, Research Paper
Setting of “Young Goodman Brown”byBen Sapp The short story, “Young Goodman Brown,” by Nathaniel Hawthorne tells a classical story of the human race. It is about the need of a young Christian man, goodman Brown, to come to terms with his own sinful nature and the sinful natures of the people around him. In “Young Goodman Brown,” Hawthorne greatly increases the dramatic effect and makes a far more complete story through highly effective use of the setting. Some important aspects of this setting include: the time at which Brown leaves, the geographical location chosen, the forest in which goodman Brown journeys, and the active part of the setting that affects goodman Brown and his decisions. All of these have their own distinct influences upon the story that make it more in depth and enjoyable to read. One key aspect of the setting involves the time at which goodman Brown chooses to partake upon his journey. His wife said that she didn’t want him to go that night, “of all nights of the year” (183). It was said afterwards, by goodman Brown, that his journey had to take place “`twixt now and sunrise” (183). These two comments by the characters lead the reader to believe that he is going out on Halloween in the middle of the night. This has haunting implications for young Brown. Nighttime is known as a time in which evil runs strong and rampant. Halloween is famously known as the time of the year in which ghouls, ghosts, and witches come out of their lairs to work their evil ways upon the world. With Hawthorne tying these two together, it makes for a fearful omen for what young goodman Brown has in store. One of the most prominent aspects of the setting is simply the geographic location chosen. Salem, Massachusetts is very rich in its religious history. The Puritans came to New England in search of religious freedom for themselves. Puritanical belief was very strict. They strove as all Christians did to eliminate sin, but the nature of man is still to sin. They believed the best way to deal with their own sin was, above all else, not to let others know about it. More important, Puritans believed in witchcraft. This belief led to the famous witch trials of 1692, where innocent people were put to the death on the word of a raving child. Witchcraft and secret sin, generated by this region, go hand on hand with this story. Another important aspect of the geographical setting has to do with the relationship between Boston and Salem. These two cities are close in terms of distance, but not so close that a man could travel by foot between them in less than fifteen minutes. A feat such as this would suggest supernatural speed. Couple the fact that the man brandishes a serpentine staff; supernatural speed helps lead the reader to discover the true identity of Brown’s traveling companion; Satan.
The active part that the setting plays does not take up a large part of the story, but it is important nonetheless. At a certain point in the story Brown looks Heavenward in order to strengthen his resolve, but his plan works against him: ” a cloud, though no wind was stirring, hurried across the zenith, and hid the brightening stars” (188). Thus, directly above young Brown, was the vision of Heaven stole. This action of the setting plays as a turning point for Brown in the story. Finally, the most extensive aspect of the setting is the forest and those things contained therein. First of all, Puritans believed that the forest itself was a wild and untamed place. So did Brown who thought that ” the devil himself should be at my very elbow” (184). So merely the fact it was a forest into which goodman Brown delved, made it an ominous place. Secondly, there is much description that made the forest a more fearsome setting. With “gloomy” hollows and “dreary” roads which were “darkened by all the gloomiest trees of the forest,” it hardly makes for a friendly place (183, 186). That which is the most important aspect of the forest is where the witches meeting took place. There in the “deepest” part of the “heathen” wilderness where no “solitary Christian prayed,” did the ritual of deviltry take place (184, 188). Here young Brown beheld a glimpse into possibly Hell itself. There stood a crude rock “altar” surrounded by “blazing pines” (189). Everywhere was fire, flame, and symbols of the unholy. This is where the climax of the story takes place, and where young goodman Brown is changed forever. By using Halloween night, the home of the witch trials, having clouds appear where they simply should not, and a haunted forest with flaming altars; Nathaniel Hawthorne creates a very rich setting. This setting greatly contributes to the whole of the story and serves to make it one of America’s better known short stories.