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7.4 Character interactions with changing and contrasting settings

2 min readjune 21, 2023

Minna Chow

Minna Chow


AP English Literature 📚

145 resources
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We’ve discussed characters and their settings before in 4.2 Character interactions with setting and its significance. In this guide, we’ll be discussing how characters interact with changing and contrasting settings.

Changing Settings

When a setting changes, it may suggest a change in the wider story. Here are some ways that a change in setting can be indicative: 
  • The change is crucial to the plot. 
  • The change indicates a change in the character’s life or mental state: 
  • The change represents the passage of time.
A lack of change can also be symbolic. A place that never changes (or seems never to change) may be symbolic of a society that hasn’t changed or has stagnated. 

Contrasting Settings 

Settings can also be contrasted in order to establish conflict or indicate something symbolic about the two settings. 
The classic example of this is Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. In Wuthering Heights, the ornate, wealthy, fancy, welcoming house of Thrushcross Grange is a direct contrast to the cold and slightly-falling apart house of Wuthering Heights. These houses reflect the people who live in them: The Lintons of Thrushcross Grange are upper class and well-mannered, while the Earnshaws (and Heathcliff) of Wuthering Heights are less refined and more coarse, and passionate. The book chronicles the clash between these two different ways of life as the members of Thrushcross Grange interact with those of Wuthering Heights. 
Study Tip: A good way to look for contrasting settings is to see if there are 1) two settings wildly different from each other that 2) are related in some way. 

How Characters Interact With Their Settings

Characters interact with their settings in a multitude of ways. 
  • They can make changes to their settings by, for example, redecorating a room or building a new house. 
  • They can destroy or protect their settings. 
  • They can make efforts to acquire a setting, such as buying a house or a piece of land. 
Characters also have thoughts and opinions about their settings, and those thoughts and opinions can reveal as much about the character as the settings itself. 
  • A character who hates or loves a setting that’s tied to some value (for example, Thrushcross Grange, which is tied to upper-class respectability) might be symbolically expressing a hate or love for the value too.
  • A character who describes a setting with certain words, such as “barbaric” or “civilized” reveals their own personal ideas about what those words (barbarism or civility) mean to them. 
Characters may also attach personal meanings to certain settings. For example, a childhood home could metaphorically represent a character’s happy childhood or painful memories in the past, and the character could respond to that association by trying to buy the home in the former case or burning the house down in the latter one.  There we have it! Settings in flux. Next up, we’ll discuss pacing.
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