"Young Goodman Brown" has two distinct settings. What are the differences between these two settings? What significance does each setting have?

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The story is set partly in Salem, and partly in the wooded wilderness around the town. At first glance, the difference is pretty straightforward: the town is good, the woods are bad. Fortunately, there is a little more to it than that. Hawthorne’s story is about hypocrisy and sin. Goodman Brown has grown up in Salem; he has a natural respect for his elders, including his grandfather and his religious teacher, Goody Cloyse. In town, he sees them as good, upright people. But it is in the woods that he mysteriously meets his grandfather with the serpent staff, and overhears Goody Cloyse, the minister and Deacon Gookin proclaiming the devil and discussing a satanic ritual. And it is in the woods that Brown witnesses this black mass.

So perhaps another way of understanding the town/forest dichotomy has to do with truth. Paradoxically, the town, the place of light and civilization and clearly defined social relations, is shown to be deceptive, while the woods, which are dark and dangerous, are the place where the “true” nature of people is revealed. It’s not clear whether Brown really saw these things or hallucinated them, so the ending of the story is also ambiguous: Brown’s disenchantment with Salem after his revelation in the woods can be understood as a form of moral indignation and superiority, or a kind of madness. In either case, Hawthorne’s story calls into question the “real” nature of the people around us, and the inability of social convention (or our own experience) to reveal the true nature of things.

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The setting of Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story "Young Goodman Brown" is set in a village during early American colonial times and in a nearby forest. The village represents safety among a group who values living the commandments from the Bible. In the village, people are expected to act appropriately according to the values which the they all hold as right and true. However, the forest represents the wild away from safety in numbers and values. The forest, especially at night, is dark and shades all who go therein from others seeing their deeds. The forest is mysterious and causes Young Goodman Brown to be curious about what goes on there at night. The setting thus represents not only a village and its forest, but the metaphorical settings for our souls. If one stays within the village then one is secure and safe from the evils that can be found in the forest--or a place of darkness and sin.

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