distrustful, if not a desperate man.” After
he dies many years later, he is followed to his grave by Faith, by his
children, by his grandchildren, and by neighbors, but “they carved no hopeful
verse upon his tombstone; for his dying hour was gloom.”
The Forest as Eden
Brown appears to represent human beings confronted with temptation–that
is, he wishes to enter the dark forest of sin, so to speak, to satisfy
his curiosity about the happenings there and perhaps even to take part
in them. The man who meets Brown in the forest appears to represent the
devil; his staff is a symbol of the devil as a serpent. Thus, we have Adam
(Brown, curious to learn forbidden knowledge) facing the serpent in the
Garden of Eden. It was, of course, a tree—the Tree of Knowledge—that enticed
Adam. Goodman Brown is enticed by an entire forest. Like Adam, he suffers
a great fall from innocence.
appears to represent Brown’s religious faith and his faith in others; her
pink ribbons stand for innocence. But when she also appears at the witches'
sabbath—apparently, like Eve, desiring forbidden knowledge—she too loses
her innocence. At the last moment before his and his wife's baptism into
the evil society gathered in the forest, Brown urges his wife: "Look up
to Heaven, and resist the Wicked One." He then finds himself alone in the
forest, wondering whether he has awakened from a dream or really did attend
the witches' sabbath. But the damage is done, and he becomes "a stern,
a sad, a darkly meditative, a distrustful, if not a desperate man."
Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) theorized that all humans share certain inborn
impulses and concepts residing in the mind at the unconscious level. For
example, all humans react to sunlight in the same way, perceiving it as
a symbol of joy, happiness, glory, optimism, truth, a new beginning,
or God. Likewise, humans associate dark forests (like the one in "Young
Goodman Brown") with danger, obscurity, confusion, and the unknown or with
evil, sin, and death. Jung termed external stimuli (such as dark forests)
primordial symbols—primordial meaning existing from the beginning
of other primordial symbols you may encounter in your study of literature
include the following: a river (the passage of time), overcast sky (gloom,
depression, despair), lamb (innocence, vulnerability), violent storm (wrath,
inconsolable grief), flowers (delicacy, perishability, beauty), mountain
(obstacle, challenge), eagle (majesty, freedom) the color white (purity,
innocence), the color red (anger, passion, war, blood), the color green
(new life, hope), water (birth or rebirth), autumn (old age), winter (death).
Brown's wife, Faith, symbolizes Brown's spiritual faith. When he sees her
in the forest at the witches' sabbath, he realizes he is in danger of losing
not only his wife but also his spiritual faith.
Theme 1 How the
Puritans’ strict moral code and overemphasis on the sinfulness of humankind
foster undue suspicion and distrust. Goodman Brown’s experience in
the forest—whether dream or reality—causes him to lose his faith in others
and die an unhappy man. Note the last words of the story: “They carved
no hopeful verse upon his tombstone; for his dying hour was gloom.”
Theme 2 The realization
that evil can infect people who seem upright. Goodman Brown discovers
that even highly respected people in Salem fall victim to the forces of
darkness. Today–when corporate executives cheat stockholders, politicians
lie to win elections, and members of the clergy defraud their congregations–this
theme still resonates.
Theme 3 One man’s
virtue is another man’s sin, and vice versa. “There is no good on earth,”
Goodman Brown observes, “and sin is but a name.” In other words, whether
an action is good or evil appears to depend on who is viewing the action.
The zealotry of a Puritan punishing a wrongdoer—like Goodman Brown’s grandfather
lashing “a Quaker woman so smartly through the streets”—might be praised
as a just act by another Puritan but condemned as an inhumane act by non-Puritans.
These opposing views of the same action seem to confuse Brown; he is like
a modern man who is told that “everything goes” or that one moral position
is as valid as another, opposing one. There are, of course, absolute moral
values which should prevail for everyone, regardless of their religion
or lack of it. For example, murder is always wrong; child abuse is always
wrong. However, the devil figure succeeds in confounding Brown on what
is truly right and what is truly wrong.
climax of the story occurs when Goodman Brown, standing before the altar
with Faith to receive the mark of baptism from the devil, hesitates at
the last minute and urges his wife to "look up to heaven, and resist the
wicked one." The conclusion, or denouement, of the story then begins when
he suddenly finds himself alone in the forest, as if he has just awakened
from a dream. What he experienced in the forest—whether dream or reality—changes
his life. He is now suspicious of everyone, just as the Puritans of real-life
Salem were when they participated in a witch hunt that resulted in the
leaves open to question whether Goodman Brown’s experience is real or imagined,
as in a dream. Keep in mind that normal, mentally stable people—like you
or those around you—sometimes accept delusions, fantasies, or fabrications
as real events. Keep in mind, too, that they sometimes see evil in a person
who has done no evil.
