Clarice Swisher in “Nathaniel Hawthorne: a Biography” states that “critics of Nathaniel Hawthorne must deal with . . . imagery of light and dark” (13). There are more dimensions to Hawthorne’s setting in “Young Goodman Brown” than light and dark, but these aspects do play a part. It is the purpose of this essay to explore the elements in the setting in this short story: the general locale, the historical time, the social circumstances in which the action occur, and various physical settings in the tale (Abrams 284).
The tale opens at Goodman and Faith Brown’s house in Salem village, a small town in Massachusetts. Regarding the dating of the story: “Since three Salem women mentioned in the story, of whom two were hanged, were accused in 1692, the scene must be set somewhere before that date” (Wagenknecht 60). In the doorway of a small house on a small street in this small town, the protagonist is telling his wife goodbye; and she is trying to dissuade him from his planned adventure on this particular night. Most of the elements in this setting are positive, bright, hopeful: a sunset; a familiar street and home; pink ribbons on Faith’s cap. The atmosphere is good – but night is soon coming.
As Goodman departs and walks down the street past the meeting-house, the environment begins to deteriorate as he turns onto a "dreary road, darkened by all the gloomiest trees of the forest, which barely stood aside to let the narrow path creep through, and closed immediately behind."”His new setting in the woods is “lonely,” has “solitude,” and reflects Goodman’s footsteps, which are “lonely.” His suspicion and fear grow as he reflects: “"There may be a devilish Indian ...
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... the general locale, the historical time, the social circumstances in which the action occur, and various physical settings for specific episodes within the tale.
Abrams, M. H. A Glossary of Literary Terms, 7th ed. New York: Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1999.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “Young Goodman Brown.” 1835. http://www.cwrl.utexas.edu/~daniel/amlit/goodman/goodmantext.html
Leavis, Q.D. “Hawthorne as Poet.” In Hawthorne – A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by A.N. Kaul. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1966.
Swisher, Clarice. “Nathaniel Hawthorne: a Biography.” In Readings on Nathaniel Hawthorne, edited by Clarice Swisher. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 1996.
Wagenknecht, Edward. Nathaniel Hawthorne – The Man, His Tales and Romances. New York: Continuum Publishing Co., 1989.
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