A Study of Settings Appearing in "Young Goodman Brown" by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Term Paper, 2007

15 Pages, Grade: 2,0


1. Introduction

In “A Glossary of Literary Terms” the term “setting” is described as followed:

The overall setting of a narrative or dramatic work is the general local, historical time, and social circumstances in which its action occurs; the setting of a single episode or scene within a work is the particular physical location in which it takes place. The overall setting of “Macbeth”, for example, is medieval Scotland, and the setting for a particular scene in which Macbeth comes upon the witches is a blasted heath. …

In works by writers such as Edgar Allan Poe, Thomas Hardy, and William Faulkner, both the overall and individual settings are important elements in generating the atmosphere of their works. The Greek term opsis (“scene,” or “spectacle”) is now occasionally used to denote a particular visible or picturable setting in any work of literature, including a lyric poem…[1]

In other words, the setting of a story is just as important as the characters that act within the story. No narration can stand without a setting; the setting is essential and influences every narration. Good settings can give a story its final touch and bad chosen settings can destroy a narration. In historical narrations, the setting is already given and an unchangeable part of the story line. In a fictional story, on the other hand, the setting is part of the fiction and was entirely chosen by the narrator himself. He tries to use the setting in favor of his purposes in order to make the story work. Very often, a setting is selected in order to make a story more authentic or to produce a certain feeling and mood within the reader.

The short story “Young Goodman Brown” is generally felt to be one of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s more difficult tales. The story is very ambiguous and induces many discussions about what the allegory within the story might imply.[2] It is likely to write about Hawthorne’s intentions with his story, about the symbolism of, for example, the pink ribbon that Goodman Brown’s wife Faith had in her hair in the beginning of the story when he left her and which appears to him again later in the story when he wanders through the forest.

However, in my term paper, I will focus on the settings that appear in “Young Goodman Brown”. This is a subject that has not attracted as much attention as other parts of “Young Goodman Brown” but is without any doubt a very interesting field of study.

In my study I will try to identify the different settings of the story in diverse ways. Thus, it is important not only to describe the settings but also to discuss their meaning; not only for the story itself but also for the people of the time when “Young Goodman Brown” was first published.

It is especially interesting to see what kind of reactions Hawthorne tried to generate with “Young Goodman Brown” among the Puritan population in New England of which he himself was a part. The setting of the forest plays a special role in this case and shows us that people of Hawthorne’s time had a different connection to their environment and to nature than we do today. The early Puritans who came to New England had a very difficult relationship to their new, wild, and uncultivated environment.

Further, it is important to talk about Salem Village, Massachusetts and the witch trials that occurred there. The village and its Puritan population, as well as the witch trials, for which Salem became famous, are important to “Young Goodman Brown.” Additionally, the relationship of the Hathorne family to the city of Salem and to the witch trials is an interesting one. This relationship explains a lot about Nathaniel Hawthorne’s motivation to write the short story “Young Goodman Brown.” The story of Goodman Brown primarily deals with the guilt and the evil that lies within every human being no matter how religious, honest, gentle or truthful he seems to be.

2. Salem Village and the Salem witch trials

Salem Village, the village in which Nathaniel Hawthorne was born and grew up, and the state of Massachusetts play an essential role in most of Hawthorne’s stories. “Young Goodman Brown” is no exception. “Young Goodman Brown” does not only deal with the battle of good against evil but also deals especially with the theme of witchcraft, supernatural occurrences, and Puritanism.

In 1692, Salem Village was home to the famous Salem witch trials. In order to understand Hawthorne’s interest in this historical occurrence that took place in Salem Village, we must go back and take a look at the history of the Hathorne family.

Around 1630, William Hathorne sailed from England to Naumkeag, later called Salem, in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. This first American ancestor of Nathaniel Hawthorne converted to Puritanism at the age of about twenty-one and with this action introduced the Puritan lifestyle into the Hathorne family. In 1936, William Hathorne became an assistant magistrate of John Endecott, who was for many years the most fanatical judge in the colony. William himself supported the fanatical religious views of his chief and relentlessly persecuted Quakers in the Massachusetts Bay colony. He had them arrested, flogged, and banished. He also fined sea captains who transported Quakers to the colony. In 1658, William Hathorne was part of a jury that sentenced two Quakers to be hanged.

William Hathorne’s fourth son, John Hathorne, was also a magistrate and just as fanatical as his father. But instead of persecuting Quakers, he specialized in the persecution of witches. In 1692, three inhabitants of Salem Village (located only a few miles from the town of Salem) were arrested and charged with witchcraft. John Hawthorne was one of the two judges who were in charge of questioning the accused. Eventually, the three accused women were sent to a prison in Boston to await trial for witchcraft. Thus began a hysterical religious fury and Puritan fanaticism that swept through Essex County and led to the famous Salem witch trials.

These witch trials resulted in the execution of twenty people (fourteen women and six men) and the imprisonment of one hundred and fifty other people. While nineteen of the death sentenced were hanged, the eighty-year-old Giles Cory, who refused to plead either guilty or not guilty to the charge of witchcraft, was pressed to death. It took the heavy load three days to kill the old man. Even though John Hathorne was one of the seven magistrates to assist the chief magistrate, Lieutenant Governor William Stoughton, he never actually sat as member of the court. John Hathorne was mainly involved in the hearing and questioning for about one hundred accused persons. He sent most of them to jail to await trial but he never actually sentenced them to death even though he watched most of the convicted witches die.[3]

Nathaniel Hawthorne was extremely sensitive about the fanatical roles played by his ancestors in the early days of New England. A kind of family guilt settled upon him and he felt somehow responsible for the actions of his forefathers. This guilt surely prompted him to critical attacks in his literary works on the rigors of Puritanism. In “Young Goodman Brown,” Hawthorne plays tribute to the blind Puritan fanaticism of the witch trials by placing the story in Salem Village and in a Puritan society. He attacks the Puritans by showing them as ostensibly devotional people who under the surface are just as susceptible to evil as every other human being. Further, Hawthorne mentions Goody Cloyse, who was accused of witchcraft and sentenced to prison by judge John Hathorne, and Goody Cory, who was hanged as a witch in 1962.


[1] M. H. Abrams, A Glossary of Literary Terms (Cornell: Thomson Wadsworth, 2005) 294.

[2] R. H. Fogle, Hawthorne’s Fiction; “The light and the dark” (Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1975) 15.

[3] Thomas E. Connolly, Essays on Fiction – Dickens, Melville, Hawthorne, and Faulkner ( Lewiston, Edwin Mellen Press, 1999) 33-35.

For further information on the Salem witch trials and original documents of the trials take a look at the website: http://etext.virginia.edu/salem/witchcraft/

Excerpt out of 15 pages


A Study of Settings Appearing in "Young Goodman Brown" by Nathaniel Hawthorne
University of Heidelberg  (Anglistisches Seminar)
Proseminar 2 Literaturwissenschaft: "Poe and Company"
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Study, Settings, Appearing, Young, Goodman, Brown, Nathaniel, Hawthornre
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Daniel Obländer (Author), 2007, A Study of Settings Appearing in "Young Goodman Brown" by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/154861


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