Setting of Freak the Mighty

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

This lesson will detail the geographic, social, and imaginary settings of ''Freak the Mighty'' by Rodman Philbrick, including the homes of the main characters, the public places they visit, and Kevin's imaginary buildings and scenarios.


In Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick, the setting is more than the geographic location. The setting encompasses not only the homes and locations where actual events take place, but also includes imagined adventures.

According to the author, the story is set in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where he grew up, but the name of the city is never mentioned in the book. Sometimes authors intentionally leave out the name of the city so that the book is relatable to readers all across the country. More important than the exact geography, the parts of the setting that contribute most to the story are the social settings and the imaginary settings. Let's learn more about the various settings of this story.

Domestic Settings

The domestic social setting of the story describes the places where the characters live. Although Max and Kevin lived in tenements when they were smaller, Max now lives in a house with his grandparents. Kevin moves into a duplex in Max's neighborhood. While the impression is that they have moved up in the world by getting homes in a neighborhood, Max describes Kevin's new home as '…the duplex half that's been vacant since last Christmas, when the dope fiend who lived there finally got busted.' Even in the better parts of town, the setting seems to be pretty rough.

Within his grandparent's home, Max lives in the basement, which he calls 'his own private down under.' It is cheaply converted with wood paneling, but it is private. In the beginning of the story, Max doesn't like being around people very much, so his room 'down under' is perfect for him.

The Motorcycle Gang Leader and his Biker Babe, Iggy and Loretta Lee, live in the New Testaments. This is the nickname for the tenements on the wrong side of town. Max's grandma warns him, 'Call that place whatever you want, but you are not to set foot over there. Is that clear, Maxwell dear?'

The tenements have a reputation for drugs and violence. When Max sees them for the first time, he is shocked at the conditions, as it is filled with broken-toys, screaming children, and garbage smells. First impressions of Iggy and Loretta are pretty bad, but the boys learn not to judge based on appearances.

Institutional Settings

The institutional settings of a story describe the public places where portions of the story take place. The first place that Kevin and Max really bond is at the millpond during the Independence Day celebration. Despite the crowds of drunks gathered around for the holiday, the fireworks show is amazing. The pond itself, however, is disgustingly dirty. When Kevin and Max run into the water to avoid some local thugs who are chasing them, the slimy water reaches Max's chest as his feet sink knee-deep in mud. It is the perfect location to indicate to the reader how desperate Max and Kevin are to get away.

During the first part of the story, it is still summer vacation and pretty relaxed, but school starts again soon enough. As if middle school isn't rough enough already, Max towers over everyone else and Kevin is the smallest person there. The social setting of school is miserable for the boys who endure taunts and stares from other students because they are different. Things are especially bad in Ms. Donelli's class because she is new and does not know how to control the students.

Imaginary Settings

Throughout the story, the setting for many of their adventures are within Kevin's vivid imagination. Kevin, who is physically disabled, is interested in King Arthur stories and robotics because these are two areas where man's physical limitations are stretched. They walk through the town with Kevin on Max's shoulders like a knight riding his horse looking for adventures yonder, 'Yonder always lies over the next horizon,' explains Kevin.

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