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Nathaniel Hawthornes Short Story Young Goodman Brown English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 5477 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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This paper is a theory-based critical analysis of “Young Goodman Brown” written by Nathaniel Hawthorne. This paper is intended to address the nature of human being, especially the goodness and badness of Man. To fulfill this aim, I used the theory of Yin-Yang; because it illustrates the nature of Man well. Yin and Yang although refer to two opposing aspects of objects, they are not independent. I believe that, the same is the human nature. Everyone has both the white and the dark side in his nature, the important thing is that how to provide a balance between these two dependant aspects. On the other side I considered the puritans` society and presented some references from the story.

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This paper is an analysis of the short story called “Young Goodman Brown” written by the American novelist and short story 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. Actually, I am intended to analyze it through yin-yang theory

2. Background/Literature Review


Setting (place & time): the late 17th century in Salem, Massachusetts

Foreground: Puritan society, At the ceremony, which is carried out at a crude, flame-lit rocky altar in a clearing deep in the forest

Core characters: Goodman Brown – A young resident of Salem and the story’s protagonist. Goodman Brown is a good Christian who has recently married Faith. Faith – Goodman Brown’s wife. Faith is young, beautiful, and trusting, and Goodman Brown sees her as the embodiment of virtue. The Old Man/Devil – The man, possibly the devil, who tempts Goodman Brown into attending the ceremony in the forest. The man intercepts Goodman Brown in the middle of the dark road, then presides over the ceremony.

Story development:

Goodman Brown says goodbye to his wife, Faith, outside of his house in Salem Village.

He soon comes upon a man in the road who greets Goodman Brown as though he had been expecting him. The two set off to the ceremony on the forest.

Soon he hears the voices of the minister of the church and Deacon Gookin, who are also apparently on their way to the ceremony. Shocked, Goodman Brown swears that even though everyone else in the world has gone to the devil, for Faith’s sake he will stay true to God. However, he soon hears voices coming from the ceremony and thinks he recognizes Faith’s voice.

Conclusion: Arriving back in Salem the next morning, Goodman Brown is uncertain whether his experience was real or only a dream, but he is nevertheless deeply shaken. His view of his neighbors is distorted by his memories of that night. He lives out his days an embittered and suspicious cynical man, wary of everyone around him, including his wife Faith.

Publishing history

Was published in 1835 in New England, a magazine,

In 1846 in Mosses From an Old Manse, a collection of Hawthorne’s stories.

3. Statement of the Problem

The issue that my analysis seeks to address the nature of human beings and the reason that leads to its fall. The same as what happened to the protagonist of the story, “Young Goodman Brown” who entered the “dark forest,” and lost his faith.

4. Justification for my theoretical approach

Yin and yang represent two opposite aspects of every object and its implicit conflict and interdependence. Generally, anything that is moving, ascending, bright, progressing, hyperactive, including functional disease of the body, pertains to yang. The characteristics of stillness, descending, darkness, degeneration, hypoactivity, including organic disease, pertain to yin.

The nature of yin and yang is relative. According to Yin-Yang theory, everything in the universe can be divided into the two opposite but complementary aspects of yin and yang and so on infinitum.

I assume that this theory would help to crystal clear the nature of human, the goodness and badness of people such Young Goodman Brown and the people in his society. Moreover, I would look at the puritan society of his time, through the Puritanism.

5. Analysis

In this part, I would consider issues such as

The history of Puritanism and the references in the story

The Yin-Yang Theory

The nature of Yin-Yang Theory

Religious and philosophical importance

Social goodness: those participating in the ceremony, all used to have a social goodness and that social goodness caused Goodman Brown to trust the people.

System slavery: Goodman Brown did not have any system for himself, so was enslaved by the system of the society.

6. Significance of Analysis

The Fall of Man: Like Eve in the book of Genesis, Goodman Brown cannot help himself from wanting to know what lies behind the mystery of the forest. And like Eve, Goodman Brown is rewarded for his curiosity with information that changes his life for the worse.

The Staff

Faith`s pink ribbon

Devil Temptations

Hypocrisy of the puritan society

7. Conclusion

8. References


Besides the religious theme of “Young Goodman Brown”, I assume that it is a story about the main characterization of the man. It tells the fact that nobody could be totally good or bad. It says that no one should trust the others completely. No one is perfect, no one is a totally angel or a totally evil. I love this story, because what it displays is what actually exists in the world.Thus, in order to be able to unearth it, I am intended to use the theory of Yin-Yang which mainly discusses the nature of human beings. Moreover, I need to look at the puritans’ society too. Because one of the themes of the story.

