The story is of a young man d Goodman brown who decides to explore the ‘evil’ and battle it with his own righteousness. Eventually he succeeds but it unleashes unto him the hypocrisy of the whole mankind. The main theme of the story revolves around the struggle between guilt and innocence.
Although Goodman Brown ventures into the forest without any intention of losing his ‘faith’, he feels guilty in the company of the devil. This point is very clearly evident from the incident when Goody Cloyse, the minister and Deacon Gookin come to meet the devil. Brown instead of meeting them, hides behind the trees and eavesdrop on their conversation. He witnesses righteousness and piety being abused in front of his eyes and that is what increased his curiosity but also restrained a part of him from the evil influences. Brown is appalled to see that the minister and the churchman have succumbed to the evil temptations and are attending the witches’ Sabbath. Brown also comes to know that his ancestors had also treaded along the same path. So little by little the reality of the people around him comes in the open. The author has developed the theme gradually and Brown who trusted the innocent faces of the town started becoming filled with guilt and suspicion. The biggest shock of Brown however is not seeing the minister attending the rituals but his wife, Faith joining the communion. Up till now he was looking at everything as a silent observer and the thought of his wife was giving him strength to stay in the forest but the sight of her takes him completely off guard, as if he has lost ‘Faith’ in entirety. He calls out to her, urges her to seek refuge from the heavens and this is where everything around him vanishes leaving him stranded in the middle of the forest.
Whether the episode inside the forest was a figment of his imagination or reality, it has a grave impact on his personality for the rest of his life. As per the theme, Brown’s personality takes a transition from happy to a very grave one. He becomes “a stern, a sad, a darkly meditative, a distrustful, if not a desperate man.” He grows suspicious of everyone around including all the noble townsmen he looked up to, and his wife Faith whom he deeply loved. Brown had returned to the village feeling triumphant that he had come back unharmed from the devil’s influences but in reality he has lost his innocence, because his relations with the other townsmen and the God have been damaged. When the minister spoke from the pulpit, with power and fervid eloquence, and with his hand on the open Bible, of the sacred truths of our religion, and of saint-like lives and triumphant deaths, and of future bliss or misery unutterable, then did Goodman Brown turn pale, dreading lest the roof should thunder down upon the gray blasphemer and his hearers.” Whether the experience in the forest was real or imaginative, it changed how Brown viewed the world around him. The innocence in his character and the veneration he had held for these townsmen has vanished.