The setting of a story is simply where it is placed, geographically and in time. Often, an author will use the setting to create a mood ("It was a dark and stormy night..."). Asking questions about setting can also help you see the themes.
Ask yourself where and when the story is set. "The Storm," for example, takes place at the turn of the century. Is that important to the events and characters in the story? Would the story be any different if it were set in the present time? And the story takes place Louisiana, during a storm; why did Chopin choose to set her story in that particular time and place? How would the story be different if it were happening on a sunny day?
Asking yourself questions about how the setting affects the plot, the characters, the relationships between characters, and the mood may help you figure out the theme(s) of the story.
Point of View
All stories have a narrator, someone who tells the story. The narrator is not the same as the author. The narrator is a character the author has invented; through the narrator, the author manipulates the way you see the events and the other characters.
There are different types of narrators. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, and the author chooses the type which will best help him tell the story and present the themes.
The first person narrator is a participant in the story. He or she is telling the story: "I went to the store," or "I saw the events happen." The narrator may be a major character, as in "The Yellow Wallpaper," or a minor one, as in "Sleepy Time Gal."
The third person narrator is not a participant in the story. He stands outside the story and reports on the events: "He went to the store," or "She saw the events happen."
There are several types of third person narrators.
- A "third-person omniscient" narrator is "all-knowing"; he can see what all of the characters are doing and thinking, as in "The Things They Carried" or "This is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona."
- A "third-person limited omniscient" narrator is all-knowing, but only about one character; he can see everything that character is doing or thinking, as in "A Good Man is Hard to Find."
- A "third-person objective" narrator can't tell us anything that the characters are thinking; he can only report on their actions. The only story we're reading for this class that comes close to having an objective narrator is "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place", but even that slips into third-person omniscient in the second half of the story.
The attitudes and opinions of the author are not necessarily the same as those of the narrator. In fact, many authors deliberately create characters nothing like themselves in order to create a conflict between what we are told and what we are supposed to believe.
A story may be told by an innocent or naive narrator, a character who fails to understand all the implications of the story he is telling. For example, one of my neighbors is a six-year-old girl named Rachel. She knows everything that happens in the neighborhood, and when I moved in, she told me about all of the people on my street: this person has two cats, that person is a truck driver, "...and the man across the street wears a suit to work, and his wife stays home, and the mailman comes to their house everyday for lunch." Now, any adult can draw the obvious conclusion, but Rachel doesn't understand the implications. Thus, she is an "innocent" or "naive" narrator.
One of the most well-known naive narrators is Huck Finn, in Mark Twain's novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The novel is set in the pre-Civil War South. Huck runs away from home, and encounters Jim, a runaway slave. Together, they make their way down the Mississippi River on a raft.At one point, they encounter several men who are hunting Jim. Having been raised to believe slaves were property, and not quite human, Huck believes that the right thing to do would be to turn Jim in. But he has come to love Jim, and he doesn't want to see Jim lose his freedom after all he's been through. Huck knows that if he's bad, he'll go to Hell, and if he's good, he'll go to Heaven. But he just can't bring himself to betray Jim; he says to himself, "All right, then, I'll go to Hell, "and he lies to the hunters. Huck thinks he has sinned; but as post-Civil War adults, we can see he made the right choice.
A story may also be told by an unreliable narrator, whose point of view is deceptive, deluded, or deranged, as in "the Tell-tale Heart".
Stream of consciousness is a technique in which the writer lets the reader see the thought processes of a character. When we think, we don't think in sentences, with perfect logic. Our minds jump from place to place with the flimsiest of connections, creating all sorts of images and calling on memories and sensations.
The writer most famous for using stream of consciousness is James Joyce, an early twentieth century Irish writer. In Ulysses, the protagonist, Leopold Bloom, is walking through Dublin, and he goes into Davy Byrne's pub. As he is sitting at the bar with his glass of burgundy, we read his thoughts: "Sardines on the shelves. Almost taste them by looking. Sandwich? Ham and his descendants mustered and bred there. Potted meats. What is home without Plumtree's potted meat? Incomplete. What a stupid ad! Under the obituary notices they stuck it. All up a plumtree. Dignam's potted meat. Cannibals would with lemon and rice. White missionary too salty. Like pickled pork. Expect the chief consumes the parts of honour. Ought to be tough from exercise. His wives in a row to watch the effect."
Interior monologue is a similar technique, in that it lets the reader see the character's thoughts. But in this case, the character's thoughts are not presented chaotically, as in stream of consciousness, but are arranged logically, as if the character were making a speech in his mind.
For example, in Charlotte Bronte's novel, Jane Eyre, Jane must leave her home, although she does not want to, and she gives herself a lecture to make herself stronger: "I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself. I will keep the law given by God; sanctioned by man. I will hold to the principles received by me when I was sane, and not mad--as I am now."
Any point of view has its advantages and disadvantages, from the writer's standpoint. So when you are reading, ask yourself why the author chose to use this particular point of view. What do you know that you might not have known if the story had been told from another point of view? How would the story be different if another character had narrated the events?