Set the Symbolism for Dinner

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"If the scenes and materials of setting are highlighted or emphasized, they also may be taken as symbols through which the author expresses ideas" (112).
                Edgar V. Roberts, Writing About Literature

Immediately after reading this, I was reminded of Frost's poem, "Desert Places."  Frost really emphasizes the setting in the poem, so much so that it's in the title, making it the first thing the reader sees before doing any reading or analysis.  In high school, I was taught to examine the title in conjunction with the overall scope of a piece of literature in order to get a deeper analysis.  Therefore, when I read "Desert Places" a couple weeks ago for class, I had already examined the setting in the poem.

The speaker in "Desert Places" is removed from the setting.  He is simply going past it, and his absence from the actual scene is symbolic because it represents his disconnection from the world.  A lonely place is less lonely than his own being, and the snowy, deserted field represents that solitude.  The fact that the field is covered in snow is also representative of his emptiness because white snow implies blankness.

Even though I did analyze the setting when I first read "Desert Places," I don't always do that for every piece of literature I read.  I probably only did it for this poem because Frost made me realize the significance of the setting right from the title.  This chapter in Writing About Literature was a good reminder for me when it comes to how I read a story based on setting.

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3 Comments

Josie Rush said:

"I don't always [analyze the setting] for every piece of literature I read."
Last year in Intro to Lit when we had to evaluate certain aspects of a story, I wrote down that setting was difficult to evaluate, because once you read a story in a specific setting, it's nearly impossible to imagine it anywhere else. Also, when I'm reading for leisure, I tend to evaluate a "good setting" on whether the author made me feel like I was there. I think the setting "works" if we as readers know what it feels like to be in "Setting A" without ever having been there.

Kayla Lesko said:

For me, analyzing setting depends on how much time the author put into it.

Josie: I absolutely agree. For example, I've never been in space but I know what it feels like from Star Trek. I don't know what Avonlea is like, but I can guess because L. M. Montgomery provides such an in-depth description of it with its red roads. Those are "good" settings.

Kayla: That's true for me, as well, but to an extent. If an author describes a setting for 5 pages but fails to really explain anything, the setting is poorly executed. It's more about content rather than length.

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