The critical elements that define a short story or novel include plot, character, setting, point of view, tone, symbolism, and theme. The best stories develop these elements to their fullest potential. Therefore, to understand a story, it is necessary to understand these elements. The setting of a story is just as important to establish as the plot. Without setting, one cannot understand the context, time or place of the story in any work of literature. The setting is the time, place or circumstances that the plot or circumstances of the story take place. Setting is much more than just a geographical location; setting can be:
- The time of day
- The type of weather
- The Historical Context
- The mood or atmosphere in a room
- Any element that give the plot context
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Setting as a Literary Element
In the best literature, literary elements such as plot, characterization and setting are exploited to their fullest potential and are used in conjunction to create a complete work. For example, the central apple tree in James Joyce’s “Araby” is part of the setting but is also a symbolic representation of the tree in the Garden of Eden. This further helps to define the religious tone of the story. It is this unifying religious tone that makes “Araby” such a good story. The setting certainly reflects this tone with its symbolic apple tree located behind the house whose previous occupant had been a priest and the nearly empty bazaar with its “silence like that which pervades a church after service.” The plot traces the affection of a young boy for his friend’s older sister. Eventually, he goes to the bazaar to find her a gift much like a knight on a religious crusade. The bazaar’s name, Araby, and its vases that stand like “eastern guards” continue this theme. The sister’s figure is “defined by light” similar to a halo and the boy presses his palms together and prays to her in devotion. Thus, the sister’s character, as defined through the boy’s point of view, is symbolic of a saint or the Virgin Mary and further substantiates the religious tone of the story.