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1.2 Identifying and interpreting setting

5 min readjanuary 25, 2023

ChristineLing

ChristineLing


AP English Literature 📚

145 resources
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Introduction

Hi! Welcome to study guide 1.2. Here, we’ll be looking at another important aspect of literature: setting. 
Similar to character, you probably have background knowledge of what setting is. In this guide, we’ll be going deeper into the influence of setting and what it conveys beyond the obvious (like time and place).

Note: references to "Where the Crawdads Sing" by Delia Owens will be made in this guide.

Identifying Setting

Setting refers to the time and place in which the events of a text take place. It can include both physical and social elements, such as the location, historical period, and cultural and societal norms.
There are a variety of details that can reveal setting to a reader. Some examples include:
1. Physical descriptions: Descriptions of the landscape, weather, and architecture can give readers a sense of the physical location and environment of the story. 
  • For example, a story set in a desert would include details about the dry heat, sand dunes, and cacti.
2. Historical and cultural references: References to historical events or cultural practices can give readers a sense of the time period in which the story is set. 
  • For example, a story set in the 1920s may include references to jazz music, flappers, and prohibition.
3. Social norms and customs: Descriptions of the customs, beliefs, and societal expectations of the characters can give readers a sense of the cultural setting of the story. 
  • For example, a story set in a traditional village would include details about the customs and beliefs of the villagers.
4. Demographics: Descriptions of the population, occupation, and socio-economic status of the characters can give readers a sense of the social setting of the story. 
  • For example, a story set in a wealthy suburb would include details about the residents' high standard of living.
5. Technology and transportation: Descriptions of the technology and transportation available in a certain setting can give readers a sense of the time period. 
  • For example, a story set in the past would include details about horse-drawn carriages, while a story set in the future would include details about flying cars.
All these details work together to create a comprehensive setting that the readers can envision and understand.

"Where the Crawdads Sing" Setting Identification

For instance, we can use this framework to identify the setting of "Where the Crawdads Sing" by Delia Owens. It is set in the fictional town of Barkley Cove, North Carolina.
  • Physical descriptions: The marshland is described in great detail, with descriptions of the different types of plants, animals, and landscapes. This gives readers a sense of the natural beauty and diversity of the setting.
  • Historical references: The story takes place in the 1950s and 1960s, and there are references to events such as the Cold War and the Civil Rights Movement.
  • Social norms and customs: The town of Barkley Cove is described as a tight-knit community with its own customs and traditions, such as the annual oyster roasts.
  • Demographics: The town is described as being a small, isolated coastal town with a population that is primarily made up of fishermen and their families.
  • Technology and transportation: The story takes place in the past, and there are references to older technologies such as rotary phones and manual typewriters. The transportation options are limited in the town, with most people getting around by boat or on foot.

Influence of Setting

Setting is important because not only does it give the reader context, but it can convey the values and beliefs of the story’s world.
Setting can play a significant role in shaping the characters, plot, and themes of a text. It can also be used to create a certain mood or atmosphere. For example, a horror story set in an isolated, abandoned mansion will have a different effect than if it were set in a busy city. The setting can also be symbolic and can be used to comment on the themes and ideas of the story.

"Where the Crawdads Sing" Setting Analysis

Expanding on our "Where the Crawdads Sing" example, the setting of the coastal marshland plays a significant role in shaping the characters and plot of the story. The marsh provides a sense of isolation and seclusion for the novel's protagonist, Kya Clark, who is often referred to as the "Marsh Girl." This isolation allows Kya to develop a strong connection to the natural world and to learn to survive on her own.
Some values conveyed by the setting are preservation of nature, adaptability, and resilience. First, the marsh is depicted as being a place of great natural beauty and diversity, and as being threatened by pollution and development. This serves to convey the idea that the residents of Barkley Cove understand the importance of preserving the natural environment and are aware of the impact that human activities can have on it. Additionally, the setting also conveys the value of resilience and adaptability. The town is depicted as being in the midst of change and modernization as the fishing industry declines, and new businesses and developments move in. This serves to convey the idea that the residents of Barkley Cove are facing challenges and trying to adapt to changing circumstances in order to survive.
Lastly, let’s note that setting emphasizes the theme of loneliness and isolation that runs throughout the novel. Kya's isolation in the marsh is mirrored in the isolation of the townspeople, who are struggling to adapt to the changes brought on by modernization and the decline of the fishing industry. The natural beauty of the marsh is also used to contrast with the ugliness of the human behavior and the crime that takes place in the story.
From all that analysis, you can tell Owens put in a lot of thought into fleshing out the setting of "Where the Crawdads Sing,” just as much as she fleshed out characters. Setting greatly influenced reader perception of the story.

Conclusion

In this guide, we have looked at the definition of setting and how it can be identified in a text using various details such as physical descriptions, historical and cultural references, social norms and customs, demographics, and technology and transportation. We have also discussed how setting can influence the story and convey the values and beliefs of the world in which it is set.
It is important to note that setting not only provides context to the story but also plays a significant role in shaping the characters, plot, and themes of a text. It can create a certain mood or atmosphere, be symbolic, and comment on the themes and ideas of the story.
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