Symbolism in “Young Good Man Brown” by Hawthorne


American author and short tale writer Nathaniel Hawthorne significantly represent Protestantism, symbolism, and romance in American literature. He produced a large body of work that explored the complexity and sense of guilt inherent in human nature. When reading his tales and romances for the first time, it is impossible not to be struck by the dark vision these works portray. Young Good Man Brown, a famous fictional story by Hawthorne, is a prime example of how the author skillfully blends a tremendous theme with deft literary devices. Through Young Good Man Brown’s ‘journey in the forest,’ the reader is exposed to Hawthorne’s psychological explanation of the nasty humanity and the development of human beings. Hawthorne uses a variety of writing strategies in this short narrative to develop the characters, with symbolism playing a key role. Hawthorne’s skepticism about the outside world informs his writing style and status as one of American literature’s greatest masters of symbolism. Hawthorne uses diverse symbolic approaches such as the pink ribbons, Salem village, and journey in the forest to support Young Goodman Brown’s theme in different circumstances.

Different Symbols Used in Young Good Man Brown

Symbolism uses language to describe an external item in a way that reveals hidden meanings. The story may communicate a lot in a short period because of the use of symbolism. Hawthorne frequently made the focal point of his stories a single crucial item, such as a birthmark, a cross, a footprint, or a veil, representing a moral quality or flaw in his characters. As a result, some of the symbols that appear throughout Hawthorne’s stories include the following:

The Pink Ribbons

It is important to highlight that pink ribbons have historically been a point of contention for detractors. The pink ribbons also have symbolic connotations because they are mentioned severally in the Young Good Man Brown short novel. White often connotes purity, while scarlet frequently conveys sex. The combination of red and white implies a psychological state between absolute wickedness and innocence. They stand in for humanity’s spiritual impurities and are tied like a tag to Faith’s head (Cherry 342). Because Faith yielded to the devil’s temptations, it is also claimed that she consented to sex with Young Good Man Brown and God. Therefore, the ribbons maintain a connection between Faith as a model of holiness and as a participant in a witches’ Sabbath (Cherry 342). Brown’s head received the ribbons more frequently than Faith’s; hence, they are represented by the three significant phases of Brown’s psychological transformation. Typically, the pink ribbons represented goodness and brought a splash of color to the otherwise somber scene. Pink ribbons may be lustful projections of the corrupted fancy of Good Man, which vows wickedness even as it regretfully leaves its surrendered innocence, which can be seen in the forest.

The Salem Village

The Salem Village is another important symbol in Young Good Man Brown. The village represents people’s civilized lives, where secularism and moral constraints exist everywhere. Thus, it contrasts the gloomy forest, which depicts the ‘id,’ which is made up of various desires and represents the light aspect of human beings (Hurley 410). These subconscious urges are prohibited by what Freud called the ‘superego,’ or the socially acceptable moral standards. In addition, it is as much as individuals have been able to comprehend what folks consider the ‘higher’ things in human life. The id and superego battle it constantly during Brown’s ‘journey in the forest.’ The influence of the ‘id’ is growing due to the disillusion of his goals, whereas the power of the superego is diminishing as the power of the ego decreases. Due to the devil’s seduction, he entered the jungle more to attend the witch’s Sabbath. That also depicts Calvinism and Puritanism that were prevalent during Nathaniel Hawthorne’s lifetime (Connolly 370). It emphasized that Adam and Eve’s sins caused many problems since they rebelled against God and consumed the Forbidden Fruits.

The “Journey in the Forest”

In Young Good Man Brown, the story’s main idea is the feasible perception of the life of individuals. The journey in his heart is what Brown refers to as his “adventure in the forest” (Connolly 370). A person can claim that the ‘travel deep into the dark forest’ is ‘the voyage deep into someone’s inner heart,’ particularly for a man as immature as Brown, who was going through agonizing maturation (Hurley 410). Brown’s experience was condensed into a nightmare in the woods, reflecting the allegedly accepted worldview that “The existence of humanity is like a dream” (Hurley 414). Therefore, this work embodies the true union of the elements and the form, and the theme is thus expanded. Furthermore, Brown’s dream in the forest was a crucial turning point in his development. It also marks a turning point in his life, with one path leading to a location with sunlight and the other to a marsh. It was unfortunate that he made the wrong decision before realizing the true purpose of human life, which resulted in his misfortune. However, since he was forced to flee, it was conceivable for everyone else to make the same decision.