Psychologist 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 time. 

…….Examples 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).


In the nineteenth century, American writers, including Nathaniel Hawthorne, were influenced by the European Romantic movement but added their own nationalistic twist. The most famous European Romantics included William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and William Blake. The characteristics of the movement, which began in Germany at the beginning of the eighteenth century, included an interest in the power of the individual; an obsession with extreme experiences, including fear, love, and horror; an interest in nature and natural landscapes; and an emphasis on the importance of everyday events. Some writers in America who drew from the Romantic tradition were James Fenimore Cooper, Washington Irving, and the transcendentalists Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. American Romantics in the early nineteenth century tended to celebrate the American landscape and emphasize the idea of the sublime, which glorified their beautiful home country. They also created the concept of an American Romantic hero, who often lived alone in the wilderness, close to the land, such as Cooper’s Leatherstocking or Thoreau himself at Walden Pond.

“Young Goodman Brown” fits into a subgenre of American Romanticism: the gothic or dark romance. Novels and stories of this type feature vivid descriptions of morbid or gloomy events, coupled with emotional or psychological torment. The dark Romantics joined the Romantic movement’s emphasis on emotion and extremity with a gothic sensibility, hoping to create stories that would move readers to fear and question their surroundings. Edgar Allen Poe, who wrote “The Fall of the House of Usher” (1839) and “The Tell-Tale Heart” (1843), was probably the most famous of the writers to work in the American dark Romantic genre. Goodman Brown’s encounter with the devil and battle with the evil within himself are both classic elements of a dark Romance.

Publishing History:

Hawthorne first published “Young Goodman Brown” anonymously in New England magazine in 1835 and again under his own name in his short-story collection Mosses from an Old Manse in 1846. Like most of the stories in Mosses, “Young Goodman Brown” examines Hawthorne’s favorite themes: the loss of religious faith, presence of temptation, and social ills of Puritan communities. These themes, along with the story’s dark, surreal ending, make “Young Goodman Brown” one of the Hawthorne’s most popular short stories. The story is often seen as a precursor to the novels Hawthorne wrote later in his life, including The Scarlet Letter (1850), The House of the Seven Gables (1851), The Blithedale Romance (1852), and The Marble Faun (1860).

3. Statement of the Problem

The issue that my analysis seeks to address the nature of human beings and the reason that leads to its fall. The same as what happened to the protagonist of the story, “Young Goodman Brown” who entered the “dark forest,” and lost his faith.

4. Justification for my theoretical approach

Yin and yang represent two opposite aspects of every object and its implicit conflict and interdependence. Generally, anything that is moving, ascending, bright, progressing, hyperactive, including functional disease of the body, pertains to yang. The characteristics of stillness, descending, darkness, degeneration, hypoactivity, including organic disease, pertain to yin.

The nature of yin and yang is relative. According to Yin-Yang theory, everything in the universe can be divided into the two opposite but complementary aspects of yin and yang and so on infinitum.

I assume that this theory would help to crystal clear the nature of human, the goodness and badness of people such Young Goodman Brown and the people in his society. Moreover, I would look at the puritan society of his time, through the Puritanism.

5. Analysis

In the beginning, I would refer to the history of Puritanism and present some references to the story:

The History of Puritanism

In “Young Goodman Brown,” Hawthorne references three dark events from the Puritans’ history: the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, the Puritan intolerance of the Quakers, and King Philip’s War. During the Salem Witch Trials, one of the most nightmarish episodes in Puritan history, the villagers of Salem killed twenty-five innocent people who were accused of being witches. The witch hunts often involved accusations based on revenge, jealousy, botched child delivery, and other reasons that had little to do with perceived witchcraft. The Puritan intolerance of Quakers occurred during the second half of the seventeenth century. Puritans and Quakers both settled in America, hoping to find religious freedom and start their own colonies where they could believe what they wanted to. However, Puritans began forbidding Quakers from settling in their towns and made it illegal to be a Quaker; their intolerance soon led to imprisonments and hangings. King Philip’s War, the final event referenced in Hawthorne’s story, took place from 1675 to 1676 and was actually a series of small skirmishes between Indians and colonists. Indians attacked colonists at frontier towns in western Massachusetts, and colonists retaliated by raiding Indian villages. When the colonists won the war, the balance of power in the colonies finally tipped completely toward the Puritans.

