LITR 4232 American Renaissance

Sample Student Research Project 2010

Jeff Derrickson

The Exploration of Faith and Evil in Dreams:

Romance and Psychoanalysis in Young Goodman Brown

          A cursory reading of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Young Goodman Brown reveals somewhat obvious symbolism. The titular character represents the everyman in the story; he finds himself engaged with a moral conundrum in which most readers can find themselves. Faith represents religious faith, and perhaps Brown’s faith in his fellow man. The traveler, of course, represents Satan, who seeks to manipulate and tempt those who would resist him into his service. The allegorical structure of the story cannot be denied, but a reader’s interpretation of the story’s events can be explored and developed. The climax of the story finds Brown in the heart of the forest at a witches’ Sabbath gathering. Hawthorne, as narrator, asks the reader “Had Goodman Brown fallen asleep in the forest and only dreamed a wild dream of a witch-meeting?” This interpretable ending leads to a long life of distrust, despair, and eventual death for Brown, which is a fate that demands a decisive answer to Hawthorne’s question. It thus befalls the reader to examine the text for a justification for Brown’s fate. A closer reading reveals clues that the story is in fact a dream in which Brown psychoanalyzes himself and those close to him in perilous detail, and his ultimate end is shaped forever by what he sees.

          It is important to note that there is no concrete evidence as to where Brown’s dream begins. There is a sharp scene of awakening in the forest portrayed in the story’s climax, but the reader must conclude at which point the dream sequence starts. The narrator’s increasingly romantic language serves as a sign that the dream begins once the “gloomiest trees of the forest, which barely stood aside to let the narrow path creep through…closed immediately behind [him].” Romanticism is a crucial element of the text. The events of the story that take place in a forest at night signify the presence of the gothic, which has its ties to Puritan schools of thought. The wilderness acted as a passive partner to Puritanical beliefs, as it represented an untamed and Godless area (Forrer, 1976, P. 616). To walk into the forest without clear purpose was equivalent to walking into hell, itself a gothic idea. Images associated with the gothic recall the Christian visions of hell, devils, and demons, with Lucifer as a dashing figure that is proud, rebellious, attractive, and dangerous to know (White, 2010, n.p.). Romantic ideas of evil lead Brown down the “darkened” and “dreary road,” just as significantly as Satan. Brown leaves the arms of his wife of his own volition, perhaps propelled by “the mystery of sin” that is proclaimed during the witches’ mass. “The forest, symbol of Brown’s retreat into himself, is associated with images suggestive of evil,” (Hurley, 1966, p. 413). This retreat will lead Brown into his own mind, because “the indispensable feature of nearly any gothic narrative is a haunted space that reflects or corresponds to a haunted mind” (White, 2010, n.p.).

Further evidence that the title character is dreaming surfaces when Brown bids farewell to his newlywed wife Faith, who fruitlessly pleads with him to stave off his journey. A clue that the subsequent events of the story take place within Brown’s consciousness lies in Faith’s statement that “a lone woman is troubled with such dreams and such thoughts that she's afeard of herself sometimes.” Brown reflects on the statement briefly as he parts, noting that “Faith speaks of dreams, too,” and that perhaps she was warned by her own dreams of Brown’s errand. The fact that he says “too” infers that his journey may be the product of his own dreams, as there was no prior mention of a dream.

 The physical presence of Satan begins the motif of mirroring, or the doppelganger, in Brown’s dream. Mirroring is a romantic literary archetype that authors use to explore the dual natures of their characters (White, 2010, n.p). Satan is described as an older man who bears a considerable resemblance to Brown, and in fact could be taken as his father. Hurley (1966) observes that “this personage is so curiously described that he is indisputably Goodman Brown’s own personal devil” (p. 413). With the aid of mirroring, Brown’s dream begins the systematic exploration of all the Goodman holds dear. Brown invokes his father and grandfather as he laments that he will be the first of his family to follow in the devil’s footsteps. Satan responds that he knew Brown’s father and grandfather quite well, and aided them in various insidious acts. This information acts as an introduction to the mirroring of Goody Cloyse, who taught Brown his catechism. Brown “never pauses to consider the reality” of Cloyse’s presence, which is not characteristic of a Puritan aware of hell’s influence (Hurley, 1966, p. 414). This atypical behavior, combined with Cloyse’s sudden disappearance, foster that Brown is dreaming. Though he is shaken by the revelation of Cloyse, Brown forgoes the devil’s guidance and refuses to go on. He then encounters doppelgangers of the deacon and minister of his church, who reveal their alignment with the witches’ Sabbath. Brown’s faith in both his family and his church has been tested, but it seems that he will continue along on his own path to Heaven as long as he has Faith.

