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Term Definition

In literature, the word ‘setting’ is used to identify and establish the time, place and mood of the events of the story. It basically helps in establishing where and when and under what circumstances the story is taking place.

The setting of a story is simply where and when a story takes place. If you think about the questions "where" and "when" then there—you've got the setting. Along with character, plot, and theme, setting can be understood as one of the main elements of a story.  

Using settings in literature and stories

Here are some example sentences that can help clarify the meaning of setting for you. 

"The viewer was somewhat disoriented by the avant-garde play due to the fact that the setting of the work (neither time nor place) is not revealed until relatively late into the plot.

"Although the setting of the story was Victorian England, the author introduced several modern technologies into the plot, including Apple computers." 

"The fact that Dostoevsky's novels generally have the city of St. Petersberg as their setting has a great deal of symbolic importance for what he is trying to say about the conflict that European modernity introduced into Russian culture."

In case there is still any confusion left about the meaning of setting, here are a few rules that you can use as guidelines.  

1. The setting of a story is simply the when and the where of the story. If you know the physical location and the moment in history a story is happening, then you know its setting. 

2. Setting usually only applies for a narrative work. For example, it wouldn't make any sense to talk about the setting of a philosophical treatise. On the other hand, you can easily say that a novel by Kundera is (for example) set in Bohemia in the 1960s.  

The importance of time and place in literature

The centrality of setting to a story is surely related to the fact that every human being who has ever lived has done so in one specific place and not in other places. The setting of a story has always been very important both in terms of the specific cultural features reflected in a work of literature and in terms of the specific adventures experienced by the heroes of within the work. For example, if a work a science fiction work is set in the future and on another planet, then this can open up imaginative possibilities that may not be available if the setting of the story were a more conventional one.  

It addition, it is worth noting that changes in setting within a work of literature can often have a symbolic character as well. For example, in the story of the Holy Grail, the setting begins as a forest; then it changes to a castle; and so on. If the setting changes, then this means that the hero is moving through physical space; but then, this could also be a kind of metaphor for the character moving through psychological space as well. On the other hand, if the setting of a work of literature stayed the same throughout an entire work, then the author would need to find some other way to introduce dynamism and change into the plot of the work. 

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Synonyms: setting

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