These historical events are not at the center of “Young Goodman Brown,” which takes place after they occur, but they do inform the action. For example, Hawthorne appropriates the names of Goody Cloyse and Martha Carrier, two of the “witches” killed at Salem, for townspeople in his story. The devil refers to seeing Goodman Brown’s grandfather whipping a Quaker in the streets and handing Goodman Brown’s father a flaming torch so that he could set fire to an Indian village during King Philip’s War. By including these references, Hawthorne reminds the reader of the dubious history of Salem Village and the legacy of the Puritans and emphasizes the historical roots of Goodman Brown’s fascination with the devil and the dark side.

In “Young Goodman Brown,” Hawthorne reveals what he sees as the corruptibility that results from Puritan society’s emphasis on public morality, which often weakens private religious faith. Although Goodman Brown has decided to come into the forest and meet with the devil, he still hides when he sees Goody Cloyse and hears the minister and Deacon Gookin. He seems more concerned with how his faith appears to other people than with the fact that he has decided to meet with the devil. Goodman Brown’s religious convictions are rooted in his belief that those around him are also religious. This kind of faith, which depends so much on other people’s views, is easily weakened. When Goodman Brown discovers that his father, grandfather, Goody Cloyse, the minister, Deacon Gookin, and Faith are all in league with the devil, Goodman Brown quickly decides that he might as well do the same. Hawthorne seems to suggest that the danger of basing a society on moral principles and religious faith lies in the fact that members of the society do not arrive at their own moral decisions. When they copy the beliefs of the people around them, their faith becomes weak and rootless.

In the second step, I am going to discuss about the Fall of Man in “Young Goodman Brown”; however, before that, I would present a description of the theory of Yin-Yang.

The Theory of Yin-Yang

Ancient Chinese people were greatly interested in the relationships and patterns that occurred in nature. Instead of studying isolated things, they viewed the world as a harmonious and holistic entity. In their eyes, no single being or form could exist unless it was seen in relation to its surrounding environment. By simplifying these relationships, they tried to explain complicated phenomena in the universe. Yin yang theory is a kind of logic, which views things in relation to its whole. The theory is based on two basic components: yin and yang, which are neither materials nor energy. They combine in a complementary manner and form a method for explaining relationships between objects. Gradually, this logic was developed into a system of thought that was applied to other areas. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is an example of one area where the yin yang theory is used to understand complicated relationships in the body.

The original concept of yin and yang came from the observation of nature and the environment. “Yin” originally referred to the shady side of a slope while “yang” referred to the sunny side. Later, this thinking was used in understanding other occurrences, which occurred in pairs and had complementary and opposing characteristics in nature. Some examples include: sky and earth, day and night, water and fire, active and passive, male and female and so on. Working with these ideas, ancient people recognized nearly all things could have yin and yang properties. Yin and yang can describe two relative aspects of the same phenomena such as the example of the slope, or they can describe two different objects like sky and earth. Usually, yang is associated with energetic qualities. For example, movement, outward and upward direction, heat, brightness, stimulation, activity and excitement are all yang qualities. Yin, on the other hand, is associated with the physical form of an object and has less energetic qualities such as rest, inward and downward direction, cold, darkness, condensation, inhibition, and nourishment.

See Table below for a description of yin and yang characteristics:

Examples of Yin Yang Pairs



















Physiological functions




According to this theory, Yin -Yang are complementary opposites that interact within a greater whole, as part of a dynamic system. Everything has both yin and yang aspects, but either of these aspects may manifest more strongly in particular objects, and may ebb or flow over time. The concept of yin and yang is often symbolized by various forms of the Taijitu symbol, for which it is probably best known in western cultures.

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There is a perception, especially in the West, that yin and yang correspond to good and evil but not respectively. However, Taoist philosophy generally discounts good/bad distinctions and other dichotomous moral judgments, in preference to the idea of balance. Confucianism (most notably the philosophy of Dong Zhongshu, circa the second century BCE) did attach a moral dimension to the idea of yin and yang, but the modern sense of the term largely stems from Buddhist adaptations of Taoist philosophy (Taylor, Rodney Leon (2005). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Confucianism, Vol. 2. New York: Rosen Publishing Group. p. 869).

The nature of yin-yang

In Taoist philosophy, yin and yang arise together from an initial quiescence or emptiness (wuji, sometimes symbolized by an empty circle), and continue moving in tandem until quiescence is reached again. For instance, dropping a stone in a calm pool of water will simultaneously raise waves and lower troughs between them, and this alternation of high and low points in the water will radiate outward until the movement dissipates and the pool is calm once more. Yin and yang are thus are always opposite and equal qualities. Further, whenever one quality reaches its peak, it will naturally begin to transform into the opposite quality: for example, grain that reaches its full height in summer (fully yang) will produce seeds and die back in winter (fully yin) in an endless cycle.