          Faith, as well, is subject to mirroring, but her dual nature is more pronounced than Cloyse or the church leaders. There is the physical character of Faith, and her allegorical doppelganger that represents the abstraction of faith. Faith is described as little, but she is significant enough to keep Brown back a while from his evil errand. Brown sees her as an angel on earth, and an untouched paragon of virtue that is incorruptible; however, he makes the mistake of seeing Faith and her abstract counterpart as commodities that can be “adopted and discarded at will” (Hurley, 1966, p. 412). The pink ribbons that adorn Faith’s cap have been said to signify purity, sexual passion, a meeting point between the symbolic colors of red and white, or Brown’s immature sense of faith, but Levy (1975) sees the ribbons a mere physical link between the two paradigms of Faith (p. 384). Brown often muses that he will be able to cling to Faith’s skirts and follow her to Heaven, or sleep sweetly wrapped in Faith’s arms; alas, it is not the physical representation of Faith that will lead him to salvation.

It becomes apparent that Brown is analyzing his psyche in his dream, because the metaphor of Faith’s ribbons and skirts signify that his faith is dominated by the ornamental elements of religious worship rather than from the purity of his innate self (Hurley, 1966, p. 416). This misplacement of faith is what leads Brown into accepting that there is no good on earth after he discovers a pink ribbon in the forest. Brown does not need to see Faith in the forest to confirm her loss, and his fragile faith is shattered. Brown characterizes the unknown with threats that are symbolized by familiar images such as darkness, demons, or the innocent imperiled, a motif dominated by the gothic (White, 2010, n.p.). The segment of the falling ribbons is rife with language that flourishes, but the language serves to disorient the reader as well. Brown’s descent into madness is reminiscent of a significant nightmare of uncharacteristic behavior, indiscriminately juxtaposed images, and terrifying imagery. Brown is described as “the fiend in his own shape, which is a reminder to the reader of Brown’s twinning with Satan. As Brown gleams the idea that Faith and her representation of his own faith have abandoned him as frivolously as he had at the story’s beginning, Brown’s mind wages war against itself. Brown’s representation of the everyman serves well in this instance, as many readers who find themselves in a crisis of faith might find themselves ranting, raving, and questioning the significance of everything they hold dear.

If the text is viewed through a psychoanalytical lens, Brown’s ego and superego struggles with his id for much of the story (Levy, 1975, p. 379). According to All Psych Online (2004), the id considers only what feels good in the moment, and does not consider the ramifications of obtaining what is wanted (n.p.). Brown’s id is in control when he begins his journey, and after seeing the pink ribbon in the forest, establishes itself as dominant over the ego, which cries out to be saved (Levy, 1975, p. 379). The ego wants to cater to the needs of the id, but it is checked by the reality that impulsive selfishness may do harm to a person (All Psych Online, 2004, n.p.). Brown engages in a tirade of blasphemy and rage that leads him headlong into the witches’ Sabbath. In his dream state, Brown’s id is free to indulge in the allure of evil, because his faith is rooted in those who surround him. Brown’s fledgling faith which resides in ornaments and the physical can be seen as his ego, which is under duress throughout the story. His ego holds the id in check as long as he has Faith, Cloyse, and the deacon and minister, and he feels that he can remain on the pious path; however, when he sees these people and other neighbors he once thought of as Godly attending the black mass, he can’t help but to feel “a loathful brotherhood by the sympathy of all that was wicked in his heart,” and the ego is overrun by the id. The corruption of his wife, teacher, and spiritual leaders leads Brown to fully commit to the evil in his heart, and he no longer resists (Hurley, 1966, p. 417).

