Setting the Scene: The Influence of Setting in Literature
Literature exists as a combination of elements. A story requires characters, plot, and an environment or setting. When reading a work of literature such as a short story or play, it is natural for the reader to focus his or her attention on the plot of the work and the characters that produce the plot. In making this decision, consciously or otherwise, the reader places the setting in the background. Indeed, many people refer to the setting as the “background” when discussing literature. Yet the setting plays a direct and tangible role in practically any work of literature. Whether the role of the setting is major, such as the burning of Atlanta in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, or minor, such as the background colors in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, setting is a key element of literature. The motivation of characters through environmental setting in John Steinbeck’s The Chrysanthemums, the influence of period setting in Henrick Isben’s A Doll’s House, and the mood of suspense resulting from atmospheric setting in Susan Glaspell’s Trifles are prime examples of the effect of setting on characters and plot.
Environmental settings often have the most concrete effects on character and plot. In Steinbeck’s The Chrysanthemums, the environment of rural Salinas, California virtually defines the life of Elisa Allen, the short story’s protagonist. From the beginning, the author provides a vivid description of Elisa in her natural environment by saying, “Elisa Allen, working in her flower garden, looked down across the yard and saw Henry, her husband, talking to two men in business suits” (Steinbeck ). Though Elisa’s flower garden is a setting of comfort, it also separates and distinguishes her and her work from the business of men. The garden environment she creates also serves as a prison to hold Elisa in the role of “female provider”. The unnamed tinker is an unexpected yet...
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