It is impossible to talk about yin or yang without some reference to the opposite, since yin and yang are bound together as parts of a mutual whole (i.e. you cannot have the back of a hand without the front). A way to illustrate this idea is to postulate the notion of a race with only men or only women; this race would disappear in a single generation. Yet, men and women together create new generations that allow the race they mutually create (and mutually come from) to survive. The interaction of the two gives birth to things( http://www.iep.utm.edu/y/yinyang.htm). Yin and yang transform each other: like an undertow in the ocean, every advance is complemented by a retreat, and every rise transforms into a fall. Thus, a seed will sprout from the earth and grow upwards towards the sky – an intrinsically yang movement. Then, when it reaches its full potential height, it will fall.

Religious and philosophical importance

The Taijitu and concept of the Zhou period reach into family and gender relations. Yin is female and yang is male. They fit together as two parts of a whole.From a philosophical standpoint practitioners of Zen Yoga see yin-yang as a flow. The Taijitu is one of the oldest and best-known life symbols in the world, but few understand its full meaning. It represents one of the most fundamental and profound theories of ancient Taoist philosophy. At its heart are the two poles of existence, which are opposite but complementary. The light, white Yang moving up blends into the dark, black Yin moving down. Yin and Yang are dependent opposing forces that flow in a natural cycle, always seeking balance. Though they are opposing, they are not in opposition to one another. As part of the Tao, they are merely two aspects of a single reality. Each contains the seed of the other, which is why we see a black spot of Yin in the white Yang and vice versa. They do not merely replace each other but actually become each other through the constant flow of the universe (Hoopes, Aaron (2007). Zen Yoga: A Path to Enlightenment though Breathing, Movement and Meditation. Kodansha International).

Social Goodness

I assume that the big mistake of Young Goodman Brown was his over trusting to his society and the religious people. As he gets shocked when the traveller tells him:

“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.”This implies that he even does not dare to think of his governor to be wrong.

System Slavery

As a matter of fact, Young Goodman Brown was the slave of his society because he had no standards for his judgment, in other word, he was fed by his society and government; as it is said:

“Have a system for yourself, unless would be the slave of the others.”

I personally believe that everyone should find God in his own way and for themselves not by the food of the society or people.

Significance of Analysis

From the moment he steps into the forest, Goodman Brown voices his fear of the wilderness, seeing the forest as a place where no good is possible. In this he echoes the dominant point of view of seventeenth-century Puritans, who believed that the wild New World was something to fear and then dominate. Goodman Brown, like other Puritans, associates the forest with the wild “Indians” and sees one hiding behind every tree. He believes that the devil could easily be present in such a place-and he eventually sees the devil himself, just as he had expected. He considers it a matter of family honor that his forefathers would never have walked in the forest for pleasure, and he is upset when the devil tells him that this was not the case. He himself is ashamed to be seen walking in the forest and hides when Goody Cloyse, the minister, and Deacon Gookin pass. The forest is characterized as devilish, frightening, and dark, and Goodman Brown is comfortable in it only after he has given in to evil.

Female purity, a favorite concept of Americans in the nineteenth century, is the steadying force for Goodman Brown as he wonders whether to renounce his religion and join the devil. When he takes leave of Faith at the beginning of the story, he swears that after this one night of evildoing, he will hold onto her skirts and ascend to heaven. This idea, that a man’s wife or mother will redeem him and do the work of true religious belief for the whole family, was popular during Hawthorne’s time. Goodman Brown clings to the idea of Faith’s purity throughout his trials in the forest, swearing that as long as Faith remains holy, he can find it in himself to resist the devil. When Goodman Brown finds that Faith is present at the ceremony, it changes all his ideas about what is good or bad in the world, taking away his strength and ability to resist. Female purity was such a powerful idea in Puritan New England that men relied on women’s faith to shore up their own. When even Faith’s purity dissolves, Goodman Brown loses any chance to resist the devil and redeem his faith.

Hypocrisy of the puritan society

“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.”

In this passage, which appears halfway through the story, Goodman Brown sees the ceremony and the dark side of Salem Village. The transgression of social boundaries is one of the most confusing and upsetting aspects of the ceremony. The Puritans had made a society that was very much based on morality and religion, in which status came from having a high standing in the church and a high moral reputation among other townspeople. When Goodman Brown tells the devil at the beginning of the story that he is proud of his father and grandfather’s high morals and religious convictions, he is describing how the society in which he lives values these traits above all others. When Goodman Brown sees the mingling of these two different types of people at the ceremony, he is horrified: the ceremony reveals the breakdown of the social order, which he believed was ironclad. Hawthorne is pointing out the hypocrisy of a society that prides itself on its moral standing and makes outcasts of people who do not live up to its standards.

