In writing the story, Hawthorne intended to address the incessant struggle between good and evil that resides in mankind. Constantly, man is torn between the good and evil, right and wrong, and faith and despair. Hawthorne intends to illustrate these factors through his characters.
Faith, Brown’s wife is one such character. However, her name does not fit her personality because ultimately, she ostensibly succumbs to the temptations of evil. Regardless, Brown has absolute faith in his wife. His faith in her goodness and innocence empowers him to resist the devil on her account. Notably, Faith wears pink ribbons to signify her innocence.
The old man whom Brown meets is an older version of himself. There is an indisputable resemblance between them besides the fact that the man is seemingly worldlier. The old man’s staff represents the path towards evil. However, Brown’s own conscience leads him forward as a manifestation of the inherent pull of evil on mankind. Brown takes the night’s journey to indulge his darker version. He is curious about what lurks in the darkness and decides to explore. In retrospect, Brown should have stayed at home. While his life would not have been completely peaceful, his faith in Faith and others would have been sustained in ignorance.
Hawthorne’s message to his contemporary audience was that some things are better left unknown. Brown’s experience was too extraordinary to be confined in a dream. He awakened in the forest alone. “…he found himself amid calm night and solitude, listening to a roar of the wind which died heavily away through the forest” (Hawthorne 21). Hawthorne uses several symbols. Faith represents goodness and innocence in the face of evil. Additionally, the old man symbolizes alternate versions of ourselves that are considerably more experienced. Conversely, the old man may also symbolize the darkness that resides within each individual and draws man toward evil. ‘The woods’ serve as the setting of evil in the story. Essentially, the woods are the point of convergence of all wicked people in Salem.
Eventually, Brown has undergone a struggle between good and evil within himself. He emerges victorious but loses his faith in people. His life is meaningless and yet he remains uncertain as to whether his judgements of his wife and fellow villagers is justifiable or not.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. Young Goodman Brown. 1835. Print.