“Young Goodman Brown” is universally accepted as one of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s best short stories. It deals with such themes as good versus evil, loss of innocence, and coping with reality. The internal struggle that Brown goes through leads him to an emotional roller coaster. After Goodman’s journey into the forest he will only be a shell of what he once was. The central theme of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown,” is the conflict between joining the ranks of the devil and remaining innocent.
This proves to be a very difficult personal journey for Young Goodman Brown. He travels through the woods to follow an inner desire to work with the devil, all the while thinking of what he would leaving behind (i. e. his wife Faith). This internal conflict ultimately destroys the Young Goodman Brown and creates a new, confused, and bitter man. A majority of the story is spent on Brown’s decision of whether to go to the dark side and consort with the devil or to go back to the comfort and naivety of the village.
There are many examples in the text of this conflict. Brown mourns the loss of his Faith, a theme that permeates the tale. Brown also discusses his self-doubt after he discovers the ‘true nature’ of people such as Goody Cloyse, the governor, and village minister. Brown’s reluctance to take the Devil’s snake-staff illustrates his reservations about becoming one of the Devil’s chosen ones. Young Goodman Brown’s personal conflict over his inner desires – and its greater meaning: conflict between good and evil in the world – is the center of the story.
There would be no “Young Goodman Brown” if not for the main character’s personal struggle to decide what he will do. At the end of this tale we can never be sure if good or evil won the internal fight waged within Young Goodman Brown, but Hawthorne makes it abundantly clear that Brown was scarred for life by his experience. After returning to Salem from that fateful night, Goodman Brown becomes cynical.
Goodman Brown no longer has any faith in his fellow townspeople, seeing that they have all danced with the devil at one time or another. He has lost his innocence; he has lost his faith. His self-isolation, relationship with his wife, and the inscription on his tombstone after he returned to Salem all show that the conflict had a profound effect on his life. This conflict is the theme of the story and reflects on the society of the time. A great change took place in Young Goodman Brown, and it altered his “private passion” forever.