is reasonable to interpret “Young Goodman Brown” in ways other than those
already mentioned. For example, Brown could represent an archetypical Ulysses
or Faust figure whose curiosity prods him
to seek knowledge or, like modern adventurers and thrill-seekers, undergo
“extreme” challenges. It is also reasonable to interpret the short story
as a tale of rebellion against established beliefs. Like young people today—who,
refusing to be cast in the philosophical or theological mold of their parents
or friends—explore various ideologies and dabble in nihilism. Brown may
have wished to venture into the forbidden zone, into terra incognita,
to discover the world and its ideas for himself.
Historical References, and Vocabulary
32): thing or person deemed to be damned or cursed.
32): Cinquefoil, a flowering plant of the rose family that has white, red,
or yellow petals.
Egyptian Magi (paragraph
36): See staff.
e'en go thy ways
(paragraph 25): Just (righteous) be thy ways.
or master of a household.
Goody: (1) Housewife,
especially an elderly one, of a lower class; (2) any lower-class woman;
(3) housewife or mistress of a household.
King William (paragraph
13): William III, king of England from 1689 to 1702.
King Philip (paragraph
18): Nickname of the Wampanoag Indian chief Metacom (or Metacomet). Maltreatment
of Indians by whites provoked him into waging what came to be known as
King Philip's War against New Englanders in 1675-1676. His defiance instilled
fear in the white inhabitants of New England.
21): Weekday on which a sermon was given.
60): person who converted from one belief or religion to another.
(paragraph 36): The narrator says, "So saying, he threw it [the staff]
down at her feet, where, perhaps, it assumed life, being one of the rods
which its owner had formerly lent to the Egyptian magi." This passage alludes
to verses 8-12 in Chapter 7 of the Bible's Book of Exodus. According to
these verses, God directs Moses to tell Aaron, his brother, to cast down
his staff before the throne of the pharaoh of Egypt. When he does so, it
transforms itself into a serpent. The pharaoh's magicians (magi) then cast
down their staffs, which in like manner turned into serpents. However,
Aaron's staff consumes the staffs of the magicians.
32): Wolfsbane, a poisonous plant.
zenith: The point
of the celestial sphere (what appears to be the surface of the sky or heavens)
that is directly above an observer's head.
are examples of figures of speech in the story.
Repetition of a consonant
13: It was now deep
in the forest, and deepest
in that part of it where these two were journeying.
41: thinking with how clear
47: this black mass of cloud was sweeping
49: the unhappy
for a response
Repetition of a word, phrase,
or clause in successive groups of words
72: When the minister spoke from the pulpit, with
power and fervid eloquence, and with
his hand on the open Bible, of
the sacred truths of our religion, and of
saint-like lives and triumphant deaths, and of
future bliss or misery unutterable, then did Goodman Brown turn pale, dreading
lest the roof should thunder down upon the gray blasphemer and his hearers.
Paragraph 72: A
darkly meditative, a
distrustful, if not a
desperate man, did he become, from the night of that fearful dream.
Comparison a thing to an
unlike thing without using like, as, or than
8: He had taken a dreary road, darkened by all the gloomiest trees
of the forest, which barely stood aside to let the narrow path creep through.
. . .
of the trees and the path to living things that move.
31: "Then Goody Cloyse knows her old friend?" observed the traveller,
confronting her, and leaning on his writhing stick.
Using a Word to Imitate
51: the creaking
of the trees, the howling
of wild beastsSimile
Comparison a thing to an
unlike thing without using like, as, or than
51: sometimes the wind tolled like a distant church-bell
and the Witch Trials
of the sound of the wind to the sound of a church bell
54: four blazing pines, their tops aflame, their stems untouched, like
candles at an evening meeting.
of the burning pine trees to burning candles
53: shouting forth such laughter, as set all the echoes of the forest
laughing like demons around him
of the sounds of the forest to the laughter of demons
began in England in the late Sixteenth Century when Protestant reformers
attempted to purge the Church of England (or Anglican Church) of the elaborate
ceremonies, rituals, and hierarchical structure it retained from the Roman
Catholic Church after King Henry VIII established Anglicanism by acts of
Parliament between 1529 and 1536. The Act of Supremacy, approved in 1534,
officially established the Church of England as an independent Protestant
entity separate from the Roman Catholic Church. However, the Church of
England retained Catholic rituals such as the mass and prelates such as
bishops. For the Puritans, the pure word of the Bible, presented in part
through inspired preaching, took precedence over rituals while direct revelation
from the Holy Spirit superseded reason. After Queen Elizabeth I died in
1603, the Puritans petitioned the new monarch, King James I, to adopt their
reforms. In January 1604 at a special conference at Hampton Court Palace
near London, the king rejected most of the proposed Puritan reforms but
he did grant a Puritan request for a new translation of the Bible, which
resulted in publication of the King James Version in 1611.
