Reading for Setting
“The color of the sky was like a length of white chalk turned on its side and rubbed into asphalt. Sanded - that was how the world looked, worked slowly down to no rough edges.”
Along with character, it is very likely indeed that the unseen passage in front of you when you sit Paper 1 will in some shape or form make use of setting. Setting is a rather loose term, of course, that can take into account many different elements within a text, although most of the time it will make its appearance known in one (or more) of the contexts detailed below:
- Spatial: the physical location in which the passage is placed. This could be anything from the interior of a room to a wide sweeping desert.
- Temporal: the time in which a particular passage is located, or its place in history
- Philosophical or moral: the extent to which the passage or the characters within it reflect certain cultural values or attitudes.
We can apply a similar method to setting as we did with character. Try thinking about it in relation to the following kinds of category:
1. What is the setting?
- Where is the passage set? What kind of place? Interior/exterior? Micro (i.e. small scale) or macro (large scale)?
- Is there a particular kind of atmosphere generated?
- Do characters interact with it in any way?
2. How is it depicted?
- Through diction, syntax, imagery, metaphor etc
- In relation to character, action and events, or theme
- Is it presented literally or through more figurative or symbolic means?
3. What is its importance?
- Does setting contribute to the presentation of character or events?
- Is it used in support of the events or in contrast to them?
- Do characters interact with it?
- What contribution does it make to the mood of the extract?
- Does setting affect or reflect the attitude of particular characters?
- Does setting relate to narrative point of view, e.g. do we see things as a 'long shot' or 'in close up'?
In the boxes below are three descriptions of setting, each used to achieve slightly different ends. Read through each extract and think about the uses and effects of each. Some guiding notes can then be seen by clicking on the eye icon to the right.
Below is an extract from the story The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe. Read it through for yourself first and try to think about it according to the different approaches outlined above. You could then tackle the questions.
DURING the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country; and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher. I know not how it was; but, with the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit. I say insufferable; for the feeling was unrelieved by any of that half-pleasurable, because poetic, sentiment, with which the mind usually receives even the sternest natural images of the desolate or terrible. I looked upon the scene before me—upon the mere house, and the simple landscape features of the domain—upon the bleak walls—upon the vacant eye-like windows—upon a few rank sedges—and upon a few white trunks of decayed trees—with an utter depression of soul which I can compare to no earthly sensation more properly than to the after-dream of the reveler upon opium—the bitter lapse into every-day life—the hideous dropping off of the veil. There was an iciness, a sinking, a sickening of the heart—an unredeemed dreariness of thought which no goading of the imagination could torture into aught of the sublime. What was it—I paused to think—what was it that so unnerved me in the contemplation of the House of Usher? It was a mystery all insoluble; nor could I grapple with the shadowy fancies that crowded upon me as I pondered. I was forced to fall back upon the unsatisfactory conclusion that while, beyond doubt, there are combinations of very simple natural objects which have the power of thus affecting us, still the analysis of this power lies among considerations beyond our depth. It was possible, I reflected, that a mere different arrangement of the particulars of the scene, of the details of the picture, would be sufficient to modify, or perhaps to annihilate its capacity for sorrowful impression; and, acting upon this idea, I reined my horse to the precipitous brink of a black and lurid tarn that lay in unruffled luster by the dwelling, and gazed down—but with a shudder even more thrilling than before—upon the remodeled and inverted images of the gray sedge, and the ghastly tree stems, and the vacant and eye-like windows.