Discuss the importance of setting in The Great Gatsby, The Kite Runner and O What is that Sound
Write about the importance of places in the telling of the narratives you have studied.
In ‘The Great Gatsby’ Fitzgerald creates a divide between West and East Egg in order to symbolise the stark contrast between wealth and status which permeates the novel. Despite both Eggs being home to fabulous wealth and ‘separated only by a courtesy bay’ they are both near opposites in the values they endorse. Unlike the aristocratic East Egg, West Egg is home to the nouveau riche, people who have neither the social refinement, nor connections to move up to East Egg. This disparity between the classes is accentuated through the contrast between Tom and Gatsby’s houses which are each located on a different Egg. Tom’s house; which exists on East Egg, is immediately described as a beacon of affluence ‘more elaborate that (Nick) had expected’ showing it surpassed his expectations, despite his knowledge of the ‘white palaces’ prior to his visit to Tom’s house. The house is described as a ‘colonial mansion’ which suggests status and relative antiquity, therefore the house could not be bought by anyone rich, rather it had to be inherited or bought with social power. Moreover, the ‘reflected gold’ symbolises the wealth of Tom and the expense of his home. All these images which show East Egg to represent the pinnacle of society sharply contrast with Gatsby’s ‘imitation’ house, which is made to look comparably vulgar. This shows that despite the affluence in West Egg, the area and its occupants are not parallel to the class of those at East Egg. The social barrier defined by the contrast of the Eggs also foreshadows the death of Gatsby’s dream of shedding his existence in the parvenu, and becoming part of a higher social class, exemplified through his schedule to ‘practice elocution’. Gatsby is subservient to the upper classes to which he yearns to belong ‘his Rolls-Royce became an omnibus’ showing he is not equal. The impossibility of breaching the social barrier is shown by the patrician Tom’s attitude towards Gatsby, he calls him a ‘common swindler’ and christens his car a ‘circus wagon’ which shows the distaste of the aristocratic families resident at East Egg for the vulgar new rich bourgeois resident at West Egg.
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Similarly Fitzgerald uses the Valley of Ashes to represent the intolerance of the rich, and their desire to remain separate from the poor. ‘Between West Egg and New York the motor road hastily joins the railroad.’ The use of the adjective ‘hastily’ shows how the rich population of West Egg and New York desperately wish to avoid the ‘desolate area of land’ which is the Valley of Ashes, home to relatively impoverished citizens. Furthermore, Fitzgerald very deliberately describes both Eggs in chapter one, followed by the Valley of Ashes in chapter two. This draws an elliptical effect which presents the two areas as different places which seem far away from each other, whereas in reality they are very close. This symbolises the de facto segregation between rich and poor but also reflects the major theme of illusion vs. reality. Alternatively, the structural presentation of West and East Egg prior to the Valley of Ashes could simply reflect the suggested superiority of the Eggs and supercilious nature of its citizens. Fitzgerald also highlights the fallacy of the American Dream through the Valley of Ashes. Fitzgerald portrays everything in this setting as ‘ashes’, this shows how everything is lifeless since the American Dream is not alive here. ‘This is the valley of ashes’ where ‘ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys.’ The comparison which Fitzgerald makes between a ‘house’, something which every American dreamt of owning as part of the American Dream, with lifeless ‘ashes’, shows that the American Dream is dying since the poor are not experiencing a prosperous lifestyle like the rich. On the other hand, the portrayal of the self-sufficient element of the American Dream; a home, as ‘ashes’ could symbolise the social decay within society during the 1920s.