Many disenchanted puritans
left the country. Those who remained behind joined with members of Parliament
opposed to the crown's economic policies. Together they defeated the king's
forces in the English Civil War. With the king out of the way, the Puritans
became a dominant faction in the new Commonwealth government headed by
Oliver Cromwell. However, after Cromwell's death in 1558, a movement to
restore the monarchy began, and King Charles II was restored to the throne
in 1660. Under the Clarendon Code, approved in 1662, the Church of England
expelled all Puritan ministers who refused to accept church tenets. Many
Puritans then emigrated to America and established their brand of religion
in Massachusetts and other colonies.
ministers were generally well educated, and Puritan congregations promoted
ideals that helped lay the foundation for American democracy.
because of their strict moral code, the Puritans were ever on the lookout
for satanic influence and, unfortunately, sometimes saw evil where none
existed. In Salem, Massachusetts in 1692, more than 150 people were accused
of witchcraft and jailed. Twenty of them were executed. Nineteen were hanged
and one was pressed to death. In a pressing, the executioners secured the
condemned person, facing upward, on a bed of nails. Then they loaded weights
onto his or her body. American dramatist Arthur
Miller wrote a play,
The Crucible, about these trials. Belief
in evil forces such as witches, warlocks, and diabolical spirits was widespread
in America and Europe during and before the 17th Century.
"Young Goodman Brown" is a fictional tale, it is based on the atmosphere
prevailing in Salem, Mass., during the time of the witch trials. .
Questions and Essay Topics
situations and circumstances that cause people in today’s society to enter
a “dark forest,” as Goodman Brown did.
Goodman Brown really attend a witches' sabbath or does he dream about it?
the life of Nathaniel Hawthorne. Then write an essay discussing the extent
to which his family background influenced him when he wrote "Young Goodman
does Goodman Brown become "a stern, a sad, a darkly meditative, a distrustful,
if not a desperate man" after his experience in the forest?
are people today fascinated with stories about witchcraft, sorcery, and
Goodman Brown returns from the forest, he becomes a cynical man. Does he
see evil where there is goodness? Identify “witch hunts” that are occurring
today in your community or your country? For example, are people on one
side of an issue attempting to discredit people on the other side of the
issue by using unfair tactics that impugn the latter's reputation?
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Text With Numbered Paragraphs
Young Goodman Brown came forth at sunset, into the street of Salem village,
but put his head back, after crossing the threshold, to exchange a parting
kiss with his young wife. And Faith, as the wife was aptly named, thrust
her own pretty head into the street, letting the wind play with the pink
ribbons of her cap, while she called to Goodman Brown.
"Dearest heart," whispered she, softly and rather sadly, when her lips
were close to his ear, "pr'y thee, put off your journey until sunrise,
and sleep in your own bed to-night. A lone woman is troubled with such
dreams and such thoughts, that she's afeard of herself, sometimes. Pray,
tarry with me this night, dear husband, of all nights in the year!"
"My love and my Faith," replied young Goodman Brown, "of all nights in
the year, this one night must I tarry away from thee. My journey, as thou
callest it, forth and back again, must needs be done 'twixt now and sunrise.
What, my sweet, pretty wife, dost thou doubt me already, and we but three
"Then God bless you!" said Faith, with the pink ribbons, "and may you find
all well, when you come back."
"Amen!" cried Goodman Brown. "Say thy prayers, dear Faith, and go to bed
at dusk, and no harm will come to thee."
So they parted; and the young man pursued his way, until, being about to
turn the corner by the meeting-house, he looked back and saw the head of
Faith still peeping after him, with a melancholy air, in spite of her pink
"Poor little Faith!" thought he, for his heart smote him. "What a wretch
am I, to leave her on such an errand! She talks of dreams, too. Methought,
as she spoke, there was trouble in her face, as if a dream had warned her
what work is to be done to-night. But, no, no! 'twould kill her to think
it. Well; she's a blessed angel on earth; and after this one night, I'll
cling to her skirts and follow her to Heaven."
With this excellent resolve for the future, Goodman Brown felt himself
justified in making more haste on his present evil purpose. He had taken
a dreary road, darkened by all the gloomiest trees of the forest, which
barely stood aside to let the narrow path creep through, and closed immediately
behind. It was all as lonely as could be; and there is this peculiarity
in such a solitude, that the traveller knows not who may be concealed by
the innumerable trunks and the thick boughs overhead; so that, with lonely
footsteps, he may yet be passing through an unseen multitude.
