Setting Of A Story Can Reveal Important Essay

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¶ … setting of a story can reveal important things about the narrative's larger meaning, because the setting implies certain things about the characters, context, and themes that would otherwise remain implicit or undiscussed. In their short stories "The Lottery" and "The Rocking-Horse Winner," Shirley Jackson and DH Lawrence use particular settings in order to comment on the political and socio-economic status of their characters without inserting any explicitly political or socio-economic discussion into the narrative. In the case of "The Lottery," the setting transforms the story from a one of simple horror to a more nuanced critique of American society, and particularly its dedication to arbitrary, destructive beliefs. Lawrence's "The Rocking-Horse Winner" makes a similar point, but in this case the setting serves to implicitly critique the consumerism encouraged by capitalist hegemony in England. Comparing and contrasting these two settings allows one to better understand how each story makes an identifiable ideological point without having to make explicit that ideology. The earlier of the two stories is Lawrence's "The Rocking-Horse Winner," and it takes place in or around London, as evidenced by the fact that some of the characters visit Richmond Park, which is located in London (Lawrence 236). However, the story does not concern itself with the hustle and bustle of the city, but rather the quiet, almost mundane existence of a family living "in a pleasant house, with a garden," who "had discreet servants, and felt themselves superior to anyone in the neighbourhood" (Lawrence 230). Despite their relative financial and social comfort, "they always felt an anxiety in the house," because "there was never enough money," as there was "not nearly enough for the social position which they had to keep up" (Lawrence 230). This introduction to the story's setting sets the stage for the entire narrative to follow, because it reveals a number of important things about the ultimate...

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Lawrence could have easily set the story in a poor neighborhood and focused on a poor family, and the larger narrative would not have changed substantially; Paul would still likely have internalized his parents' constant need for more money, and thus would have still likely died after frantically riding his rocking-horse. However, if Lawrence had set the story in a poor neighborhood, Paul's death would have far more tragic and arguably noble, because he would have been helping his family to overcome real hardship. By setting the story in a well-off neighborhood, and making the family's money dependent not on a lack of basic necessities but rather the cost of maintaining their social status, Paul's death becomes arbitrary and almost comical (as much as the death of a child can be). His desire to raise money for his family is not some noble quest, but rather indicative of a neuroses born out of deference to ultimately meaningless class signifiers, and Paul is simply too young to recognize this. Lawrence uses the story's setting to demonstrate the process by which deference to arbitrary standards of social worth is transferred from generation to generation, how that transfer is accompanied by the increasing mental destruction of each generation.
Jackson's story was written just over two decades later, but she confronts some of the same underlying problems, albeit by focusing on slightly different symptoms. "The Lottery" takes place in a small unnamed American town. The precise location is…

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Works Cited

Jackson, Shirley. The Lottery and Other Stories. New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 2005.

Lawrence, DH Selected Short Stories. Toronto: Dover Publications, 1993.


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