Self-rejection and Self-damnation in Young Goodman Brown
In "Young Goodman Brown," the story's protagonist embarks on a metaphorical errand on which he plans to confront the evil within himself. Unprepared to accept this as part of his human nature, he instead rejects it, ultimately prescribing his own doom.
The fantastic spirit of Young Goodman's travel is revealed at the story's outset, when he holds an appointment with a mysterious individual and must leave his wife, Faith, behind for the adventure. When he departs, his "Faith" protests: "pray thee, put off your journey," she pleads, fearing the possibility that he may not return. This is the first element of the metaphor: Brown's spiritual, Christian self risks being overwhelmed on this errand, revealing the journey's introspective nature. Author Hawthorne later reemphasizes this idea when Brown meets with his older self, who asks why Brown is late for their rendezvous. "Faith kept me back awhile," he responds, admitting his initial hesitation.
Though Goodman Brown balks at making this spiritual trek without the security of his religious virtue, he must make it alone: he cannot allow the bias of his Christian upbringing to confuse the true strength of his character, for he likely regards this journey as a cleansing. "After this one night," he says of Faith, "I'll cling to her skirts and follow her into Heaven." He feels he must first face his demons to deserve entry into the kingdom of God.
When Brown encounters the shadowy figure with whom he has planned his journey, Hawthorne makes it quite clear that the stranger is in some way a reflection of Goodman Brown: "the second traveler was about fifty years old, apparently in the same rank of life as Goodman Brown... they might have been taken for father and son." Hawthorne also later refers to this figure as "the shape of old Goodman Brown," verifying his ethereal relationship to Brown.
As Brown interacts with this figure, Hawthorne offers us telling clues to his identity. Though Brown appears to be familiar with the character, neither he nor Hawthorne refers to the subject by name. His staff resembles "a great black snake" or "living serpent." The serpent is a popular image of Satan; he takes the form of a snake to deceive Adam and Eve in Eden. Additionally, Hawthorne later refers to him as "the fiend." Whether his resemblance to Brown is an illusion or a metaphor is moot; he either represents the evil within Brown, or he represents the Devil: the evil within us all.
Another essential element is Hawthorne's use of staffs, which do more than simply identify the devil. Brown sees Deacon Goodkin pluck a switch, Goody Cloyse cannot find her broomstick, and both Brown's father and grandfather use lengths of wood in the evil deeds recalled by the devil. As the devil exposes the evil in each of these characters, Brown takes for granted that they are evil at heart. Accordingly, the staffs may be used to represent this...