"There may be a devilish Indian behind every tree," said Goodman Brown
to himself; and he glanced fearfully behind him, as he added, "What if
the devil himself should be at my very elbow!"
His head being turned back, he passed a crook of the road, and looking
forward again, beheld the figure of a man, in grave and decent attire,
seated at the foot of an old tree. He arose, at Goodman Brown's approach,
and walked onward, side by side with him.
"You are late, Goodman Brown," said he. "The clock of the Old South was
striking, as I came through Boston; and that is full fifteen minutes agone."
"Faith kept me back awhile," replied the young man, with a tremor in his
voice, caused by the sudden appearance of his companion, though not wholly
It was now deep dusk in the forest, and deepest in that part of it where
these two were journeying. As nearly as could be discerned, the second
traveller was about fifty years old, apparently in the same rank of life
as Goodman Brown, and bearing a considerable resemblance to him, though
perhaps more in expression than features. Still, they might have been taken
for father and son. And yet, though the elder person was as simply clad
as the younger, and as simple in manner too, he had an indescribable air
of one who knew the world, and would not have felt abashed at the governor's
dinner-table, or in King William's court, were it possible that his affairs
should call him thither. But the only thing about him, that could be fixed
upon as remarkable, was his staff, which bore the likeness of a great black
snake, so curiously wrought, that it might almost be seen to twist and
wriggle itself like a living serpent. This, of course, must have been an
ocular deception, assisted by the uncertain light.
"Come, Goodman Brown!" cried his fellow-traveller, "this is a dull pace
for the beginning of a journey. Take my staff, if you are so soon weary."
"Friend," said the other, exchanging his slow pace for a full stop, "having
kept covenant by meeting thee here, it is my purpose now to return whence
I came. I have scruples, touching the matter thou wot'st of."
"Sayest thou so?" replied he of the serpent, smiling apart. "Let us walk
on, nevertheless, reasoning as we go, and if I convince thee not, thou
shalt turn back. We are but a little way in the forest, yet."
"Too far, too far!" exclaimed the goodman, unconsciously resuming his walk.
"My father never went into the woods on such an errand, nor his father
before him. We have been a race of honest men and good Christians, since
the days of the martyrs. And shall I be the first of the name of Brown,
that ever took this path and kept--"
"Such company, thou wouldst say," observed the elder person, interrupting
his pause. "Well said, Goodman Brown! I have been as well acquainted with
your family as with ever a one among the Puritans; and that's no trifle
to say. I helped your grandfather, the constable, when he lashed the Quaker
woman so smartly through the streets of Salem. And it was I that brought
your father a pitch-pine knot, kindled at my own hearth, to set fire to
an Indian village, in King Philip's War. 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."
"If it be as thou sayest," replied Goodman Brown, "I marvel they never
spoke of these matters. Or, verily, I marvel not, seeing that the least
rumor of the sort would have driven them from New England. We are a people
of prayer, and good works to boot, and abide no such wickedness."
"Wickedness or not," said the traveller with the twisted staff, "I have
a very general acquaintance here in New England. The deacons of many a
church have drunk the communion wine with me; the selectmen, of divers
towns, make me their chairman; and a majority of the Great and General
Court are firm supporters of my interest. The governor and I, too--but
these are state-secrets."
"Can this be so!" cried Goodman Brown, with a stare of amazement at his
undisturbed companion. "Howbeit, I have nothing to do with the governor
and council; they have their own ways, and are no rule for a simple husbandman
like me. But, were I to go on with thee, how should I meet the eye of that
good old man, our minister, at Salem village? Oh, his voice would make
me tremble, both Sabbath-day and lecture-day!"
Thus far, the elder traveller had listened with due gravity, but now burst
into a fit of irrepressible mirth, shaking himself so violently that his
snake-like staff actually seemed to wriggle in sympathy.
"Ha! ha! ha!" shouted he, again and again; then composing himself, "Well,
go on, Goodman Brown, go on; but, pr'y thee, don't kill me with laughing!"
"Well, then, to end the matter at once," said Goodman Brown, considerably
nettled, "there is my wife, Faith. It would break her dear little heart;
and I'd rather break my own!"
"Nay, if that be the case," answered the other, "e'en go thy ways, Goodman
Brown. I would not, for twenty old women like the one hobbling before us,
that Faith should come to any harm."
As he spoke, he pointed his staff at a female figure on the path, in whom
Goodman Brown recognized a very pious and exemplary dame, who had taught
him his catechism in youth, and was still his moral and spiritual adviser,
jointly with the minister and Deacon Gookin.
