Setting is a term that denotes the local and historical time in which action occurs in a narrative work. However setting can be used for other purposes in a novel including serving as a symbol to support the novels theme. The diverse settings of The Scarlet Letter such as the market place, the forest and Hesters cottage are examples of this.
The market place was the quintessential delineation of austere Puritan society.Being that it was one of the main gathering places of Puritans it was almost always highly populated. Due to this all the laws applied. I t was not as though you were in the confines of your own home. Every one saw how acted. Every transgression was quickly punished. This was what the everyday life of a Puritan was supposed to be.
The forest was the antithesis of the puritan world. In the forest everyone was autonomous in the sense that the only rules that existed were the rules you made for yourself. For example, upon entering the forest Hester takes off her head covering and the scarlet A off. She feels that the weigh of stern Puritan beliefs have been lifted of her shoulders and that its her beliefs that count now. Not being boxed in by societies beliefs and opinions the forest becomes a place of truthfulness as well. This is proven from the fact that Hester only feels comfortable telling Dimmesdale of Chilingworths true identity in the forest.
Hesters cottage acts as a transition point between the market place and the forest. It is located right is significantly located on the fringes of the town and at the edge of the forest. After she was found to have committed adultery was forced to move the outskirts of the village. It is becomes her place of exile, which ties it to the authoritarian town. Since lies it lies apart from the settlement it is a place where she can create for herself a life of relative peace.
The market place and the forest are two contradicting settings. The market place places the persons life in the hands of the societies leaders and the forest place the persons life in their own hands. Containing characteristics of both the market and the forest Hesters cottage acts as a transition point between the two.