In the short story "Young Goodman Brown" by Nathaniel Hawthorne, the main character spends a great deal of the story traveling through a "dreary road, darkened by all the gloomiest trees of the forest". What do these woods represent?

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The woods represent wildness, the untamed frightful world of nature, which contrasts strongly with the purity and order of Salem (the town in which the story takes place). At the outset of the story, Goodman Brown is poised precariously between choosing to remain in the safety of his home (with his wife Faith) and the terrifying forest he decides to explore when night falls. Home comes to symbolize security and faith (Goodman's wife's name is Faith for a reason!) while the forest represents evil incarnate.

Perhaps the clearest sign that the forest represents the opposite of faith is the presence of Satan himself amidst the woods. Goodman's choice to venture into the forest becomes a battle of good vs. evil, in which he vacillates between staying put with Faith and falling into the clutches of the devil: “Too far! Too far!" he shouts when he realizes he might walk so far into the woods as to fall for the devil's wicked seduction.

It's not just the devil though. Hawthorne uses other images and symbols to convey how the woods represent fear and "otherness." For example, he uses the trees themselves and Native Americans who dwell in the forest as a symbol of the dark and exotic dangers that lurk within the woods, as we can see in his references to both the trees and the Indians in this line:

The whole forest was peopled with frightful sounds--the creaking of the trees, the howling of wild beasts, and the yell of Indians.

This page helped me figure all this symbolism out and has more detail and examples if you need additional help.


The woods represent fear of the world outside his village.

On the first page:

that the traveller knows not who may be concealed by the innumerable trunks and the thick boughs overhead; so that with lonely footsteps he may yet be passing through an unseen multitude.

This pretty clearly shows the traveller is fearful of the forest.

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