"A marvel, truly, that Goody Cloyse should be so far in the wilderness,
at night-fall!" said he. "But, with your leave, friend, I shall take a
cut through the woods, until we have left this Christian woman behind.
Being a stranger to you, she might ask whom I was consorting with, and
whither I was going."
"Be it so," said his fellow-traveller. "Betake you to the woods, and let
me keep the path."
Accordingly, the young man turned aside, but took care to watch his companion,
who advanced softly along the road, until he had come within a staff's
length of the old dame. She, meanwhile, was making the best of her way,
with singular speed for so aged a woman, and mumbling some indistinct words,
a prayer, doubtless, as she went. The traveller put forth his staff, and
touched her withered neck with what seemed the serpent's tail.
"The devil!" screamed the pious old lady.
"Then Goody Cloyse knows her old friend?" observed the traveller, confronting
her, and leaning on his writhing stick.
"Ah, forsooth, and is it your worship, indeed?" cried the good dame. "Yea,
truly is it, and in the very image of my old gossip, Goodman Brown, the
grandfather of the silly fellow that now is. But--would your worship believe
it?--my broomstick hath strangely disappeared, stolen, as I suspect, by
that unhanged witch, Goody Cory, and that, too, when I was all anointed
with the juice of smallage and cinque-foil and wolf's-bane--"
"Mingled with fine wheat and the fat of a new-born babe," said the shape
of old Goodman Brown.
"Ah, your worship knows the recipe," cried the old lady, cackling aloud.
"So, as I was saying, being all ready for the meeting, and no horse to
ride on, I made up my mind to foot it; for they tell me, there is a nice
young man to be taken into communion to-night. But now your good worship
will lend me your arm, and we shall be there in a twinkling."
"That can hardly be," answered her friend. "I may not spare you my arm,
Goody Cloyse, but here is my staff, if you will."
So saying, he threw it down at her feet, where, perhaps, it assumed life,
being one of the rods which its owner had formerly lent to Egyptian Magi.
Of this fact, however, Goodman Brown could not take cognizance. He had
cast up his eyes in astonishment, and looking down again, beheld neither
Goody Cloyse nor the serpentine staff, but his fellow-traveller alone,
who waited for him as calmly as if nothing had happened.
"That old woman taught me my catechism!" said the young man; and there
was a world of meaning in this simple comment.
They continued to walk onward, while the elder traveller exhorted his companion
to make good speed and persevere in the path, discoursing so aptly, that
his arguments seemed rather to spring up in the bosom of his auditor, than
to be suggested by himself. As they went, he plucked a branch of maple,
to serve for a walking-stick, and began to strip it of the twigs and little
boughs, which were wet with evening dew. The moment his fingers touched
them, they became strangely withered and dried up, as with a week's sunshine.
Thus the pair proceeded, at a good free pace, until suddenly, in a gloomy
hollow of the road, Goodman Brown sat himself down on the stump of a tree,
and refused to go any farther.
"Friend," said he, stubbornly, "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 that any reason why
I should quit my dear Faith, and go after her?"
"You will think better of this by-and-by," said his acquaintance, composedly.
"Sit here and rest yourself awhile; and when you feel like moving again,
there is my staff to help you along."
Without more words, he threw his companion the maple stick, and was as
speedily out of sight, as if he had vanished into the deepening gloom.
The young man sat a few moments by the road-side, applauding himself greatly,
and thinking with how clear a conscience he should meet the minister, in
his morning-walk, nor shrink from the eye of good old Deacon Gookin. And
what calm sleep would be his, that very night, which was to have been spent
so wickedly, but purely and sweetly now, in the arms of Faith! Amidst these
pleasant and praiseworthy meditations, Goodman Brown heard the tramp of
horses along the road, and deemed it advisable to conceal himself within
the verge of the forest, conscious of the guilty purpose that had brought
him thither, though now so happily turned from it.
On came the hoof-tramps and the voices of the riders, two grave old voices,
conversing soberly as they drew near. These mingled sounds appeared to
pass along the road, within a few yards of the young man's hiding-place;
but owing, doubtless, to the depth of the gloom, at that particular spot,
neither the travellers nor their steeds were visible. Though their figures
brushed the small boughs by the way-side, it could not be seen that they
intercepted, even for a moment, the faint gleam from the strip of bright
sky, athwart which they must have passed. Goodman Brown alternately crouched
and stood on tip-toe, pulling aside the branches, and thrusting forth his
head as far as he durst, without discerning so much as a shadow. It vexed
him the more, because he could have sworn, were such a thing possible,
that he recognized the voices of the minister and Deacon Gookin, jogging
along quietly, as they were wont to do, when bound to some ordination or
ecclesiastical council. While yet within hearing, one of the riders stopped
to pluck a switch.
