What Is Setting In Literature?

Have you ever read a story that doesn’t show the place and time where the actions of the story take place? Think about it for some time? No, right? Setting is an important element of literature. Among the three main elements of a story: character, plot and setting, setting is usually overlooked by many writers.  Good writers; however, develop the setting in such a manner that not only it works as a backdrop for their story’s plot, but it also serves as an effective writing tool in elaborating characters’ actions, their feelings and emotions, and plot development.

Setting And Elements Of Setting:

Setting is the time, place, environment and the context where the story’s actions take place.  Setting also encompasses weather, time period, country, city, objects and the people present in the immediate surroundings. As the story develops, we see that the place changes and so does the environment. Hence, the change in the setting. Now that we know what the basic elements of a setting are, it is good to discuss the importance of setting in literature so we develop a deeper understanding of the different ways authors use to describe settings in their stories.

Importance Of Setting In Literature:

Setting plays an important role in developing the mood of the story and conveying specific themes that the author wants to convey. It is good to note that in a story, all the elements of settings interact to convey the story’s theme, character’s behaviors and plot development. The art of weaving these elements of setting is purely reflected in the works of famous authors. As writers, we can also learn from the famous author’s art of describing settings.

Examples Of Setting In Literature:

We have seen that settings can be broad and very specific too. Most writers use a combination of both to make their writing vivid and interesting.

Let’s take a look at a few setting examples and analyse how these authors describe the settings in their stories.

Setting Example 01:

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. Winston Smith, his chin nuzzled into his breast in an effort to escape the vile wind, slipped quickly through the glass doors of Victory Mansions, though not quickly enough to prevent a swirl of gritty dust from entering along with him.

(‘1984 Signet Classics’ by George Orwell)

In these opening lines from 1984, George Orwell highlights the season and the time of the day. He hints at the cold weather by describing the character’s reaction to the cold wind (…chin nuzzled into his breast in an effort to escape the vile wind…). Then he shows the transition of the setting from outdoors to an indoor setting (…the glass doors of Victory Mansions…). Notice how he describes the look of the mansions i.e. glass doors and specifies the exact place i.e. Victory Mansions.

Setting Example 02:

The hills across the valley of the Ebro were long and white. On this side there was no shade and no trees and the station was between two lines of rails in the sun. Close against the side of the station there was the warm shadow of the building and a curtain, made of strings of bamboo beads, hung across the open door into the bar, to keep out flies.

(‘Hills Like White Elephants’ by Ernest Hemingway)

In these lines from Hills Like White Elephants, Hemingway beautifully describe the Ebro valley in Spain. Notice the details he uses to describe the mountains, the sun, the shade, and the curtain giving us a clue about the weather.

Setting Example 03:

The hallway smelt of boiled cabbage and old rag mats. At one end of it a coloured poster, too large for indoor display, had been tacked to the wall. It depicted simply an enormous face, more than a metre wide: the face of a man of about forty-five, with a heavy black moustache and ruggedly handsome features.

(‘1984 Signet Classics’ by George Orwell)

This excerpt from George Orwell’s 1984 is a great example of the author’s use of sensory details to describe the settings. Notice how the author has used the sensory details to describe the hallway (…smelt of boiled cabbage and old rug mats). He describes the unproportionate poster (…too large for indoor display) and the picture on it with great dexterity. Notice the use of words to describe the picture on the poster (…an enormous face, …about forty-five, with heavy black moustache and ruggedly handsome features) and approximation (more than a meter wide) successfully depict a clear picture.

In my next post, I will share two setting description strategies that no one talks about. Until then leave a comment and tell me which setting example you liked the most.

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