Nathaniel Hawthorne is a nineteenth-century American writer who was born in Salem, Massachusetts, where his stories usually take place. His work is typically overflowing with symbolism, much of it derived from his Puritan ancestry. His Puritan upbringing may have also contributed to his literary obsession with evil, guilt, and sin. "Young Goodman Brown" is said to be one of Hawthorne's best short stories. It is the epitome of Hawthorne's mental struggle with good and evil.
Throughout the story "Young Goodman Brown," Hawthorne uses symbolism in the names of his characters, the setting, and objects. The story itself represents a journey that every man must face, the journey through life and the temptation of evil. Everyone must travel down the path of life and will meet with evil and sin somewhere along the way.
The name Young Goodman Brown gives you the impression that he is an innocent, common man. He is newly married and just beginning his journey through life. He is a religious man, happily married, trustworthy, and naive. Goodman Brown's wife, Faith, represents his faith in God or a higher power. By the end of the story she helps prove, along with other characters, that even good people can contain evil aspects.
Goodman's companion in the forest symbolizes the devil or something that may drive us to sin. Goodman states that he does not want to go any further, but his companion continues to urge him deeper into the forest. The unnamed companion carried the staff that is shaped like a snake or serpent. Snakes can be associated with evil and sneakiness. The staff implies the characteristics of the companion: sneaky, devilish, sinful, and deceiving. Goodman even thinks he sees the staff twisting and wriggling like a living serpent.
There were minor characters in the story that were present during the witch gathering that contributed to Goodman Brown's loss of faith: Goody Cloyse, the minister, and the deacon.