The Fellow Traveler, the Maple Stick, and the Tree

The fellow traveler’s maple stick in Young Good Man Brown is an evident symbol of evil. When it first appeared, it was characterized as having the appearance of a large black snake and being so oddly crafted that it almost emerged to twist and move like a real serpent (Hurley 413). The stick crawled to contradict Brown’s assertions when he told the older person about the minister’s virtue. In a way, the man holding the stick represents Satan, the biblical representation of original sin, who enticed Adam and Eve to consume the Forbidden Fruits and dispersed original sin among humans in the form of a snake (Connolly 375). Additionally, the maple stick transformed into a demon and the head of evil. Brown kept his attention on the stick and moved in the direction of the evil the entire evening ride. Therefore, the tree in the tale is comparable to the Bible’s ‘forbidden tree’ in certain ways.


Several times in the Young Good Man Brown short narrative, the word ‘laughing’ is used. A Satan figure starts horrifying laughter that scorns Brown’s naive belief in the town folk’s truthfulness, as he doubts how he could confront his minister after such a night’s adventure into the evil. The transition of Faith’s yell into a laugh of surrender as she joins a similarly evil assembling in progress intensifies the tension (Hurley 415). Hawthorne uses laughter to mark his protagonists’ hence, Brown, who is being carried by laughter, upsurges, observes the pink ribbons falling, and his understanding of the struggle between evil and good is incomplete. After Faith and Satan have united, Brown starts the dreadful laughter. That is as the Satan figure initially did, which reveals not only his recognition of the struggle between good and evil forces but also his merger with, endorsement of, and even dominance in the satanic viewpoint. The devil and yields completely seize Brown to the notion that the universe is surrendered to sin per the demoniac.


In a way, the Young Good Man Brown story’s constant use of the word ‘nature’ alludes to Brown’s ‘id’ and the natural world. Brown was in utter despair when he realized that the witch’s Sabbath also contained his naive Faith. He mentions that the entire forest was alive with horrible sounds—the squeaking of the trees, the wailing of wild beasts, and the cry of Indians. Additionally, Brown states that sometimes the wind tolled like a far-off church bell and occasionally made a vast roar around the visitor as if all nature were mocking him (Hurley 417). He even argued that “Evil is the nature of mankind” when evil was preaching and highlighted that one must only find enjoyment in evil (Connolly 375). Therefore, that also fits with Hawthorne’s perspective on good and evil.

The Symbolic Choosing of the Scene

Additionally, Hawthorne’s selection of the scenario is a symbolic method. The narrative was set in Salem, infamous for its witches in New England. The woodland in the dusk further enhanced the eerie and dark feeling (Connolly 375). Brown first encountered the devil at a terrible time and place. Nevertheless, the setting was horrifying: four blazing trees, their crowns aflame but their stems unharmed, like candlesticks at an evening assembly, surrounding a pulpit (Cherry 343). The vegetation was on fire, shooting flames high into the darkness and sporadically lighting up the area. A large congregation alternately blazed forth and vanished in shadow as the ominous light rose and fell. The ghost swayed between gloom and beauty; hence the details made the awful situation seem worse (Cherry 345). Everything was engulfed in a gloomy, hallucinatory environment where a mass of horrible beings had congregated. Additionally, Brown gradually descended into the abyss as he turned from good to evil. People lost consciousness while dancing with the devil, and horrible crimes were committed in secrecy during the night. The darkness thus represents the evil spiritual side of humankind in the novel.

The Symbolic Meaning in the Plot of the Story

Hawthorne’s development of the narrative storyline also embodies a symbolic approach. Brown slept off in the jungle and just had a dream about a witch meeting, as the author implies at the end of the tale. In any case, the twilight walk through the forest is symbolic overall. It represents the discovery of the spirit and the revelation of the darkness concealed within the human being rather than an actual journey. Therefore, just as Hawthorne’s narrative, the Birthmark implies “Evil is man’s birthmark, something he is born with” (Cherry 346).


Therefore, the writer’s writing style is reflected in the symbol as a way of expression. Hawthorne describes symbolic situations and characters to bolster the message in his writings and create his unique aesthetic style. Regarding everything said above, the essay focused on Young Good Man Brown’s use of Hawthorne’s literary devices. Hawthorne establishes the credibility of this straightforward tale and demonstrates his brilliance as a notable American short story author of the era through the skillful use of symbolism. Without a doubt, Hawthorne’s profound moral vision, rich symbolism, and aesthetic nuance have had a significant impact. Therefore, some symbols used in Young Good Man Brown include the pink ribbons, nature, laughter, and the Salem village, among others.

Works Cited

Cherry, Fannye N. “The Sources of Hawthorne’s ‘Young Goodman Brown.’” American Literature, vol. 5, no. 4, 1934, pp. 342–348. JSTOR. Web.

Connolly, Thomas E. “Hawthorne’s ‘Young Goodman Brown’: An Attack on Puritanic Calvinism.” American Literature, vol. 28, no. 3, 1956, pp. 370–375. JSTOR, Web.

Hurley, Paul J. “Young Goodman Brown’s ‘Heart of Darkness.’” American Literature, vol. 37, no. 4, 1966, pp. 410–419. JSTOR. Web.

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