Study Guide

Young Goodman Brown Setting

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Salem and the Nearby Forest

Hawthorne sure found some strange ways to commemorate the town where he was born. In the autobiographical sketch that opens The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne made his native Salem look like a cross between a retirement community and a slum.

Whether the colonial Salem of "Young Goodman Brown" comes off any better is up to you. But one thing is certain: in Hawthorne's book, "commemorate" didn't mean "record every last littlest detail." You can learn a couple things about Puritan life from "Young Goodman Brown," but they might not be new. (Look, they're all going to pray at the meeting house!) If you want much else, make sure your copy has good footnotes, or visit your friendly neighborhood Shmoop.
Otherwise, you're out of luck.

For one, you couldn't draw a half-decent map of Salem using "Young Goodman Brown." And you'd have worse luck drawing a map of the forest that young Goodman Brown explores. The forest is meant to be a disorienting, dreamlike place. Mapping it is the last thing that you, or young Goodman Brown, should be able to do.

Names Have (Not) Been Changed to Protect the (Not) Innocent

That said, Hawthorne has an interesting way of compensating for the vague and confusing places in his story. He's very specific about when his story is set. "Young Goodman Brown" takes place at the end of the 17th century, around the time of the Salem Witch Trials. How do we know this? Because some of Hawthorne's minor characters—like Deacon Gookin, Goody Cloyse, Martha Carrier—were real citizens of Salem.

That said, we can't get a good idea what the real deacon Gookin or the real Martha Carrier were like from reading "Young Goodman Brown." Instead, we're supposed to see the names of these historical people and realize that witchcraft is in the air.

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