The Fall of Man

Young Goodman Brown” functions as an allegory of the fall of man, from which Hawthorne draws to illustrate what he sees as the inherent fallibility and hypocrisy in American religion. Hawthorne sets up a story of a man who is tempted by the devil and succumbs because of his curiosity and the weakness of his faith. Like Eve in the book of Genesis, Goodman Brown cannot help himself from wanting to know what lies behind the mystery of the forest. And like Eve, Goodman Brown is rewarded for his curiosity with information that changes his life for the worse. In the course of the ceremony in the forest, the devil tells Goodman Brown and Faith that their eyes will now be opened to the wickedness of themselves and those around them. Adam and Eve were exiled from the Garden of Eden and forced to undergo all the trials and tribulations of being human, and Goodman Brown returns from the forest to find that the joy in life has been taken away from him. He has become suspicious of those around him, even the woman he once loved.

The Staff

The devil’s staff, which is encircled by a carved serpent, draws from the biblical symbol of the serpent as an evil demon. In the Book of Genesis, the serpent tempts Eve to taste the fruit from the forbidden tree, defying God’s will and bringing his wrath upon humanity. When the devil tells Goodman Brown to use the staff to travel faster, Goodman Brown takes him up on the offer and, like Eve, is ultimately condemned for his weakness by losing his innocence. Besides representing Eve’s temptation, the serpent represents her curiosity, which leads her into that temptation. Goodman Brown’s decision to come into the forest is motivated by curiosity, as was Eve’s decision to eat the forbidden fruit. The staff makes clear that the old man is more demon than human and that Goodman Brown, when he takes the staff for himself, is on the path toward evil as well.

Faith’s Pink Ribbons

The pink ribbons that Faith puts in her cap represent her purity. The color pink is associated with innocence and gaiety, and ribbons themselves are a modest, innocent decoration. Hawthorne mentions Faith’s pink ribbons several times at the beginning of the story, imbuing her character with youthfulness and happiness. He reintroduces the ribbons when Goodman Brown is in the forest, struggling with his doubts about the goodness of the people he knows. When the pink ribbon flutters down from the sky, Goodman Brown perceives it as a sign that Faith has definitely fallen into the realm of the devil-she has shed this sign of her purity and innocence. At the end of the story, when Faith greets Goodman Brown as he returns from the forest, she is wearing her pink ribbons again, suggesting her return to the figure of innocence she presented at the beginning of the story and casting doubts on the veracity of Goodman Brown’s experiences.

In the story, Faith both refers to Goodman Brown`s wife and his faith. We see that in the end of the story, when Faith greets him he does not reply because he has lost both his faith and his love to his wife.

Devil`s temptations

“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.”

This passage, in which Goodman Brown gives up on trying resisting the devil’s temptations, takes up the devil’s staff, and makes his way toward the ceremony, appears about a third of the way into the story. It suggests that some of the shame and horror Goodman Brown feels when he returns to Salem Village may come from his feeling of weakness at having succumbed to evil. Goodman Brown resists the devil while he still believes that various members of his family and community are godly, but when he is shown, one by one, that they are all servants of the devil, he gives in to his dark side completely and grabs the devil’s staff. The change that comes over him after either waking up from his dream or returning from the ceremony can be explained partially by his shame at having fallen so quickly and dramatically into evil.

“…As nearly as could be discerned, the second traveler 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.”

According to the Yin-Yang theory, the devil is a part of human beings and that was true for Goodman Brown too.

“By the sympathy of your human hearts for sin ye shall scent out all the places-whether in church, bedchamber, 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.”

Near the end of the story, the devil promises Goodman Brown and Faith that they’ll have a new outlook on life, one that emphasizes the sinning nature of all humanity, and condemns Goodman Brown to a life of fear and outrage at the doings of his fellow man. This dark view of life is a complete turnaround from the ideas that Goodman Brown had held at the beginning of the story. Then, he thought of his family as godly; Faith as perfectly pure; and the Reverend, Deacon, and Goody Cloyse as models of morality. The devil ultimately shows him that his views are naïve and gives him the ability to see the dark side in any human context. When Goodman Brown returns to the village, he trusts no one. As the devil’s speech suggests, Goodman Brown has seen the evil in every human, and once he has started seeing it, he cannot stop.



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