The Importance of Setting

Recently in Victorian Literature, the importance of setting in novels was discussed, and I’ll be going a little off topic to talk about that in this week’s blog post.

Setting is important as it helps to establish characters as products of their time and culture. It provides the reader with context for the plot, and cultural context can answer a lot of questions readers may have about plot developments or characters’ actions. For this reason, setting should not be ignored when analysing books.

jane eyre setting
Thornfield Hall in the Jane Eyre film. Source

In The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, setting is crucial. I researched this for a presentation I had to give in class, and found that there were two reasons setting was important.

Firstly, the setting was linked to the main themes of good vs evil and doubles.  The places that Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde live reflect the types of people they are. Dr. Jekyll has a big house reflecting his status, with an odd structure that reflects his hidden strangeness. He invites guests over for dinner and his house is warm and welcoming. Hyde lives alone in SoHo, in a messy house with an inquisitive, mean-spirited landlady.

Secondly, the culture and time that Dr. Jekyll lived in pushed him to make the choices he did. If Dr. Jekyll had not lived in the restrictive society that was Victorian London, he would not have felt the need to make the potion that created Mr. Hyde. He would also have been more honest in his actions and with the lawyer, Mr. Utterton, instead of being unable to trust anyone.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte is the same, as the actions of the characters are determined by the time and culture they live in. Jane makes her decisions based on the society she lives in, and it also limits her choices. She talks herself about how her choices are limited, and chooses to leave her post as teacher to be a governess as she doesn’t have another way to leave. At the end of the novel, when she returns to Mr. Rochester, she worries that she is not doing what is expected of her by society, though she believes she is doing the right thing.

Setting can often help establish a theme, as well as giving insight into the reasons behind the actions and choices a character makes. Have you ever given much thought to setting in a book? Do you think it’s important?

Featured image source

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