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Imagine a world where there is no color; where everything is in black and white. Imagine a world where there are no details; where everything looks exactly the same. Now, imagine a book with no such details at all. A book where the most vital facets are missing. These incredibly important details all join together to form the most important part of the book, the setting. The setting is key to all books. The setting can be described as anything from the time period to the location the book takes place in.
No matter what setting is defined as, it will always impact every aspect of each character present throughout the book. Setting plays a crucial role in two world renowned novels specifically. My Antonia by Willa Cather and The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck are two novels that can prove the significance of setting in books. In both of these novels, although expressed in different ways, the pastoral setting that is present throughout the books control the characters’ personalities, actions, thoughts, and motives.
My Antonia by Willa Carta expresses the importance of its setting throughout the whole novel. Within the first few chapters of My Antonia, Jim Burden experiences both the good and the bad of living within this pastoral town. Even though he does face the challenges of living in such a setting, he realizes that the good overrides the bad and he learns to appreciate what he has in the long run. “I was something that lay under the sun and felt it, like the pumpkins, and I did not want to be anything more” (1.
2.26). Jimmy is very content with his life. Not only has he met a girl who is intelligent, optimistic, and beautiful, he is also surrounded by beauty altogether. He loves his new home at his grandmother’s and everything that is around him creates an aura that makes him completely satisfied with his new life. Back in Virginia, Jimmy would never be able to just lay back, relax and ponder on his life. In such a simple, old-time setting, Jimmy has the chance to learn how to appreciate what he has.
My Antonia teaches readers the important lesson of looking more at the positives of a situation than the negatives and to be grateful overall. While My Antonia tells the story of a boy appreciating a simple countryside lifestyle, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck focuses more so on the hardships and struggles of living within such a setting. The narrator of The Grapes of Wrath explains the difficulties that the migrants and workers face on a day to day basis throughout the time Tom is in California. “Then the hungry men crowded the alleys behind the stores to beg for bread, to beg for rotting vegetables, to steal when they could” (331). Within this novel, crime is difficult to comprehend. If one does not commit a crime, for example, stealing food, then they will die. Throughout the novel it is questionable what a crime really is and that is something that Tom carries with him which then forces him to be an adult. Even though both Jim Burden and Tom Joad are placed within the similar pastoral setting, they live very different lives. Although My Antonia and The Grapes of Wrath are very similar in that of setting, both books are incredibly different. Each book takes place within a pastoral setting and around the same time period; however, these two books tell completely different stories. My Antonia focuses on Jim Burden who uses the surrounding land and environment to his advantage and looks to it for positivity.
On the other hand, The Grapes of Wrath tells the story of Tom Joad and the negatives of living in such a difficult time period and location. My Antonia is more of a coming of-age novel and it tells the story of the simpleminded lifestyle of Jimmy and Antonia. “After the apple and cherry trees broke into bloom, we ran about under them, hunting for the new nests the birds were building, throwing clods at each other, and playing hide-and-seek with Nina.” (2.8). While Antonia and Jimmy play around all day as children, Tom Joad is faced with challenges that force him to be an adult. “I’ll be all around in the dark – I’ll be everywhere. Wherever you can look – wherever there’s a fight, so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there” (419). After the death of preacher, Jim Casy, Tom finally realizes he must man-up and face the resposilbilities of what the future has in store for him and fully become an appopriate adult. As one book tells the story of the carefree childhood in a coming-of-age novel about Jimmy Burden, the other tells the hardships of protagonist, Tom Joad. Each novel shares with the readers the impact that setting has on the character’s perspectives of life only in different ways.
My Antonia by Willa Carta and The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck are two fantastic and worldwide known novels that provide evidence of setting being the key aspect of a book’s storyline. The setting controls the outlooks of both Jim Burden and Tom Joad. The setting determines their life goals, how they act, how they speak, even how the view the world they live in and how they view the world in which they do not. No matter what book is being talked about, setting always is the most significant part. Whether it is a children’s book, young-adult novel or adult fiction, each character is affected by the setting. These details are what makes the book so intriguing. Without such crucial details, books would no longer have an importance to children, teens, and adults. Through the setting, people can understand thoroughly how others act in different surroundings. Just like books, if the world had no color, no details, no differences, there would be no meaning to the world in which we live in today.
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