Herman Melville said "Young Goodman Brown" was "as deep as Dante" and Henry James called it a "magnificent little romance". Hawthorne himself believed the story made no more impact than any of his tales. Years later he wrote, "These stories were published... in Magazines and Annuals, extending over a period of ten or twelve years, and comprising the whole of the writer's young manhood, without making (so far as he has ever been aware) the slightest impression on the public." Contemporary critic Edgar Allan Poe disagreed, referring to Hawthorne's short stories as "the products of a truly imaginative intellect".
Modern scholars and critics generally view the short story as an allegorical tale written to expose the contradictions in place concerning Puritan beliefs and societies. However, there have been many other interpretations of the text including those who believe Hawthorne sympathizes with Puritan beliefs. Author Harold Bloom comments on the variety of explanations; Stephen King has referred to the story as "one of the ten best stories written by an American". He calls it his favorite story by Hawthorne and cites it as an inspiration for his O. Henry Award-winning short story, "The Man in the Black Suit".
A 1972 short film directed by Donald Fox is based on the story. It features actors Mark Bramhall, Peter Kilman and Maggie McOmie.