Hello everyone and welcome back to Theory Thursday. Last week I talked about some more poetic devices so go and check that out if you haven’t already.
Today’s #theorythursday is all about setting. Where a text is set, (by text I am referring to any kind of piece – a book, a tv show, or a film), plays a very fundamental role in the text and when one is discussing a text or conducting a literary analysis of a text, setting is something that cannot be overlooked.
So let’s dive into Theory Thursday.
What is a setting?
The setting is the time and place that the text takes place in. When one is thinking about the setting of a text, there are a few factors that should be kept in mind such as the climate, landscape, society, and culture. All of these factors serve as a backdrop to the text but they are not just a backdrop, these factors can be extremely important because of how they can influence a text.
There are also elements to a setting. The four elements are time, mood, place, and cultural and societal contexts. These elements are important because they enrich the text, they make the world seem more tangible and real and it makes the story more accessible to the reader.
I can think of so many examples of how the setting plays an important role in the story. The text that I am going to mention is Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. At some point in the future, this novel will be my chosen Book Of The Month and when that time comes I will be discussing it in far more detail, but for now I am going to simply say that this is a really good example of a text in which the setting plays a very important role in the story.
In Oliver Twist, the setting of London is really important. I love Dickens, so much so that I wrote a thesis about his works, and one of the things I love so much about Dickens is his use of descriptive imagery. Dickens writes in a stark, and vividly detailed manner and in Oliver Twist, London is a world of its own. The slums of London is where most of the action happens. The slums are filthy and poverty stricken. The slums are dark, scary places where crime is commonplace. The slums are cold, gloomy, and there is very little hope in the slums. Oliver experiences many different “homes” in this text, he experiences the harsh life of a workhouse orphan, he experiences the cold and dangerous, crime filled slums and then he experiences life at Mr. Brownlow’s house. Mr. Brownlow’s house is clean and comfortable. It is a warm place filled with kind people who take care of him. There is money in that house. The difference is stark. The people who live in that house live a completely different life to those who live in the slums and Oliver’s fate depends on where he ends up. The difference is crucial.
I mentioned how a setting has elements and factors – time, place, mood, societal/cultural contexts, landscapes, and climate.
Well in Oliver Twist, we can see two very different worlds and those worlds have different factors and elements.
The Brownlow house is warm, clean, comfortable, and safe. The people who live in that house are members of civilised society. They are refined, and mannerly. Their culture is a middle-class, law abiding one.
The slums are freezing, and filthy. Poverty and crime are rampant. The people who live in the slums don’t have a chance because from the moment they are born, they are looked down upon due to being from the slums. They are surrounded by poverty, they are not considered members of civilised society, they are cast aside. Some are not law abiding, there is a culture of survival, of violence, of theft.
In one text, Dickens has created two vastly different worlds, and those worlds, and the people in them, and what that will mean for Oliver, are all influenced and impacted by the setting.
Why is setting important?
As I hope I have explained in the above example, the setting impacts and enriches the story. The setting helps ground the reader, and where a story is set can really help the reader to envision the world they are reading about. I would argue that a sentence such as this, “the filthy, freezing, dark alley in the slums.”, conjures up a certain image. I would argue that reading something like that would make you think of a place that isn’t very nice, and isn’t very safe, and if I was reading a story and came across that sentence, I would think that this is a place where something bad may happen to the character. So, as I’ve said already, the setting really can help the reader imagine the story more vividly and I would say that being able to do so enhances the reading experience.
Setting is also very important when it comes to conducting a literary analysis because the setting of a story is considered to be a fundamental factor of fiction. I don’t think it would be possible to conduct a literary analysis without talking about where the story is set because the setting influences so many things. For example, you can’t read a text such as Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird without mentioning that it is set in the South in the 1930s because the entire book is about the prejudices and injustice of the Southern legal system. Oliver Twist is about the plight of an orphan, and Dickens sheds a light on the harsh realities that poverty stricken people faced and he couldn’t effectively make that point if he did not set the story in the slums because we need the filthy, gritty, harsh reality of the slums in order to see the harsh circumstances that poor Oliver must face. His plight wouldn’t have the same impact if he was always in the lovely Brownlow house, if he was always in that warm, safe house, he wouldn’t have a plight. So that is why setting is important, because it enriches and influences the text.
This has been a breakdown all about setting. This has been Theory Thursday. If you have any questions then please do drop them in the comments below. I love hearing your thoughts and opinions.