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SETTING

How setting(s) can


affect a narrative
and how we can
make sense of it

Setting

In its simplest form, we may think


of this as where the story takes
place.

Setting
There are plenty of contexts within
which the narrative takes place.
They arent just locations that we
might find on a map.

Kinds of Settings
Geographic location: something we
might locate on a map
Whether a story is set in the
mountains or New York City or rural
Virginia or the slums of Bombay or
the fantasy world of Narnia is very
important

Kinds of Settings
Natural settings: the particular blend
of landscape and climate
Is the setting harsh and hostile?
comfortable and nurturing?
obliterated by buildings and roads?

Kinds of Settings

Cultural context: what values, beliefs,


opportunities, conventions, and the like
are commonplace in this setting?
Eleventh-century Japan and twentiethcentury U.S. have many fundamental
differences that arise from the cultures
involved with each. What beliefs
dominate? what sorts of attitudes? What
form does the government take? What
values are common?

Kinds of Settings

Social context: how do the people here tend


to behave? What pressures do they put on
people (or not)?
How do people here tend to spend their
time: working hard? philosophizing? Are
these self-confident aristocrats or struggling
members of the working class? Is it a
setting where religious fundamentalism
dominates? sexism is rampant? people are
free to shape their lives? the past is very
important? respectability and conformity
matter?

Kinds of Settings
Familial setting: what do the values,
expectations, traditions, pressures,
and natural tendencies of the people
in this family tend to be?
Can be much the same as social.
What baggage does one carry as a
result of coming from a certain
family?

Kinds of Settings
Architectural setting: what sorts of
buildings (if any) do events take
place in?
A vast mansion, a small shed, an
office building, an opera house, a
barn, a subway stationany
construction brings certain meanings
and expectations to the storyand
others can be added by characters
and events.

Why setting matters


usually contributes to atmosphere
usually helps us make sense of what
is going on (Robinson Crusoe makes
no sense without setting)
often helps us understand
characters and their choices
contributes to our understanding of
the themes of the narrative

More abstract notions of


setting
a narrative is set in a world in which
God (or the gods) behave in certain
ways
or in which nature or fate or
economic forces behave in certain
ways
or in which times passage is
fundamentally important

More or less important

Physical setting can be absolutely central


to what happens (Robinson Crusoe, The
Wizard of Oz) or much less so (High
Fidelitymoved to Chicago)
But the other settings are usually very
important and worth our attention

High Fidelity can move to Chicago successfully


because all of the other settings remain pretty
much the same.

More or less important


Integral Setting: action, character,
or theme are influenced by the time
and place in important ways
Backdrop Setting: time and place
are not essential to our
understanding of plot and character
(but may still contribute in
significant ways to the work)

To recap:
geographical
natural
cultural
social
familial
architectural

The End