Setting: The general atmosphere in which events of a literary work take place. Setting is the background details that allow the reader to paint the picture of the occurrences in the piece, and understand how the story being told unfolds. It can be used to help convey a message by catching their attention and drawing the reader in. It can be constant through an entire work or change from scene to scene depending on the depth of detail. Setting may include the physical details describing the characters or their surroundings and environment. In a broader context setting might also depict current social circumstances that apply to the events in the literature. By giving some details of the setting, the reader is allowed to fill in any gaps with their own experience and create a whole scene.
Example: In A Small Place, Jamaica Kincaid demonstrates extensive use of setting to convey the central theme. On the first page she begins describing, “What a beautiful island Antigua is… where the sun always shines and where the climate is deliciously hot and dry.” (Kincaid 3-4). These lines describe Antigua and it’s weather and allow the reader to imagine, as a tourist, what it would feel like to be there. Kincaid goes on to illustrate how some of the buildings in Antigua are enormous and excessive, relating how the government there and people involved in it are corrupt.
“Now you are passing a mansion, an extraordinary house… The people who live in this house… own a lot of Antigua; they regularly lend money to the government… Not far from this mansion is another mansion, the home of a drug smuggler… Overlooking the drug smuggler’s mansion is yet another mansion… In this mansion lives… Evita. She’s young and beautiful and the girlfriend of someone very high up in the government. Evita is notorious because her relationship… has made her the owner of boutiques and property and given her a say in cabinet meetings, and all sorts of other privileges…” (Kincaid 11-12) The description of these massive houses show that there is a division of very rich people from the natives in Antigua. Near the end of A Small Place, Kincaid continues to reveal the physical beauty of Antigua which compliments the dark mood of the core of the book and completes it.
“Sometimes the beauty of it seems as if it were stage sets for a play, for no real sunset could look like that; no real seawater could strike that many shades of blue at once.” (Kincaid 77) Describing the unreal seeming beauty of the place makes the reader reflect on when he or she has felt this way and create a detailed vision of Antigua.
Endriga, Kate. “S.” Glossary of Literary Terms. 1 May 2009. The University of North Carolina at Pembroke. 6 Mar. 2011. Web.
Kincaid, Jamaica. A Small Place. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1988. Print.
Wheeler, L. Kip. “Literary Terms and Definitions S.” Dr. Wheeler’s Homepage at Carson-Newman. 3 Jan. 2011. Carson-Newman College. 6 Mar. 2011. Web.