Young Goodman Brown Questions and Answers
by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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Young Goodman Brown Setting

The two distinct settings are Salem and the woods. What are the differences between these settings?

What significance does each setting have in the story?

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Nathaniel Hawthorne came by his knowledge of the attitudes and beliefs of the Puritans naturally; he was a descendant of John Hawthorne, a magistrate during the Salem Witch Trials of 1692.

Puritans tended to believe that the woods should be avoided for both practical and spiritual reasons.  Practically speaking, the woods were a place that concealed the Native Americans who compromised the Puritans' safety.  Puritans had little understanding of the indigenous people's spiritual beliefs and, thus, dismissed them as devil worshipers; as a result, the woods were a place where a Puritan should not stray. To enter the woods was a symbolic act of...

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Salem is the seemingly ideal Puritan community in which Young Goodman Brown lives. Salem is populated with such characters as "the good old minister," "Old Deacon Goodkin," "Goody Cloyse, that excellent old Christian," Goodman Brown himself, and Faith, Goodman Brown's pure and pretty wife.

As their names imply, the inhabitants of Salem are "Good" - they are upright Christians and morally spotless. Their seemingly pure natures, however, bely their true devilry. When Goodman Brown investigates the woods near Salem, he discovers that the seemingly Good people of Salem are not as Christian as they appear. In the woods, all those Good men and Good women engage in frenzied Devil worshipping and dastardly acts that embrace evil and forsake God himself.

The two settings contrast each other directly. Salem represents the outer appearance, what may seem pure and Christian but really isn't. The woods represents people's true natures, the Devils inside of them.