Owen Marshall

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“Setting is the vital element in short stories.” To what extent do you agree with this view? Respond to this question with close reference to at least TWO short stories you have studied.

All stories have some kind of setting. In short stories, the setting is often the vital element that clarifies the author’s purpose. Owen Marshall’s writing is no exception. Marshall says he has “always been interested in people who don’t conform” and many of his stories develop this idea. “Requiem in a Townhouse” and “Mr Van Gogh” are both good examples of his stories in which the setting is critical to the understanding of this theme. The main setting in “Requiem in a Townhouse” is the actual townhouse. However, before the reader even hears about the townhouse, we are told about the “sixteen hundred hectares of hill country” he has retired from, and it is the juxtaposition of these two places that clarifies the loss he has experienced. “Town house”, we read “is a euphemism for a free-standing retirement flat” which in turn is a “euphemism for things best left so disguised”. Thus we are positioned immediately to see the setting in a negative light, from Mr Thorpe’s point of view.

It is certainly a negative place for Mr Thorpe. The flat is small and restrictive. And although he makes “no complaint” about the move, it is described as the “place of his captivity”. When the removal men bring in the possessions that fit, he stands “helplessly by like an old gaunt camel in a small enclosure”. This simile positions us to feel empathy for Mr Thorpe; he is trapped like an animal in a place he doesn’t fit “blocking doorways and filling up the small room”. The house is not only too small for him; it is also flimsily made, ugly and insubstantial. It is the “complete antithesis of what he had known”. All Marshall’s descriptions of this setting emphasise the lack of space and substance. There are the window frames that warp; the pebble and glue patio; the bath under the shower which is...
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