"Of the two, reverend Sir," said the voice like the deacon's, I had rather
miss an ordination-dinner than tonight's meeting. They tell me that some
of our community are to be here from Falmouth and beyond, and others from
Connecticut and Rhode-Island; besides several of the Indian powows, who,
after their fashion, know almost as much deviltry as the best of us. Moreover,
there is a goodly young woman to be taken into communion."
"Mighty well, Deacon Gookin!" replied the solemn old tones of the minister.
"Spur up, or we shall be late. Nothing can be done, you know, until I get
on the ground."
The hoofs clattered again, and the voices, talking so strangely in the
empty air, passed on through the forest, where no church had ever been
gathered, nor solitary Christian prayed. Whither, then, could these holy
men be journeying, so deep into the heathen wilderness? Young Goodman Brown
caught hold of a tree, for support, being ready to sink down on the ground,
faint and overburthened with the heavy sickness of his heart. He looked
up to the sky, doubting whether there really was a Heaven above him. Yet,
there was the blue arch, and the stars brightening in it.
"With Heaven above, and Faith below, I will yet stand firm against the
devil!" cried Goodman Brown.
While he still gazed upward, into the deep arch of the firmament, and had
lifted his hands to pray, a cloud, though no wind was stirring, hurried
across the zenith, and hid the brightening stars. The blue sky was still
visible, except directly overhead, where this black mass of cloud was sweeping
swiftly northward. Aloft in the air, as if from the depths of the cloud,
came a confused and doubtful sound of voices. Once, the listener fancied
that he could distinguish the accent of town's-people of his own, men and
women, both pious and ungodly, many of whom he had met at the communion-table,
and had seen others rioting at the tavern. The next moment, so indistinct
were the sounds, he doubted whether he had heard aught but the murmur of
the old forest, whispering without a wind. Then came a stronger swell of
those familiar tones, heard daily in the sunshine, at Salem village, but
never, until now, from a cloud of night. There was one voice, of a young
woman, uttering lamentations, yet with an uncertain sorrow, and entreating
for some favor, which, perhaps, it would grieve her to obtain. And all
the unseen multitude, both saints and sinners, seemed to encourage her
"Faith!" shouted Goodman Brown, in a voice of agony and desperation; and
the echoes of the forest mocked him, crying --"Faith! Faith!" as if bewildered
wretches were seeking her, all through the wilderness.
The cry of grief, rage, and terror, was yet piercing the night, when the
unhappy husband held his breath for a response. There was a scream, drowned
immediately in a louder murmur of voices, fading into far-off laughter,
as the dark cloud swept away, leaving the clear and silent sky above Goodman
Brown. But something fluttered lightly down through the air, and caught
on the branch of a tree. The young man seized it, and beheld a pink ribbon.
"My Faith is gone!" cried he, after one stupefied moment. "There is no
good on earth; and sin is but a name. Come, devil! for to thee is this
And maddened with despair, so that he laughed loud and long, did Goodman
Brown grasp his staff and set forth again, at such a rate, that he seemed
to fly along the forest-path, rather than to walk or run. The road grew
wilder and drearier, and more faintly traced, and vanished at length, leaving
him in the heart of the dark wilderness, still rushing onward, with the
instinct that guides mortal man to evil. The whole forest was peopled with
frightful sounds; the creaking of the trees, the howling of wild beasts,
and the yell of Indians; while, sometimes the wind tolled like a distant
church-bell, and sometimes gave a broad roar around the traveller, as if
all Nature were laughing him to scorn. But he was himself the chief horror
of the scene, and shrank not from its other horrors.
"Ha! ha! ha!" roared Goodman Brown, when the wind laughed at him. "Let
us hear which will laugh loudest! Think not to frighten me with your deviltry!
Come witch, come wizard, come Indian powow, come devil himself! and here
comes Goodman Brown. You may as well fear him as he fear you!"
In truth, all through the haunted forest, there could be nothing more frightful
than the figure of Goodman Brown. On he flew, among the black pines, brandishing
his staff with frenzied gestures, now giving vent to an inspiration of
horrid blasphemy, and now shouting forth such laughter, as set all the
echoes of the forest laughing like demons around him. The fiend in his
own shape is less hideous, than when he rages in the breast of man. Thus
sped the demoniac on his course, until, quivering among the trees, he saw
a red light before him, as when the felled trunks and branches of a clearing
have been set on fire, and throw up their lurid blaze against the sky,
at the hour of midnight. He paused, in a lull of the tempest that had driven
him onward, and heard the swell of what seemed a hymn, rolling solemnly
from a distance, with the weight of many voices. He knew the tune; it was
a familiar one in the choir of the village meeting-house. The verse died
heavily away, and was lengthened by a chorus, not of human voices, but
of all the sounds of the benighted wilderness, pealing in awful harmony
together. Goodman Brown cried out; and his cry was lost to his own ear,
by its unison with the cry of the desert.
