The story takes place at a late evening in 17th century Salem, Massachussets, with young Goodman Brown leaving his home and Faith, his wife of three months, to meet with a mysterious figure deep in the forest. As he and this mysterious figure meet and proceed further into the dark forest, it is broadly hinted that Goodman Brown's traveling companion is, in fact, the Devil, and that the purpose of their journey is to join in an unholy ritual. Goodman Brown feels unwillingness ,yet they continue on. As their journey continues Brown finds out that others also proceeding to the meeting, and many of them townsfolk whom he had considered exemplary Christians, including his minister and deacon and the woman who taught him his catechism. He is astonished and disheartened and determines, once again, to turn back. But now he hears his wife's voice and realizes she is one of those to be initiated at the meeting. Recognizing that he had lost Faith and his "faith", he carries out his original intention and joins the procession.
At the ceremony, carried out at a flame-lit, crude rocky altar in a clearing deep in the forest, the new converts are called to come forth. He and Faith approach the altar and, as they are about to be anointed in blood to seal their alliance with wickedness, he cries out to Faith to look to heaven and resist. In the next instant he finds himself standing alone in the forest, next to the cold, wet rock.
When he arrived back in Salem the next morning, Goodman Brown is unsure whether his experience was real or only a dream, but he is nevertheless deeply shaken. His view of his neighbors is distorted by his memories of that night. He lives out his days a suspicious cynic, wary of everyone around him, especially his wife Faith. The story ends with this statement;
"And when he had lived long, and was borne to his grave...they carved no hopeful verse upon his tombstone, for his dying hour was gloom.'...