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Setting in Literature: Definition, Importance & Examples

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  • 0:02 Elements of a Story
  • 0:56 Importance of Setting
  • 2:41 Components of Setting
  • 5:30 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Angela Janovsky

Angela has taught middle and high school English, Social Studies, and Science for seven years. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and has earned her teaching license.

In this lesson, you'll review the important elements of a story. In particular, you'll learn about the components of the setting and its importance within the plot.

Elements of a Story

Literature is a very broad term that encompasses so many various written works. It can range from a thousand-page novel to a two-line poem, each expressing insight into the author's mind and moving readers in different ways. For the most part, all literature must contain certain components in order to be able to relate to readers. For example, almost all literature has characters. The characters are people or other actors who move along the plot. Speaking of which, another element all stories have is a plot, or the events that occur. A story would be extremely boring if nothing ever happened to the characters. And one of the most important elements that affects a story is the setting. The setting is the context in which the story takes place, which includes the time, the place, and the social environment.

Importance of Setting

Think of your favorite book or movie. Imagine the main characters, their decisions, and the effects of those decisions. Think about the parts that shocked you, made you cry, and made you laugh. Now think about that story taking place on the moon. Does the plot still make sense? Does the story affect you the same way? It is unlikely that it does. Where the story takes place is a major part of the setting. Your favorite story taking place on the moon would change everything, and quite possibly even prevent the events of the plot from ever happening. The place largely affects the story overall.

The setting is extremely important to a story. It can have immense effects on the plot and the characters. If Dorothy had been swept out of Kansas and transported to Ohio instead of Oz, the entire plot of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz would be completely different. We would never see Dorothy and her friends gain courage and fight against wickedness. The moral lesson of learning to love your home and family would be lost to the readers.

Furthermore, the setting can do more than affect plot events. It can also establish the atmosphere, or mood, of a story or a specific scene. Think of a lost child wandering the woods. The tall trees block out the sun, animals make eerie sounds in the distance, and the wind rustles the leaves. That type of setting creates a creepy and nervous atmosphere. The descriptions of the setting push the reader to gain a sense of the apprehension the lost child must feel, and thus the suspenseful mood is created. The setting establishing this mood allows the reader to relate to the characters within a story.

Components of Setting

Time, place, and social environment are the main components of the setting. You have already seen how place can affect a story. The time a story takes place also has a major effect. Think back to Dorothy and Oz. Now imagine the story taking place in the present day. If you were Dorothy and found yourself lost in a strange place, what is the first thing you would do? You would whip out your cell phone, use the maps app to find your location, and finally call up dear Auntie Em to give her the address to come pick you up. The time the story takes place in prevents that from happening, since technology has not advanced enough. Knowing the era a story takes place in is extremely important.

The final component of the setting is the social environment. The social environment merely means the political and cultural conditions of the story. A story taking place in the democratic United States would be very different from the same story taking place in a country in the war-torn Middle East. Even within the same country there can be cultural differences. For example, the southern part of the United States is known for valuing hospitality to strangers, and this could make a big difference if the main characters of a story were lost in a strange place.

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