In the interval of silence, he stole forward, until the light glared full
upon his eyes. At one extremity of an open space, 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.
The mass of foliage, that had overgrown the summit of the rock, was all
on fire, blazing high into the night, and fitfully illuminating the whole
field. Each pendent twig and leafy festoon was in a blaze. As the red light
arose and fell, a numerous congregation alternately shone forth, then disappeared
in shadow, and again grew, as it were, out of the darkness, peopling the
heart of the solitary woods at once.
"A grave and dark-clad company!" quoth Goodman Brown.
In truth, they were such. Among them, quivering to-and-fro, between gloom
and splendor, appeared faces that would be seen, next day, at the council-board
of the province, and others which, Sabbath after Sabbath, looked devoutly
heavenward, and benignantly over the crowded pews, from the holiest pulpits
in the land. Some affirm, that the lady of the governor was there. At least,
there were high dames well known to her, and wives of honored husbands,
and widows, a great multitude, and ancient maidens, all of excellent repute,
and fair young girls, who trembled lest their mothers should espy them.
Either the sudden gleams of light, flashing over the obscure field, bedazzled
Goodman Brown, or he recognized a score of the church-members of Salem
village, famous for their especial sanctity. Good old Deacon Gookin had
arrived, and waited at the skirts of that venerable saint, his reverend
pastor. But, irreverently consorting with these grave, reputable, and pious
people, these elders of the church, these chaste dames and dewy virgins,
there were men of dissolute lives and women of spotted fame, wretches given
over to all mean and filthy vice, and suspected even of horrid crimes.
It was strange to see, that the good shrank not from the wicked, nor were
the sinners abashed by the saints. Scattered, also, among their palefaced
enemies, were the Indian priests, or powows, who had often scared their
native forest with more hideous incantations than any known to English
"But, where is Faith?" thought Goodman Brown; and, as hope came into his
heart, he trembled.
Another verse of the hymn arose, a slow and mournful strain, such as the
pious love, but joined to words which expressed all that our nature can
conceive of sin, and darkly hinted at far more. Unfathomable to mere mortals
is the lore of fiends. Verse after verse was sung, and still the chorus
of the desert swelled between, like the deepest tone of a mighty organ.
And, with the final peal of that dreadful anthem, there came a sound, as
if the roaring wind, the rushing streams, the howling beasts, and every
other voice of the unconverted wilderness, were mingling and according
with the voice of guilty man, in homage to the prince of all. The four
blazing pines threw up a loftier flame, and obscurely discovered shapes
and visages of horror on the smoke-wreaths, above the impious assembly.
At the same moment, the fire on the rock shot redly forth, and formed a
glowing arch above its base, where now appeared a figure. With reverence
be it spoken, the figure bore no slight similitude, both in garb and manner,
to some grave divine of the New-England churches.
"Bring forth the converts!" cried a voice, that echoed through the field
and rolled into the forest.
At the word, Goodman Brown stepped forth from the shadow of the trees,
and approached the congregation, with whom he felt a loathful brotherhood,
by the sympathy of all that was wicked in his heart. He could have well
nigh sworn, that the shape of his own dead father beckoned him to advance,
looking downward from a smoke-wreath, while a woman, with dim features
of despair, threw out her hand to warn him back. Was it his mother? But
he had no power to retreat one step, nor to resist, even in thought, when
the minister and good old Deacon Gookin seized his arms, and led him to
the blazing rock. Thither came also the slender form of a veiled female,
led between Goody Cloyse, that pious teacher of the catechism, and Martha
Carrier, who had received the devil's promise to be queen of hell. A rampant
hag was she! And there stood the proselytes, beneath the canopy of fire.
"Welcome, my children," said the dark figure, "to the communion of your
race! Ye have found, thus young, your nature and your destiny. My children,
look behind you!"
They turned; and flashing forth, as it were, in a sheet of flame, the fiend-worshippers
were seen; the smile of welcome gleamed darkly on every visage.
