Symbolism of Setting and Character Descriptions in Young Goodman Brown

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Emily Bartlett
Ms. Santi
1B PDP American Literature
7 December 2011
Young Goodman Brown
In Young Goodman Brown, Nathanial Hawthorne utilizes the forest’s setting and character’s descriptions to show the symbolic meaning of each. The forest, each character and their actions all have specific meanings that are critical to the interpretation of the story. The story of Young Goodman Brown takes place in the town of Salem, Massachusetts, and the forest surrounding the town. Salem became famous for its witch tr1ials and the evil lurking within its forests. Forests are best known for being places of evil, “Satan’s playground”, for “There may be a devilish Indian behind every tree,” (Hawthorne 1). Night itself is considered to be the time when evil lurks about. The night and the forest represent the unknown, and the darkness lurking within every person. The story of Young Goodman Brown commonly describes the path Brown takes, winding its way through the forest, in and out of trees. “He had taken 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… he passed a crook of the road.” (Hawthorne 1). Crooks in the road and narrow winding paths symbolize both good and bad choices. The two routes long and complex, but some may show the way out, while others drag many people farther into the forest, deeper into the grip of Satan. The evils of uncertainty easily temp people when they are unsure of the world around them. “At one extremity of an open space, hemmed in by the dark wall of the forest, arose a rock, bearing some rude resemblance either to an altar or a pulpit, and surrounded by four blazing pines, their tops aflame, their stems untouched, like candles at an evening meeting.” (Hawthorne 5). The dark wall that surrounds the edge of the clearing represents the location of the clearing in the depths of the forest, still in the realms of evil. For example, Hansel and Gretel are left in the woods and are submissive to the temptations provided by the candy house of the witch. The resemblance of the stone to an altar or a pulpit symbolizes that this appears as a place of worship most likely for crude imperfect beings, such as the devil. This is also similar to the garden where Jesus is betrayed the night before his crucifixion. The fire symbolizes a person’s mental picture of the fiery depths of hell. This also references the story of the burning bush, where the bush burns, yet no harm comes to it`. In order for something to burn, yet cause no harm, is considered to be the work of the supernatural workings of either godly or ungodly beings. Not only is the setting crucial to the interpretations of the story, the descriptions of characters possess great importance as well. Goodman Brown’s wife, Faith, seems to be an innocent, almost childlike woman. “And Faith, as the wife was aptly named, thrust her own pretty head into the street, letting the wind play with the pink ribbons of her cap.” (Hawthorne 1). Pink is a color meaning innocent love, “Letting the wind play with the pink ribbons of her cap”, makes it sound as though she acts like a child, a sweet little child. The story describes the man Goodman Brown meets in the woods as looking like a typical traveler, “The second traveler was about fifty years old, apparently in the same rank of life as Goodman Brown, and bearing considerable resemblance to him, though perhaps more in expression than features… the elder person was as simply clad as the younger, and as simple in manner too, he had an indescribable air of one who knew the world.” (Hawthorne 1). The second man appears as the same age and dress as Goodman Brown. However unlike Goodman Brown, he knows how to deal with the world, and seems to understand how it works. This man could have easily slipped into any society and been taken for one of citizens. He appears as a normal person; however the staff in the possession...
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