Both Hurley (1966) and Levy (1975) refer to Roy R. Male’s description of the black mass as a euphemism for sexuality. The dark minister’s language certainly alludes to this claim, as he makes reference to “a mighty blood spot,” which could refer to the loss of virginity; the “penetration” in every “bosom,” which carry those obvious sexual avatars; and “the fountain of all wicked arts,” which could refer to male and female genitalia, neither of which can ever be truly and fully sated. The “deep mystery of sin” may also refer to sexuality, as sex can be seen as a mystery by the curious virgin. An obvious blasphemous parody of the Catholic “mystery of faith,” the words are fueled by such a potent energy that a reader can’t help but to be tempted to wonder what truly entails the “mystery of sin.” Male sees the communion of the mass as sexual, which is congruent to the Brown’s rampant release of his id, and that “Brown qualifies for it by his marriage” (Levy, 1975, p. 381). That Brown is released from the dream after this communion may refer to two possibilities: that Brown is absolved from his sexuality through his marriage to Faith, or that there is an unknown illicit sexual connection to Faith, i.e. the “mystery of sin.” The former would lead to redemption of sorts for Brown and Faith, but the latter configures into the story’s themes of the knowledge of evil and lack of faith. The presence of Faith at the witches’ Sabbath lead the reader to question her untouched purity just as Brown has, upon seeing her ribbons in the forest. Levy (1975) believes that Faith herself has made a covenant with Satan just as Brown had, a thought he refers to “as sinister as anything to be found in Hawthorne’s writings” (p. 380). This incarnation of Faith, however, is the physical’s twinned abstraction, and an embodiment of Brown’s own faith, so the thought that Faith is inherently evil is not congruent to the story. The story concerns the mental state of Brown as he navigates his own mind, and the manifestation of Faith at the evil communion will be the key to his dream’s end.       

Once he sees the ribbon-less mirrored abstraction of Faith at the black altar, Brown’s faith is restored, and he pleads with her to resist the dark one. This manifestation of Faith, the renewed abstraction of faith, can be seen as Brown’s superego, “whose task is to punish the ego for its defections and, as the voice of conscience, to repress the satisfactions of the instinctual [id]” (Levy, 1975, p. 379). The advent of the superego quells the uprising of the id, and empowers the ego once more. Brown never hears her reply, as he “wakes” back into reality. Brown’s renewed ego essentially ends his experiment with evil because it cannot tolerate the negative effects that would have resulted with the completion of the ceremony (Levy, 1975, p. 379).  

Brown’s awakening is characterized by clarity of descriptions and standard narration in contrast to the romantic devices Hawthorne previously utilized. The roaring of the wind, chill of the rock, and dew of the hanging twig signify that Brown has returned to a rational state of mind, and “the dreamlike [narrative] quality of Brown’s adventure in the forest is replaced by purposefully direct and forthright narration” (Hurley, 1966, p. 418). Brown’s dream is not benign, however, as it affects his reality significantly. This effect is due not simply because Brown succumbs to his hallucinations about his wife and community, but to the fact that he represses the dream (Levy, 1975, p. 379). His ego, or faith, “forbids him to accept his evil impulses as his own,” so he projects that inward evil onto Faith and the rest of his community (Levy, 1975, p. 379). Brown is not a victim of an insipid vision of the evil that surrounds him, nor is he resolved to the futility of faith due to an idea that there is “no good on earth.” Hawthorne infers through the story that “the loss of faith is always imminent, a danger that increases in proportion to our involvement in a moral reality that is always more unsettling than we like to believe” (Levy, 1975, p. 386). Brown’s mind is forced to align with his romantic perception of evil, and the result does not end favorably for him. “Goodman Brown sees evil wherever he looks…he sees it because he wants to see it” (Hurley, 1966, p. 418). Brown, through his dream, is compelled to confront his own dark nature, the strength of his faith, and his own vision of evil, and that evil twists the young Goodman into one who’s “dying hour was gloom.”


All Psych Online. (2004). Freud's Structural and Topographical Models of Personality. Retrieved from:

Forrer, R. (1976). The Puritan religious dilemma: The ethical dimensions of God's sovereignty. Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 44 (4), pp. 613-628

Hurley, P. J. (1966). Young Goodman Brown's 'Heart of Darkness'. American Literature, 37 (4), 410-419.

Levy, L. B. (1975). The problem of Faith in 'Young Goodman Brown'. Journal of English and Germanic Philology, 74 (3), 375-387.

White, C. (2010). American Renaissance & American Romanticism: The Gothic. Retrieved from: