In “Young Goodman Brown”, Nathanial Hawthorne uses the literary device of symbolism as a means of conveying the theme of original sin existing in society, and within everyone. He brings his main character on a journey through a symbolic forest, using the imagery and connotations of the forest to give insight into the main character’s awakening to the evil surrounding him, the sin existent within the hearts of everyone around him, and within himself.
Hawthorne’s use of symbolism leaders the protagonist into an awakening that evil is existent even in the most unexpected places, including the world immediately around him.
At the beginning of the story, we see Goodman Brown naively admiring the world he lives in and his own way of life in Puritan society. He is reluctant to leave his home and his wife, Faith, and when he does he takes what he described as “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”.
The character begins his awakening to the evil just beyond his front door at this point, represented by the dark forest that seems to envelope him, taking him to a point of no return away from the innocence of his life just moments before. In the forest, Goodman Brown encounters many people with whom he grew up respecting and admiring for their faith and righteousness, yet their appearance in the forest leads him to the realization that they have a sinful nature.
The connotations surrounding the forest (the darkness, the unknown, the fear) lead us to this conclusion as well, as we see people in his life interact comfortably with the man representing evil and all gathering at “the communion” of their race, led by the strange man who seems like a symbol of Satan. It is obvious that at this point the author is trying to relay his view that all humans possess an evil side, and trying to convey a message about original sin because the man representing the devil resembles Goodman Brown’s father, a symbol of how it transfers from parent to child naturally.
When Goodman Brown is cursed with the ability to “penetrate, in every bosom, the deep mystery of sin, the fountain of all wicked arts”, he is able to see the sin existing in all of the people he once esteemed. Yet, it was not only their sin he became aware of, but also that within himself. Early in the story we are shown the faith he had, represented by his wife, and how he clung to it, but as he comes to realize the condition of others he sees the same condition within himself.
The ‘dark man’ brings him on a journey through the forest as a means of taking him away from that faith, and when his wife Faith shows up at the gathering in the woods as well, we see his resistance to sin wear down because he realizes that his faith and sin must coexist together within himself. During the congregation scene in the woods with the ‘dark man’ leading, Hawthorne describes the meeting place as “one extremity of an open space, hemmed in by the dark wall of the forest”, a place closed to the outside world beyond the trees.
It is as if the author is using this smaller space in the forest as a representation of Goodman Brown himself, and the fact evil and his Faith exist together in the world as a means of showing us what the protagonist is discovering. In the story “Young Goodman Brown”, Hawthorne creates a moral allegory that uses the darkness and unknown nature of the forest to represent the new insight into human nature that Goodman Brown develops by the end of the story.
He is described in the last paragraph as “a stern, sad, darkly meditative, and distrustful, if not desperate, man” from that point on. The author allows the reader to figure out for himself that the dark, dreary, gloomy forest was the symbol of evil within the world as a whole and when the main character could no longer ignore that, he could no longer enjoy the other side of his nature, or the good within anyone else within his life.