Young Goodman Brown came forth at sunset into the street of Salem Village, but put his head back, after crossing the threshold, to exchange a parting kiss with his young wife. And Faith, as the wife was aptly named, thrust her own pretty head into the street, letting the wind play with the pink ribbons of her cap[.]
Goodman Brown and his wife are young newlyweds and, as the narrator reveals here, very much still in love. Their public display of affection would have been frowned upon by their Puritan society, as would Faith’s brightly colored ribbons. But both choices show her desire to please her husband. This innocent desire to please Brown seems to be successful, as he joins her in a kiss.
‘Dearest heart,’ whispered she, softly and rather sadly, when her lips were close to his ear, ‘prithee put off your journey until sunrise and sleep in your own bed to-night. . . . Pray tarry with me this night, dear husband, of all nights in the year.’
Faith asks her husband not to travel tonight. She does not know his errand, but she feels worried, particularly for herself. Although not explicitly stated, “this night” may be Halloween, and although she does not explain what she fears, if the date is Halloween, her fears may have to do with supernatural evils. Brown advises her to say her prayers and go to bed early, both good ways to avoid evil.
There was one voice, of a young woman, uttering lamentations, yet with an uncertain sorrow, and entreating for some favour, which, perhaps, it would grieve her to obtain; and all the unseen multitude, both saints and sinners, seemed to encourage her onward. ‘Faith!’ shouted Goodman Brown, in a voice of agony and desperation[.]
While alone in the woods after deciding not to go with the Devil, Brown hears a large number of voices in the air above him, including many he recognizes from the village. Shockingly, he recognizes Faith’s voice among the group. She had been worried about being left alone, and now she has been taken, but perhaps not entirely against her will. She sounds ambivalent and uncertain rather than completely terrified or opposed to what is happening.
There was a scream, drowned immediately in a louder murmur of voices, fading into far-off laughter, as the dark cloud swept away, leaving the clear and silent sky above Goodman Brown. But something fluttered lightly down through the air and caught on the branch of a tree. The young man seized it, and beheld a pink ribbon.
Here, the narrator explains that when Brown yells to Faith, she screams and then disappears, but the ribbon confirms that she really was above him and has been carried off by witches. Knowing that even Faith is now with the Devil breaks Brown. He no longer feels any reason not to choose evil, too. Oddly, Brown does not think to rescue Faith. If she can be taken, “there is no good on earth” and thus nothing to rescue her for.
‘And now, my children, look upon each other.’ They did so, and by the blaze of the hell-kindled torches, the wretched man beheld his Faith, and the wife her husband, trembling before that unhallowed altar. . . . And there they stood, the only pair, as it seemed, who were yet hesitating on the verge of wickedness in this dark world.
Faith has been brought to the “evil assembly” by neighbors. Her husband has found her there. As explained by the narrator, the couple now stand in front of the Devil, who plans to baptize them into his flock. Looking at each other, they realize that they are alone together: Everyone else they know is evil, including their spiritual leaders. They look to each other for support, but the thought of opposing their whole community must be extremely daunting.
Turning the corner by the meeting-house, he spied the head of Faith, with the pink ribbons, gazing anxiously forth, and bursting into such joy at sight of him that she skipped along the street and almost kissed her husband before the whole village.
After his night with the Devil, which may or may not have been a dream, Goodman Brown returns home. The narrator reveals that Brown’s wife, Faith, seems thrilled to have him back. Her demeanor seems completely innocent, suggesting that the evil assembly was all in Brown’s imagination. But viewing her behavior through Brown’s suspicious eyes, one sees yet another corrupted soul only pretending goodness. Faith may still be innocent, but Brown no longer is, and so their relationship has become tainted.
Often, awaking suddenly at midnight, he shrank from the bosom of Faith; and at morning or eventide, when the family knelt down to prayer, he scowled, and muttered to himself, and gazed sternly at his wife, and turned away.
Not being sure that what he witnessed in the woods was real, Goodman Brown continues living normally. He and Faith raise a family. But his suspicion lingers, as revealed here by the narrator. At midnight, the traditional time for evil thoughts and deeds, Brown sometimes feels struck again by the conviction that his wife has been corrupted by the Devil. And at prayer time, he cannot help seeing her innocent behavior as hypocrisy. Faith suffers his strange new coldness in ignorance.