Exploration of Hypocrisy in "Young Goodman Brown"

Categories: Young Goodman Brown

Themes within a story serve as conduits through which authors convey their perspectives on various subjects. In Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown," the central theme revolves around the insidious nature of hypocrisy. This essay delves into the intricate ways Hawthorne illustrates how hypocrisy can transform an individual negatively.

The Dark Forest Symbolism

From the outset, the forest emerges as a powerful symbol representing evil within the narrative. Its darkness mirrors the nefarious deeds that transpire. As Goodman Brown embarks on his errand, Hawthorne vividly describes the ominous setting: "A dreary road darkened by all the gloomiest trees of the forest, which barely stood aside to let the narrow path creep through, and closed immediately behind" (141).

The forest serves as a crucible where Goodman Brown's moral convictions are tested. His awareness of the deviant nature of his actions is evident in his inner monologue, acknowledging the deviation from Puritan norms: "My father never went into the woods on such an errand, nor his father before him.

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We have been a race of honest men and good Christians since the days of the martyrs" (141). Despite this acknowledgment, Goodman Brown persists, illustrating the enticement of hypocrisy.

As Goodman Brown and his mysterious companion journey through the dark forest, the symbolism intensifies. The very setting becomes a metaphor for the moral obscurity that envelops the characters. Goodman Brown, although initially hesitant, finds himself succumbing to the allure of the forest's malevolence. This symbolic descent into darkness parallels his moral descent into the realm of hypocrisy.

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It is essential to delve deeper into the symbolism of the forest, exploring how Hawthorne utilizes this setting to mirror Goodman Brown's internal struggle. The barely discernible path through the gloomy trees signifies the precarious nature of moral choices. The closure of the path behind Goodman Brown implies the irreversibility of his actions, emphasizing the transformative power of hypocrisy.

Unveiling the Facade of Purity

Attempting to dissuade Goodman Brown from his path, the mysterious companion reveals the hidden transgressions of his own family, challenging the protagonist's idealized view of his Puritan heritage. Despite these revelations, Goodman Brown staunchly clings to his ingrained beliefs, showcasing the resilience of his hypocrisy. Even encountering familiar figures like Deacon Gookin and Goody Cloyse in the forest fails to deter Brown, highlighting the depth of his denial.

However, as the reality of hypocrisy becomes undeniable, Goodman Brown's resolve falters. Confronted with the unexpected presence of familiar faces engaged in questionable activities, he grapples with the dissonance between his perception of purity and the unveiled truth. This internal conflict is palpable when he exclaims, "Friend, my mind is made up. Not another step will I budge on this errand" (143).

Goodman Brown's confrontation with the hypocrisy of his community serves as a turning point in the narrative. The symbolic significance of encountering prominent figures like Deacon Gookin engaged in dubious activities shatters the protagonist's illusions. This revelation serves as a metaphorical unmasking of the facade of purity maintained by the Puritan society.

Moreover, the encounter with Deacon Gookin prompts a realization within Goodman Brown that the esteemed leaders of the Puritan community are not immune to moral lapses. Hawthorne skillfully employs irony as Goodman Brown, previously unwavering in his faith, clings to a tree for support, doubting the very existence of heaven above him. This moment encapsulates the profound impact of hypocrisy on an individual's worldview, leading to a crisis of faith.

The Descent into Hypocrisy

Witnessing the hypocrisy embedded within the leaders of the Puritan community shatters Goodman Brown's faith in the inherent purity of mankind. The once blue sky turning gray symbolizes the pervasive impurity that has infiltrated the world. Hawthorne skillfully employs symbolism, as the gray sky and ominous sounds from the clouds represent the deceit and wickedness entwined with hypocrisy.

Goodman Brown's disillusionment reaches its zenith when he declares, "My Faith is gone, there is no good on earth, and sin is but a name. Come Devil! for to thee the world is given" (145). Succumbing to the pervasive hypocrisy, Goodman Brown undergoes a drastic transformation. Hawthorne employs vivid imagery to portray Brown's descent, stating, "In truth all through the haunted forest there could be nothing more frightening than the figure of Goodman Brown" (145).

In a surreal dream, Goodman Brown envisions the conversion of once-pious individuals into Devil worshipers, emphasizing the corrosive influence of hypocrisy. The plea to "look up to Heaven, and resist the Wicked One" serves as a poignant reminder of the irreversible damage inflicted by hypocrisy, redirecting faith away from God.

It is imperative to analyze the dream sequence within the context of Goodman Brown's psychological unraveling. The dream represents not only the contamination of individual souls but also the societal decay fueled by hypocrisy. The transformation of ostensibly righteous individuals into Devil worshipers underscores the far-reaching consequences of succumbing to the allure of hypocrisy.

Furthermore, Hawthorne masterfully employs foreshadowing as the gray sky and ominous sounds during the dream sequence foreshadow the impending moral eclipse. This narrative technique enhances the depth of the story, providing readers with insight into the irreversible nature of Goodman Brown's transformation.


Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown" serves as a profound exploration of the corrosive nature of hypocrisy. Through the symbolic elements of the dark forest, revelations of hidden transgressions, and the ultimate transformation of the protagonist, Hawthorne crafts a narrative that delves into the complexities of human morality. As Goodman Brown grapples with the exposure of hypocrisy within his community, the narrative serves as a cautionary tale, urging readers to confront the insidious nature of hypocrisy that can permeate even the most steadfast convictions.

The narrative's enduring relevance lies in its ability to provoke introspection regarding the consequences of succumbing to hypocrisy. Goodman Brown's journey serves as a microcosm of societal moral decay, prompting readers to reflect on the fragility of individual convictions in the face of pervasive hypocrisy.

In conclusion, "Young Goodman Brown" stands as a timeless exploration of the human psyche and the delicate balance between virtue and vice. Hawthorne's narrative acumen, coupled with intricate symbolism and compelling characters, contributes to a narrative that transcends its historical context, resonating with readers across generations.

Written by Lucas Davis
Updated: Jan 18, 2024
Keep in mind: this is only a sample!
Updated: Jan 18, 2024
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Exploration of Hypocrisy in "Young Goodman Brown". (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/the-theme-of-young-goodman-brown-new-essay

Exploration of Hypocrisy in "Young Goodman Brown" essay
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