Believing Lies: Satan’s dishonesty casts doubt and ruins Young Goodman Brown

25th November, 2010

Goodman

Young Goodman Brown needs to make a choice. He can either stay the night with Faith, his wife of three months, or set out into the dark forest to meet the devil. Faith pleads with him to stay. She says, "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 afeared of herself sometimes" (Hawthorne 1). He shows some reluctance, but Goodman Brown decides to journey with the evil being. He discovers that many of his townspeople and local spiritual leaders have joined the evil gathering deep into the forest.

To his surprise, he realizes his wife has also joined the communion. Since he has now lost his Faith, Brown continues with the procession. After he and his wife take part in the rituals, Young Goodman Brown instantly finds himself standing alone in the forest next to a cold, wet rock (Hawthorne 7). The circumstance confuses Young Goodman Brown. He wonders if his experience was reality or a dream. Nevertheless, he accepts his visions as truth. For the rest of his life, he becomes a cynical man and does not trust anyone. He even doubts Faith. Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story, set in seventeenth century Salem, Mass. during the Salem Witch Trials, ends with the statement that reads, "And when he had lived long, and was borne to his grave, [...] they carved no hopeful verse upon his tombstone, for his dying hour was gloom" (Hawthorne 8).

Most scholars have generalized "Young Goodman Brown" as an allegory about the discovery of evil, the true nature of humanity (Bell 3). Since the story's establishment in 1835, however, many critics have debated whether Young Goodman Brown experiences a real gathering of the devil and the townspeople or dreams the entire incident. David Levin argues that the devil actually deceived Brown into "accepting counterfeit evidence, and [Goodman Brown] fails to insist on the difference between a person and a person's 'shape,' or specter" (344). Paul J. Hurley thinks Levin's idea "is comforting but not convincing. To take guilt away from human beings in order to place on infernal powers is not a satisfactory explanation of the story” (411). Once the truth about the devil and human nature are understood, one can see that both the devil and Goodman Brown should be blamed for the story's somber outcome. The devil lied to Goodman Brown. However, the new husband also made himself vulnerable to the evil one's deception.

Before further exploring "Young Goodman Brown," readers should have an understanding of the devil. Since Hawthorne wrote about the late seventeenth century Calvinist view of the devil, let us assume that the devil in his short story mirrors the one of the Holy Bible. Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia describes Satan as a traditional opponent of God and humanity in Judaism and Christianity. In Scripture and in literature--most notably in John Milton's Paradise Lost--the devil is often called the Father of Lies. Jesus says Satan has "no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks of his own; for he is a liar, and the father of it" (John 8:44-45).

In Hebrew, the term satan means "false accuser" or "evil adversary" and originated from the verb that means "to harass" and "deceive" (Lenchak 277). Satan once held the position of God's greatest angel under the name Lucifer, which translates from Latin to "light-bearer" (Columbia 1). Although God cast him and many fallen angels out of heaven for their rebellion, Lucifer and his demons did not lose their supernatural influences and abilities. The Bible informs us that "some have entertained angels without even knowing," suggesting Satan and other angelic beings can manifest themselves into images of humans or animals (Heb. 13:2). Actually, the first time the devil makes an appearance in the Bible, he becomes a serpent and convinces Eve to eat the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge and commit humankind's first sin (Gen. 3:1-5).

The devil's deception may not be easy to detect because he "disguises himself as an angel of light" (2 Cor. 11:14). Satan uses these tactics to brainwash Young Goodman Brown into believing that his visions are true. Most Christian leaders tell their followers to study and learn the Scriptures well enough to detect the devil’s temptations. When Goodman Brown leaves his wife for the night to seek evil, he shows his lack of dedication to Faith. He ultimately believes the lies about his neighbors. Goodman Brown wrongly accepts the devil's deception as truth, even though speaking the truth is completely against the evil one's character. The Bible says the devil "comes only to steal and kill and destroy" (John 10:10). Satan accomplishes his goal through his lies by ruining Young Goodman Brown's faith in God, himself, his neighbors, and his family.

Hawthorne gives readers many examples in "Young Goodman Brown" of the devil concocting false images, or spectral evidence. During the Salem Witch Trials in 1692, Chief Justice William Stoughton allowed spectral evidence--a form of evidence based upon dreams and visions--to be admitted into court (Geis 28). The Rev. Cotton Mather cautioned leaders against convicting people with such allegations "since it was possible for the devil to take the shape of an innocent person" (Tindall 121). Since "Young Goodman Brown" takes place during the time of the Salem Witch Trials, it would be unfair for critics to dismiss the use of specters in Hawthorne's short story.

Goodman Brown's actions dictate Satan's illusions. When Goodman Brown enters the forest "to indulge in sin," he actually encourages the devil to appear and to begin his deceptive tactics (Levin 347). Goodman Brown exclaims, "What if the devil himself should be at my very elbow!" (Hawthorne 1). Satan appears "in the very image of my old gossip, goodman Brown" so he could better influence the young, naïve man (Hawthorne 4). If Satan can morph himself into an image like that of Goodman Brown, then nothing can stop him from taking the shape of others. Goodman Brown does resist the devil several times, especially when Satan claims to personally know his Christian father and grandfather. Goodman Brown's resistance, however, leads to pride. When he gets arrogant about his ability to reject the devil, he displays an evil trait. The Bible regards pride as an anti-Christian quality (James 4:6). Goodman Brown’s pride weakens his discernment and defense against Satan's lies.

