The University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Department of English

Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-64),
"Young Goodman Brown" (1835)

Life: One of Hawthorne’s ancestors was a judge in Salem witchcraft trials; his sea captain father died when he was 4; he spent time as an adolescent in hiking and reading eighteenth century writers, such as Henry Fielding, Horace Walpole (author of the Gothic horror story The Castle of Otranto), William Godwin (author of Caleb Williams, story of a man at first haunted by false accusations, who later turns to oppressing others) and the contemporary Walter Scott, historical novelist who authored The Waverley Novels. At Bowdoin College, Maine, he joined the college Democratic literary society and met Franklin Pierce and other lifelong friends.

Hawthorne’s literary career illustrates the difficulties early nineteenth century American authors faced in earning a living by imaginative writing. Between 1825-37 he wrote several works, including the historical novel Fanshawe and the story collection Seven Tales of My Native Land, for which he was unable to find a publisher and whose texts he eventually destroyed. After another abortive attempt to publish a frame narrative, The Story Teller, which included the tale "Young Goodman Brown," he published anonymously in literary annuals and periodicals. "Young Goodman Brown," for example, first appeared in The New-England Magazine in 1835. Finally a publisher was willing to issue Twice-Told Tales in 1837 under his signature.

Hawthorne married Sophia Peabody in 1842, who bore a son and two daughters. To support his family he worked as surveyor of the Port of Salem, an appointment received as a reward for service to the local Democrats, and after losing this job when the government changed in 1849, he turned to writing his best-known novel, The Scarlet Letter (1850), a tale of the illicit passion and guilt of a Puritan minister, and the effects of his denial and concealment on himself, his former lover Hester Prynne, and their child Pearl. Two more novels and a collection of stories followed, The House of the Seven Gables (1851), The Blithedale Romance (1852) and The Tanglewood Tales (1853), after which he was appointed American counsul at Liverpool by his friend Franklin Pierce, now president. After five years as counsul and travel in Italy, the setting of The Marble Faun (1860), Hawthorne returned to the U. S. in 1860 on the eve of the Civil War, published a series of sketches of England, Our Old Home (1863), and began several literary projects broken off at his death in 1864. Hawthorne is noted for his mingled critique and embodiment of the preocupations of New England puritanism--guilt, sin, concealment, isolation, introspection, ambiguity and ambivalence.

"Young Goodman Brown"

  1. What is the significance of the title? What may have been Hawthorne’s motive in naming his protagonist "Young Goodman Brown," rather than, say, Miles Bradford? What is the significance of his wife’s name?
  2. What are some features of the author’s style? What are some examples of indirection? Irony? ("mumbling some indistinct words, a prayer, doubtless," 616) Humor? Overt allegory?
  3. When does the narrator enter the story, and what effect does this have?
  4. What do we learn about Goodman Brown’s wife at the beginning of the story? What do we know about Brown’s motives for leaving his wife? ("as if a dream had warned her what work is to be done to-night. But, no, no! ‘t would kill her to think it," 614).
  5. What symbolism is associated with nature and the forest?
  6. What is the tone of the tale’s several references to Native Americans? (e. g., 614, 615, 618, 620) With what rites are they associated?
  7. What thoughts prompt the appearance of Goodman Brown’s guide? What are some of his strange qualities? Why, for example, does he resemble an older version of Brown himself, and carry a snake-like staff? (614-615) Are the narrator’s descriptions always an accurate guide to events? (e. g., "This, of course, must have been an occular deception, assisted by the uncertain light," 615).
  8. What means does the devil use to persuade Brown to continue his journey to the devil’s baptism? What are the stages of Brown’s gradual disillusionment? Whom does he encounter on his journey? (615-16, 618) What do many of these secret sinners seem to have in common?
  9. Why doesn’t Brown turn back, as he resolves to do? (617) What different accounts of the devil’s communion does he hear on his journey? Does the reader receive clues as to what he will find there? ("there is a goodly young woman to be taken into communion," 618).
  10. What sound drives Brown to further despair? (618) What comments on human nature does this prompt the narrator to make? ("The road grew wilder . . . leaving him in the heart of the dark wilderness, still rushing onward, with the instinct that guides mortal man to evil. . . . But he was himself the chief horror of the scene, and shrank not from its other horrors. . . . The fiend in his own shape is less hideous, than when he rages in the breast of man," 618).
  11. How is the devil’s service and congregation described? (619-21) How is the natural setting altered for this event? (620) What specific sins does the devil promise the potential communicant he will learn to recognize? (621) What deeper mysteries will he come to understand? ("ye. . . shall exult to behold the whole earth one stain of guilt, one mighty blood-spot. . . . It shall be yours to penetrate, in every bosom, the deep mystery of sin" [621]).
  12. If they consent to the devil’s "baptism," what evil fate will overtake Goodman Brown and Faith? (621)
  13. By what act does Goodman Brown break the evil spell? What is the effect of his words on Faith? Why does he abjure her to resist evil, rather than himself? In what state does he find himself after his shout of resistance?
  14. What events trouble Goodman Brown on his walk home? How does Faith greet him?
  15. What lasting effect does Brown’s experience have on him, on his perception of others, and on his family life? What expected solace is absent from his tombstone? On what basis does the narrator say of him, "his dying hour was gloom."

Final Questions:

  1. What is added to the story by the narrator’s comments?
  2. What seems to be the allegorical significance of the story? Which aspects of the story seem most directly relevant to seventeenth-century New England, and which suggest general themes?
  3. Which aspects of Puritanism does the tale seem to critique? Which aspects does it seem to replicate or embody?
  4. Which aspects of the story seem to suggest psychological readings? What kinds of "sin" seem to preoccupy the protagonist and narrator? Are there other aspects of morality/religious attitudes outside the scope of the tale?
  5. What relationship between imagination and reality is presented by the story?
  6. Did you like "Young Goodman Brown"? What are ways in which it is well-written? What passages did you most admire?
  7. Are there aspects of this tale which remind you of "Rip Van Winkle"? What are some contrasts between the two stories, e. g. in their responses to nature? portrayal of women? moral concerns? approach toward history?
  8. What values might Irving and Hawthorne have shared?

some web addresses: Irving: and;

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