The Setting of “Young Goodman Brown”
This essay will examine the main physical settings within Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story, “Young Goodman Brown.” These are four in number and begin and end in the village of Salem.
The tale opens at Goodman and Faith Brown’s house, in the doorway where the protagonist is telling his wife goodbye, and where 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.
As Goodman departs and walks down the street past the meeting-house, his physical setting 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 behind every tree," said Goodman Brown to himself; and he glanced fearfully behind him, as he added, "What if the devil himself should be at my very elbow!"
When he turns his head to the front again, after passing a crook in the road, there stands the fellow-traveller in “grave” attire, and “It was now deep dusk in the forest, and deepest in that part of it where these two were journeying.” The ominous darkness of the forest and the traveller’s attire emphasize the increased power of evil in this setting where the coven is to take place. The fellow-traveller’s staff “bore the likeness of a great black snake, so curiously wrought, that it might almost be seen to twist and wriggle itself like a living serpent.” Bringing a large black snake into the physical setting is indeed one way to dramatically ratchet-up the tension and the foreboding of ill. In this passage the narrator identifies the traveller with the snake: "Sayest thou so?" replied he of the serpent, smiling apart.”
In turn, the traveller identifies the forbears of Goodman with part of the physical setting, namely the path through the woods:
"Well said, Goodman Brown! I have been as well acquainted with your family as with ever a one among the Puritans; and that's no trifle to say. I helped your grandfather, the constable, when he lashed the Quaker woman so smartly through the streets of Salem. And it was I that brought your father a pitch-pine knot, kindled at my own hearth, to set fire to an Indian village, in King Philip's War. They were my good friends, both; and many a pleasant walk have we had along this path [my italics], and returned merrily after midnight. I would fain be friends with you, for their sake."
Goody Cloyse is also connected with this part of the physical setting: “As he spoke, he pointed his staff at a female figure on the path [my italics], in whom Goodman Brown recognized a very pious and exemplary...