Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Young Goodman Brown depicts the timeless struggle within man to choose between a righteous life, marked by penance and piety, and an evil one, given to all forms of licentiousness and sin. This theme pervades the story as it unfolds in the village of ancient Salem down to its gloomy ending. The dark, narrow road taken by Young Goodman Brown on his journey to the midnight congregation in the woods is a reminder that man at liberty to choose either the path of virtue or the road to perdition. It teaches the pious seeker of salvation to be on guard lest he stumble.
Although but three months wed to Faith, Young Goodman Brown is determined to attend the unholy communion in the forest. He wavers at first at the thought of Faith but thinking he had lost her upon seeing her pink ribbon fluttering through the trees, he forthwith loses his faith, too, and plunges onward. Young Goodman believes he belongs to a pious family, that his Puritan neighbors are saintly and worthy of Divine grace as their piety suggested. His experience in the forest, having seen his brethren’s dark secrets, has caused him to vacillate between good and evil. In depicting this constant inner struggle in man, Hawthorne may have brought to the fore his own inner conflict upon finding that one of his kin had presided over the infamous Salem witch trials. Even at the brink of accepting the devil’s communion, Young Goodman Brown still tries to resist the devil upon seeing Faith’s eyes on him. In exposing the real sinful nature of the village church-goers, including the minister and Deacon Gookin and Goody Cloyse, Hawthorne may have been alluding to Christ’s condemnation of religious hypocrites to whom are reserved even greater damnation than common sinners.