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Self-awareness is key to being a good person, no matter how the term “good” is defined. Being self-aware allows one to see when they’re straying away from the path they want to take and to correct any behaviors that drove them off in the first place. The story “Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne explores how a lack of self-awareness can be detrimental. In the story, the main character, Goodman Brown, leaves his wife, Faith, for a night to go on a journey of faith. He meets with the Devil in the forest outside his town of Salem, Massachusetts, thinking that he would be strong enough to resist temptation, and the two walk together as the Devil tries to sway Goodman Brown to his side. While he does shun the Devil in the forest, it’s his inability to step outside of himself that brings him to the Devil in the end. Throughout the story, Hawthorne uses elements of fiction to prove that a lack of self-awareness can lead to one’s downfall.

Salem, Massachusetts was a Puritan community in the 1800s when the story takes place. The characters in “Young Goodman Brown” were subject to the general expectations that came with the setting: People were expected to be upstanding Christian citizens who never sinned nor strayed away from their community and to shun those who did not abide by the Christian Bible. Anywhere outside of their community was seen as unsafe and dangerous. In the story, the forest surrounding Salem is seen as a place of evil, filled with “devilish Indian[s] behind every tree” (Hawthorne) and other horrors. Goodman Brown and the rest of the town were supposed to stay away from it, and instead be content in the safety of their village.

The forest was indeed depicted as an evil place. The path Brown would travel on was full of twists and turns, and the trees around it “barely stood aside to let the narrow path creep through” (Hawthorne). The path had to be crooked because if Brown could see the congregation that it led to, he would never have ventured on it in the first place. In all appearances, it was a dark and ominous place that wanted to trap someone, or at the very least be difficult to escape from. It wasn’t anywhere that a good Puritan would want to find themselves in, especially at night.

However, Goodman Brown needed to go on a journey of faith. To do so, he had to venture into the forest “‘twixt now and sunrise” (Hawthorne) and meet with the Devil. Since the Puritans believed that the darkness was also something to be avoided, by going into the forest at night Brown was already betraying his faith even before his companion, the Devil, was accounted for. He was completely aware of the fact, too: The limited third-person point of view shows that he knew his journey was “evil” (Hawthorne) and that he chose to go on it anyway. The story never gives a specific reason why he has to go in the first place, which leads to the idea that Brown chose to meet the Devil on his merit. He had complete confidence in his ability to resist the evil, and the temptations the Devil would throw at him, and didn’t think about the possibility that his pride might be unfounded.

The Devil in the story adhered to the manipulative, clever character that most Christian religions depict him as. He “[bore] a considerable resemblance to [Goodman Brown]” (Hawthorne), instead of appearing to him as hideous to try and put him more at ease. The Devil used people Brown cared about against him in an attempt to sway him to his side, telling Brown that he and Brown’s father and grandfather were “good friends” (Hawthorne). He was constantly taking advantage of Brown’s weak points to convince him to join him. He had to because according to standard Christian belief, the Devil could do many things but interfering with free will was not one of them.

The Devil’s manipulative nature was bad news for Brown. In addition to being a proud man, Goodman Brown was also weak-willed. Early on in his journey, he told the Devil that he would “return whence [he] came” (Hawthorne) but he “unconsciously [resumed] his walk” (Hawthorne) anyway only a slight prompt from the Devil. As the Devil continues to show Brown how many other people have also walked with him, it becomes clear that Brown isn’t as resistant to temptation as he thought he was. The further he walked, the more conflicted he became. The only thing that continued to hold him back was the fact that his wife, Faith, was waiting for him at home.

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Faith was the perfect example of a good Puritan woman. She’s depicted as a loving wife who watched Brown go with “a melancholy air, despite her pink ribbons” (Hawthorne). The pink ribbons she wore in her hair represented her childlike innocence and purity – traits that were valued not only in wives but in everyone. Her name itself served as a representation of Brown’s religious faith. He cared deeply for her, and she cared deeply for him. Faith was the example that Brown looked to when he needed strength, which is why he kept bringing her up while he was walking with the Devil.

That’s why the moment Goodman Brown saw her ribbons caught in a tree after hearing her in the distance, he grabbed the maple staff the Devil left him and raced to join the congregation at the end of the crooked path he had been following. His belief that even Faith had parted with the Devil’s side allowed his resistance to fade completely, and turned him into the most “frightful” (Hawthorn) being in the entire forest – Devil included. It was here that he completely abandoned his Puritan faith, just as he thought Faith had abandoned him. However, his lapse in belief was very brief because when he arrived at the gathering, he still didn’t see her, which gave him “hope” (Hawthorne) that good things did still exist.

But Faith was at the congregation, and, to Goodman Brown, the final moment of truth unfolded when the Devil ordered them up to the altar, had her take off the veil she was wearing, and went to formally initiate them. Brown told her to “look up to Heaven, and resist the Wicked One” (Hawthorne), which is ironic for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that he was just seen being unable to resist the Devil, and the second is that even if she did, after the fact he believed that she didn’t because “he knew not” (Hawthorne) if she listened to him. He was only focused on the fact that he was able to fight against the Devil, and took pride in it even though he just snapped back to his senses from his lapse.

In the end, the journey changed Goodman Brown for the worse. He became “a stern, a sad, a darkly meditative, a distrustful, if not a desperate man” (Hawthorne) because he believed that everybody he knew, including Faith, were hypocritical sinners who were only pretending to be good Christians. However, Brown himself was also a hypocrite. He knew he had only temporarily given in to the Devil, and offered himself forgiveness for the lapse in belief, but he did not extend the same to his wife and the rest of the community. He was unable to see past himself after that event, so convinced that everyone he saw that night was a true sinner that he never stopped to question if any of them were like him.

In contrast, the townspeople remained unchanged. All the people Brown had seen in the forest went about their routines like normal the next day: The minister took a stroll through the graveyard before his duties, “Deacon Gookin was at domestic worship” (Hawthorne) praying, and Goody Cloyse was “catechizing a little girl” (Hawthorne). Brown’s fearful reactions to them show that he is the only one directly affected by the ceremony. He was even disgusted by his wife. Faith still wore the pink ribbons in her hair, and since those ribbons represented innocence and purity, she wasn’t the terrible person Brown thought she was as he shied away from her embrace. She still greeted him warmly when he arrived home from his journey, but it was he who ignored her instead of the other way around. It was only Brown who changed, as seen when he pushed everyone away at the end, including his family. He was so focused on everybody else that he never took the time to look inward, even though he was the one acting strange.

Goodman Brown was a man who believed he was strong enough to resist the Devil himself. He was so confident that he went on a journey of faith through woods that wanted to trap him, with a Devil who wanted to manipulate him. Though he was able to resist in the forest (after a brief lapse), it was Brown’s pride that was his eventual downfall. After the event took place, he became wary and distrustful of everyone – even his wife – because he offered himself forgiveness for giving in but not to them. He believed himself superior to them for being strong when they were weak in that final scene. By the end of the story, it’s clear that Brown believed himself to be greater than God. That amount of pride is a great sin to Christians and is what doomed him to Hell after all: Ironically, by resisting the Devil in the forest, he ensured that he would be with him in the afterlife anyway. Brown’s lack of self-awareness turned him into a hypocrite and led to his final moments in life being marked with gloom instead of happiness.

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