Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Ambitious Guest" is set in a cottage in the Notch of the White Hills, high above the valley of the Saco. The area in which the cottage is nestled is described as a "great artery" through which commerce passes between the areas that border it (Maine, the Green Mountains, and the shores of the St. Lawrence). Although the family at the center of the story has created a warm, comfortable home for themselves in this place, it is still situated in "the bleakest spot of all New England." The wind is extremely sharp no matter what the season, and the winter brings almost unbearably cold weather. To top this off, the cottage is shadowed by an enormous, steep mountain which towers above it and threatens to unleash a rockslide that could kill them all at a moment's notice.
The time of year is autumn: September. It is night and a family is gathered around their fireplace. The setting in the house is cozy and warm. In contrast to this cozy scene, outside the house is the "bleakest spot of all New England." The house is at the base of a mountain and rocks from the top would roll passed it in the night. Although they are isolated, the house is on a path through which many pass: a commercial route.
The setting, therefore, has a contrast: the bleak and dangerous exterior and the safe and warm interior of the house. Although the guest embraces the warmth and security of the home, he dreams of going out into the world and becoming famous. The outcome of the story hinges upon this dichotomy of the safe interior and the potentially dangerous exterior.