In ‘The Kite Runner’ Hosseini uses the setting of ‘the alley’ to reflect the profound guilt rooted in Amir. Hosseini uses heavily descriptive language when describing ‘the narrow path’ leading up to the alley which was the location of Hassan’s rape, the ‘snow burdened cypress trees’ and multiple ‘mud shacks.’ Following this, Hosseini describes the setting of the ‘littered alley’, focusing on specific details such as the ‘slabs of cement’ and ‘a rusted cast-iron stove with a gaping hole on its side.’ The depth of description highlights the strong sense of guilt felt by Amir, since he is a retrospective narrator reflecting on this event 26 years after the rape, which occurred on ‘a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975’ yet he can still remember the setting vividly, including the insignificant details such as the ‘gaping hole’ in the stove. This implies that Amir has reflected countless times upon this event and everything surrounding it, including the setting, symbolising his heavy conscience. However, Amir also mentions the ‘blue kite resting against the wall’ in the alley copious times, which could suggest it is not guilt which has forced Amir to retain this event in his mind, but his ‘key to Baba’s heart’, the kite. Amir also describes how Hassan ‘handed (him) the kite’ directly after his rape, which shows how obsessed he was with winning the kite and subsequently Baba’s respect and love, something Amir craved. Therefore it’s possible the profound description of the alley symbolises Amir’s yearning for his father’s attention and adoration.
Hosseini also uses the pomegranate tree to symbolise the friendship and brotherhood between Hassan and Amir. Hosseini describes through Amir the colour of the pomegranates; they were ‘bloodred pomegranates’ which reflects their friendship and the bond between them as half-brothers. Alternatively, ‘red’ has sinister connotations and could foreshadow the rape of Hassan which would forever alter their friendship. Similarly, Amir says he took a knife to ‘carve (their) names on’ the tree which reflects their childish nature but also their friendship. Moreover, Amir said ‘the tree was ours’, the use of the collective pronoun ‘ours’ highlights Amir’s kindly attitude towards Hassan since he is sharing this tree with him, further evidence of their friendship, whereas previously Hassan has used personal pronouns showing his selfishness ‘my Baba.’ After Hassan’s rape, the pomegranate tree also reflects the alterations in their friendship due to the disloyalty of Amir. Amir describes an ‘overripe pomegranate’ which had ‘fallen to the ground’ which reflects the crumbling and decaying relationship between the boys. Amir also ‘hurled’ a pomegranate at Hassan which ‘struck him in the chest’, this is a literal representation of the destruction of their friendship. The fact that the pomegranate hit Hassan ‘in the chest’ symbolises the emotional pain felt by Hassan since the pomegranate is representative of their friendship and the heart lies ‘in the chest’.
In ‘O What Is That Sound’ Auden uses place in order to build tension and pace which helps to create the form of a ballad. Auden describes the ‘scarlet soldiers’ to be ‘passing (the) gateway’ of the parson. This shows that the soldiers are moving and coming closer to the voices describing them. This builds suspense and pace because the fast movement of the soldiers suggests they are threatening, also the soldiers are ‘scarlet’ which is a warning colour and has sinister connotations, therefore their close proximity becomes more threatening and the tension rises. Similarly, the soldiers are then described to have ‘passed the farmyard already’ which continues the suspense. ‘Already’ suggests they haven’t taken a normal time to travel the distance between the parson’s gateway and the farmyard, implying the soldiers have started to move quicker, rising their threat. Furthermore, the setting of the ‘farmyard’ is an obvious rural setting which presents this poem to be a traditional ballad.
In ‘Miss Gee’ Auden uses setting to develop characterisation. Miss Gee is described to have ‘lived in Clevedon Terrace’, this is repeated several times which reflects the dull life of Miss Gee, since there is nothing interesting about her, information just has to be regurgitated. Alternatively the repetition of her home reflects how she is defined by her surroundings which suggests she is trapped and isolated. Moreover ‘Clevedon Terrace’ is a contemporary setting in Bristol which makes this a traditional ballad. Miss Gee lived at ‘number 83’ the rhyme between ‘Gee’ and ‘83’ accentuates how she is defined by her environment, isolated. Also ‘83’ appears random and unimportant which reflects the dull and somnambulatory life led by Miss Gee. Also Miss Gee is said to have ‘lived in a small bed-sitting room’, this suggests Miss Gee is discontented with her existence since most people refer to a ‘bed-sitting room’ as just a bed-sit, Miss Gee’s extension of the word shows her attempt at a more interesting life.