The Conflict of Good and Evil in Young Goodman Brown by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Nathaniel Hawthorne draws on his puritanical upbringing in the story Young Goodman Brown. His familiarity with Puritans and the Salem Witch Trials probably inspired the underlying religious theme of the story. Although the story can be construed as the descent of man from Christian purity to evil as reflected by Goodman Brown being seduced by the devil, one may feel that much of the story revolves around the idea of the conflict between good and evil. In this story there is a great deal of religious symbolism not only in the names of characters, eg Goodman (implying he is a good man), and Faith (the wife), but also inherent in the behaviors of the characters and imagery conjured up by descriptions of the scene.

The setting being Salem village is symbolic of a fight over what is good versus evil, since one thinks of the Salem Witch Trials The conflict between good and evil is thus apparent in Young Goodman Brown and other Christians discussed in this story.

Characters and religious symbols in the story are evidence for the conflict of good and eviL Young Goodman Brown is a character that initially is innocent and assumes people are either good or evil, and that he is not evil, yet he is morbidly curious about the devil. The name of his wife, Faith has a double meaning, also signifying his faith in his religion She is said to be “aptly named”, implying in the beginning that she is pure of heart. When Goodman Brown says “Faith kept me back”, he means his wife and his religious beliefs.

Get quality help now
Marrie pro writer

Proficient in: Christianity

5 (204)

“ She followed all my directions. It was really easy to contact her and respond very fast as well. ”

+84 relevant experts are online
Hire writer

The staff which resembles a serpent is a biblical symbol, and when the fellow traveler offers the staff (serpent) to Goodman, it is akin to the snake tempting Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Before taking the staff Goodman Brown hesitates indicating his growing conflict within himself of good versus eviL Similarly, Goodman Brown is late in meeting the fellow traveler (devil), again reiterating the conflict with good versus evil.

However, it soon becomes apparent that there is no absolute good or absolute evil since already at the start, Goodman Brown gives in to temptation and literally and figuratively undertakes a journey from lightness to darkness. Lightness turns to darkness as the men travel into the woods with “deep dusk in the forest” and “deepest to where these two were journeying” (Hawthorne 625). There is in the dark, only shapes visible with red flames and light when Goodman Brown reaches the sinnerst The dark shapes and red colors symbolize evil. He makes the final decision to go forwards after believing that he hears his wife Faith and that she has turned towards evil. When he cries out “My Faith is gone!” he references his wife and his belief in God, Goodman Brown starts to lose faith when he encounters prominent Christians who are now shown as evil, for instance, Goody Cloyse, (who taught him about Christianity), Deacon Gookin, (his pastor), and the minister, Goodman Brown is confused when he sees these “holy men…journeying into the heathen wilderness.

This upsets and confuses him more, In the end he is unsure if this is a dream or reality, and is never the same again Hawthorne describes how Salem townspeople are defined as either good or evil and “pious and ungodly”, either “met at the communion table” or “rioting at the tavern”. There is a distinct dichotomy in how people are defined by others, Hawthorne describes the hypocrisy of the pious people of Salem who are attending the witchesvmeeting, and that “Evil is the natureof mankind”. This is a cautionary tale to not assume that people are entirely good or evil and to realize that one may be tempted into evil, including naive and hypocritical Christians. Young Goodman Brown and other Christians discussed in this story demonstrate how some people are routinely conflicted by good and evil impulses.

Cite this page

The Conflict of Good and Evil in Young Goodman Brown by Nathaniel Hawthorne. (2023, May 14). Retrieved from

Let’s chat?  We're online 24/7