"There," resumed the sable form, "are all whom ye have reverenced from
youth. Ye deemed them holier than yourselves, and shrank from your own
sin, contrasting it with their lives of righteousness, and prayerful aspirations
heavenward. Yet, here are they all, in my worshipping assembly! This night
it shall be granted you to know their secret deeds; how hoary-bearded elders
of the church have whispered wanton words to the young maids of their households;
how many a woman, eager for widow's weeds, has given her husband a drink
at bed-time, and let him sleep his last sleep in her bosom; how beardless
youth have made haste to inherit their father's wealth; and how fair damsels--blush
not, sweet ones--have dug little graves in the garden, and bidden me, the
sole guest, to an infant's funeral. By the sympathy of your human hearts
for sin, ye shall scent out all the places--whether in church, bed-chamber,
street, field, or forest--where crime has been committed, and shall exult
to behold the whole earth one stain of guilt, one mighty blood-spot. Far
more than this! It shall be yours to penetrate, in every bosom, the deep
mystery of sin, the fountain of all wicked arts, and which inexhaustibly
supplies more evil impulses than human power--than my power at its utmost!--can
make manifest in deeds. And now, my children, look upon each other."
They did so; and, by the blaze of the hell-kindled torches, the wretched
man beheld his Faith, and the wife her husband, trembling before that unhallowed
"Lo! there ye stand, my children," said the figure, in a deep and solemn
tone, almost sad, with its despairing awfulness, as if his once angelic
nature could yet mourn for our miserable race. "Depending 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.
Welcome, again, my children, to the communion of your race!"
"Welcome!" repeated the fiend-worshippers, in one cry of despair and triumph.
And there they stood, the only pair, as it seemed, who were yet hesitating
on the verge of wickedness, in this dark world. A basin was hollowed, naturally,
in the rock. Did it contain water, reddened by the lurid light? or was
it blood? or, perchance, a liquid flame? Herein did the Shape of Evil dip
his hand, and prepare to lay the mark of baptism upon their foreheads,
that they might be partakers of the mystery of sin, more conscious of the
secret guilt of others, both in deed and thought, than they could now be
of their own. The husband cast one look at his pale wife, and Faith at
him. What polluted wretches would the next glance show them to each other,
shuddering alike at what they disclosed and what they saw!
"Faith! Faith!" cried the husband. "Look up to Heaven, and resist the Wicked
Whether Faith obeyed, he knew not. Hardly had he spoken, when he found
himself amid calm night and solitude, listening to a roar of the wind,
which died heavily away through the forest. He staggered against the rock,
and felt it chill and damp, while a hanging twig, that had been all on
fire, besprinkled his cheek with the coldest dew.
The next morning, young Goodman Brown came slowly into the street of Salem
village, staring around him like a bewildered man. The good old minister
was taking a walk along the graveyard, to get an appetite for breakfast
and meditate his sermon, and bestowed a blessing, as he passed, on Goodman
Brown. He shrank from the venerable saint, as if to avoid an anathema.
Old Deacon Gookin was at domestic worship, and the holy words of his prayer
were heard through the open window. "What God doth the wizard pray to?"
quoth Goodman Brown. Goody Cloyse, that excellent old Christian, stood
in the early sunshine, at her own lattice, catechising a little girl, who
had brought her a pint of morning's milk. Goodman Brown snatched away the
child, as from the grasp of the fiend himself. Turning the corner by the
meeting-house, he spied the head of Faith, with the pink ribbons, gazing
anxiously forth, and bursting into such joy at sight of him, that she skipt
along the street, and almost kissed her husband before the whole village.
But Goodman Brown looked sternly and sadly into her face, and passed on
without a greeting.
Had Goodman Brown fallen asleep in the forest, and only dreamed a wild
dream of a witch-meeting?
Be it so, if you will. But, alas! it was a dream of evil omen for young
Goodman Brown. A stern, a sad, a darkly meditative, a distrustful, if not
a desperate man, did he become, from the night of that fearful dream. On
the Sabbath-day, when the congregation were singing a holy psalm, he could
not listen, because an anthem of sin rushed loudly upon his ear, and drowned
all the blessed strain. When the minister spoke from the pulpit, with power
and fervid eloquence, and with his hand on the open Bible, of the sacred
truths of our religion, and of saint-like lives and triumphant deaths,
and of future bliss or misery unutterable, then did Goodman Brown turn
pale, dreading lest the roof should thunder down upon the gray blasphemer
and his hearers. Often, awaking suddenly at midnight, he shrank from the
bosom of Faith, and at morning or eventide, when the family knelt down
at prayer, he scowled, and muttered to himself, and gazed sternly at his
wife, and turned away. And when he had lived long, and was borne to his
grave, a hoary corpse, followed by Faith, an aged woman, and children and
grand-children, a goodly procession, besides neighbors, not a few, they
carved no hopeful verse upon his tombstone; for his dying hour was gloom.