Richard Fogle says the devil now "progressively undermine[s] the young man's faith in the institutions and the [people] whom he has heretofore revered" (17). Along the path, Satan creates specters of his catechism teacher Goody Cloyse, his spiritual adviser Deacon Gookin, and others to create doubt in Goodman Brown's mind. He “hears disembodied voices and cannot see 'so much as a shadow,' but he could have sworn--as witnesses in 1692 did swear--that he recognized the deacon and minister 'talking so strangely in the air'" (Levin 348). The evil one even mentions his ancestors' mistreatment of the Indians and Quakers to "induce despair" and to make Goodman Brown believe men are so wicked that they cannot possibly be saved from sin (Levin 348). Goodman Brown also makes the mistake of verbalizing his thoughts to the devil.

Once Satan knows where Goodman Brown stands, the devil makes his calculated moves. When Goodman Brown doubts that "there really [is] a heaven above," the devil just has to make him doubt his Faith to permanently reel him into the evil world (Hawthorne 5). Goodman Brown suddenly hears the illusion of Faith's voice from "a black mass of cloud" that quickly moves across the sky and "the brightening stars" with no wind to push it along (Hawthorne 5). Goodman Brown calls on Faith in distress, but the echoes of the forest conjured by the devil mock him (Levin 348). Satan "sends his final argument, Faith's pink ribbon, as her voice fades with laughter of friends" (Levin 348). Leo Levy describes Faith pinks ribbons as "an explicit link between two conceptions of Faith, connecting sweet little Faith of the village with the woman who stands at the devil's baptismal font" (123).

Satan isn't yet completely satisfied. More specters cause Goodman Brown to fall so deep into doubt that he cannot overcome the false illusions he witnesses. Once Goodman Brown reaches the evil gathering, he sees many Salem Village church members, a figure of the minister, "the shape of his own dead father," "dim features" of his mother, and the "slender form" of his wife Faith (Hawthorne 5). Goodman Brown, still somehow clinging to a sliver of hope, demands Faith to "look up to heaven and resist the evil one" (Hawthorne 5). Goodman Brown does manage to make the devil flee and the evil meeting to disappear, but he never finds out if Faith obeyed him. The uncertainty of Faith's decision leaves everlasting doubt in Goodman Brown's mind about everyone around him.

The devil's lies and Goodman Brown’s own doubt cause the young man to distrust his entire community. Satan, through his high "spectral quality" of lies has captured Goodman Brown's soul (Levin 351). Goodman Brown becomes so overtaken by anger and speculation that he becomes just as evil as the devil for the rest of his life. Since he no longer trusts his spiritual leaders, Goodman Brown cannot seek counsel about his experiences of the fateful night in the woods. Only his doubt can guide him, and he believes the lie of people sinning when they are not. The "lack of tears" on Goodman Brown's face when he awakens from the visions represents "the outward sign of an inward reality, posits the absence of the innate love and humility that would have made possible Brown's moral and spiritual progression" (Easterly 340).

The devil can only take a soul that's given to him, but he will attempt every dishonest tactic possible to lead one astray. That's what happens to Goodman Brown. By believing the devil’s lies, Goodman Brown has lost his life. He has lost his soul. He has lost his Faith. “‘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 world given” (Hawthorne 6).

Works Cited

Bell, Michael Davitt. Hawthorne and the Historical Romance of New England. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1971: 77.

Easterley, Joan Elizabeth. “‘Lachrymal imagery in Hawthorne’s ‘Young Goodman Brown.’” Studies in Short Fiction 28.3 (1991): 339. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 15 Apr. 2010.

Fogle, Richard Harter. Hawthorne's Fiction: The Light and the Dark. Norman: University of Oklahoma. 1964.

Geis, Gilbert; Bunn Ivan. A Trial of Witches: A Seventeenth-century Witchcraft Prosecution. 1997. New York: Routledge.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. "Young Goodman Brown." 1835. Stable URL: http://www.online-literature.com/poe/158/.

The Holy Bible. New King James Version.

Hurley, Paul J. "Young Goodman Brown's 'Heart of Darkness.'" American Literature 37.4 (Jan. 1966): 410-419. Duke University Press. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2923136.

Lenchak, Timothy A. "What's Biblical about…the Devil?." Bible Today 47.4 (2009): 277-279. American Literature 34.3 (1962): 344. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 16 Apr. 2010.

Levin, David. "Shadows of Doubt: Specter Evidence in Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown.." Studies in Short Fiction 28.3 (1991): 339. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 16 Apr. 2010.

Levy, Leo B. “The Problem of Faith in ‘Young Goodman Brown’” Journal of English and Germanic Philology. 74.3 (July 1975): 375-387. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 17 Apr. 2010.

"Satan." Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th Edition (2009): 1. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 14 Apr. 2010.

Tindall, George Brown and David Emory Shi. "The Devil In New England." America: A Narrative History. 7th ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. 2007. 128.007. 128

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