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Published: 13-09-2019

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The Importance of the Eerie Setting in "Young Goodman Brown"

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s well-liked quick story “Young Goodman Brown” incites mystery and intrigue in its readers for several factors. “Young Goodman Brown” produces a multitude of inquiries and interpretations as to the precise events of the protagonist’s nocturnal journey. Who does Goodman Brown truly meet in the forest? Was his expertise in the forest a dream, or reality? This ambiguity is central to the form of the story as a complete. Hawthorne intentionally creates ambiguity in “Young Goodman Brown” with the forest setting, which is conducive to optical illusions, his use of dubious descriptive language, and the narrator’s doubt as to the reality of events to explore the ramifications of perceived reality.

A single of the most noticeable components in “Young Goodman Brown” is the eerie setting, which plays a crucial function in the ambiguity of the story. The deep, dark forest that Goodman Brown enters on his nighttime journey sets the stage for the doubt that consumes his mind for the remainder of his life. The darkness of the thick forest acts as a veil so that the reader does not actually know the reality of who or what Goodman Brown encounters on his excursion. As the narrator states, “The traveler knows not who may possibly be concealed by the innumerable trunks and the thick boughs overhead so with lonely footsteps he may possibly yet be passing by way of an unseen multitude” (610). From the moment Brown enters the forest, Hawthorne alerts the reader to the reality that the concept of doubt plays a central part in the story. The narrator also explains that the “uncertain light” may let for “ocular deception” (614). This statement acts as a cornerstone from which the reader can construct a case for disbelief in the reality of the night’s events. One more instance of deliberate ambiguity via a achievable illusion occurs when Brown’s senses detect figures and events throughout the story. “He could have sworn…he recognized the voices of the minister and Deacon Gookin” (614). Nonetheless, even in this example, when Brown seems positive of their existence, he by no means clearly sees the figures. His line of sight is obscured by the blackness of the night and the forest development, and hence his recognition of his fellow townspeople relies only on his sense of hearing. Hawthorne purposely sets the tale in the depths of the forest, an environment that fosters a sense of illusion and doubt in each Brown and the reader.

Similarly, Hawthorne creates ambiguity through dubious descriptions of the characters Brown encounters on his journey. Even when Brown does see figures in the forest the narrator describes them as just that, “figures” – an ambiguous term in and of itself. The term “figure” connotes a representation of a thing or particular person, and does not describe the actual factor or person itself. When describing the characters Brown meets along the way, Hawthorne also utilizes the term “visage”, which also implies the appearance or representation of a particular person, and not necessarily the true individual (617).

Hawthorne deliberately describes the events and characters of the story in such a way as to evoke queries from the reader. A prime instance of yet another questionable description is when Brown very first meets his traveling companion. Upon entering the forest, after Brown asks, “What if the devil himself should be at my really elbow,” a figure appears (611). Simply because Brown’s question precedes the appearance of his traveling companion, it leads the reader to wonder no matter whether the traveling companion is indeed the devil – a reality by no means confirmed by the narrator. Additionally, the narrator notes that Brown and this male figure “might have been taken for father and son” (611). This statement is supported when Goody Cloyse asserts that the traveling companion is the devil appearing as Brown’s father, Goodman Brown (613). Is the devil merely taking the form of Brown’s father, or is Hawthorne implying a deeper connection among the devil and Goodman Brown? The reader can not be particular. The continual use of language such as “might”, “may yet be”, and “as if” further blurs the line in between reality and fantasy and plays an integral role in Hawthorne’s formula for ambiguity. The reader can find this deliberate use of qualified and conditional language all through the story. The doubt of each the narrator and Brown lead the reader to doubt the events of the story.

Just as the descriptions given for the events in the forest evoke uncertainty in the reader, so also do the direct statements of the narrator’s doubt relating to the events of the story. Throughout the text, the narrator constantly raises explicit concerns concerning Goodman Brown’s experiences, thereby intentionally confusing the reader. When Brown hears the voices of the minister and Deacon Gookin, the narrator queries, “Whither, then, could these holy guys be journeying so deep into the heathen wilderness?” (614). When Brown detects the figure of a woman warning him back throughout the black mass, the narrator inquires, “Was it his mother?” (617). And ultimately, soon after Goodman Brown reenters the village a changed man, the narrator challenges, “Had Goodman Brown fallen asleep in the forest and only dreamed of a witch-meeting?” (618). This series of concerns, along with other folks found all through the text, leads the reader to question each and every aspect of the tale, including the place of the events, who was present at the black mass, and the validity of the tale as a whole. Hawthorne deliberately sprinkles these questions throughout the story to throw the reader into a state of inquiry and disbelief.

Although Brown, the narrator, and the reader all question the reality of the night’s events at different points all through the story, it is clear at the conclusion of the tale that Brown’s experience has extremely real ramifications on his life, regardless of no matter whether the events are genuine or imagined. Soon after the narrator inquiries regardless of whether the events have been a dream or reality, he states: “Be it so if you will. But alas! It was a dream of evil omen for young goodman Brown. A stern, a sad, a darkly meditative…man did he become, from the night of that fearful dream” (618). The narrator explains that the actual effects of the night incorporate a distant relationship with his wife, youngsters, and community and asserts that: “his dying hour was gloom” (619). The perceived reality has lasting effects on Brown even even though the reader picks up on Hawthorne’s deliberate ambiguity and is therefore moved to query the validity of the tale.

Hawthorne explores the nature of imagination and reality in this mysterious and grim tale by allowing the reader to actively question the tale regardless of the truth that the protagonist appears to believe wholeheartedly in the reality of the night’s events. He combines a multitude of components in “Young Goodman Brown” to generate a sense of mystery. The dark setting of the forest, which offers camouflage for the figures, the use of language which alludes to achievable double meanings, and a narrator who appears to be unsure of the events of the story himself, are all examples of how Hawthorne utilizes ambiguity as a crucial element in the formation of this quick story. Nevertheless, despite the ambiguity, the reader witnesses the actual ramifications that the events have on Brown’s life, which in turn leads them to question the really concepts of imagination and reality.
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