Setting is an environment or surrounding in which an event or story takes place. It may provide particular information about placement and timing, such as New York, America, in the year 1820. Setting could be simply descriptive like a lonely cottage on a mountain. Social conditions, historical time, geographical locations, weather, immediate surroundings, and timing are all different aspects of setting. It has its three major components; social environment, place and time. Moreover, setting could be an actual region, or a city made larger than life, as James Joyce characterizes Dublin in Ulysses, or it could be a work of imagination of the author as Vladimir Nabokov creates imaginative place, space-time continuum in Ada.
Types of Setting
It has two main types:
Backdrop Setting – Backdrop setting emerges when it is not important for a story, and it could happen in any setting such as A. A. Milne’s story Winnie-the-Pooh could take place in any type of setting.
Integral Setting – It is when the place and time influences theme, character and action of a story. In this type, setting controls the characters and by controlling setting, writers could control their characters. If they confine a certain character to a particular setting, it will define the character. Beatrix Potter’s short story, The Tail of Peter Rabbit, is an example of integral setting in which the behavior of Peter becomes an integral part of the setting. Another good example of this type of setting can be seen in E. B. White’s novel, Charlotte’s Web.
Examples of Setting from Literature
In Emily Bronte’s novel Wuthering Heights, its setting plays a vital role, as it reflects the mood of major characters and their actions, while contributing to its overall atmosphere. The novel has three main settings; first is moors, second is Wuthering Heights and third is Thrushcross Grange. Moors symbolize wilderness, freedom as nobody owns them, and everyone can freely move anytime, while name Wuthering Heights depicts weather around this house is stormy and gloomy and its characters are cruel and extremely passionate. Thrushcross Grange, on the other hand, is contrary to Wuthering Heights, because its weather is calm, while its inhabitants are dull and weak.
Christopher Marlowe’s poem, The Passionate Shepherd to His Love, is set in the countryside. The poet has focused on the setting of countryside during springtime. The springtime has a double purpose, as it refers to baby animals and budding flowers, and fifth month of the year. Then the month of May sets the scene as well as emphasizes fertility and new life linked with springtime. Thus, poet has idealized the image of rural life in the background of his personal emotions, while time is stationary in the poem.
In Joseph Conrad’s novel, Heart of Darkness, the leading character Marlow goes to different places and settings that influence his imagination and adds to the themes of the story. The title, Heart of Darkness, refers to center of the jungle in African continent, where Marlowe travels to find Kurtz. The darkness not only applies to shadowy jungle, it also applies to the behavior and actions of the civilized people it affects, and they become savage like Kurtz. The setting is also symbolic of imperialistic forces that have made the black men their slaves.
In William Golding’s novel, Lord of Flies, weather plays a very important role, as it represents mood, behavior and attitudes of young boys throughout the storyline. During the day, beach looks bright, while the ocean is calm and there is no conflict. Author describes the dense areas of the jungle as scary and dark. One night when Simon is killed, there comes a violent storm, and the ocean looks very rough in that black night. Thus, its setting includes weather conditions and ocean representing dark forces of nature present in human nature.
Function of Setting
The function of settings in a fictional, poetic and prose work is of great importance. It has immense effects on plots and characters, as it could act as an antagonist, post a conflict that characters need to resolve, or could shed light upon characters , and could also present symbolic persons, objects, place, action or situation. It can establish the mood or atmosphere of a scene, or story and develop the plot into a more realistic form, resulting in creating convincing characters. By establishing mood, setting also helps the audience relate themselves to the characters in a story.