While language is a very important part of stories, doing both the heavy lifting and finishing touches in the written and spoken word, another critical aspect of a story - short, novel, epic, poetry - is the setting. Imagine Romeo & Juliet in the Bronx instead of Verona. Or think about Huck Finn and Jim floating their raft up the Nile instead of the Mississippi. The six stories you've read all have settings integral to the story itself. Yet the three most recent stories you've read have their settings tied to the author's specific intent. James Joyce was certainly thinking of his beloved Dublin when he wrote "Araby." Oates was most likely thinking about Tucson. And Willa Cather wrote about the great middling and migration of immigrants throughout America - from the Dust Bowl to Oregon to New York.
These were settings integral to the writers. Places they'd been. Places they remembered the smells and sounds and sights of. When we write in the DB, we're asked to imagine far away and fantastic places. But, who says we don't know the settings? I've walked through the redwoods that inspired Endor. Why can't the noise and bustle of Singapore or Hong Kong or Manhattan stand in for Coruscant? Adaptation is key in settings, so use what you know. Where you've been. What you've seen to create the fantasy we work with.
So discuss the settings. Discuss the language of the 3 stories. And keep all of that mind when you read the future stories. Go back and read "Frog," "Aloha" and "Chrysanthemums" and pay attention to setting.
It is late but here it goes ...
I think The Bohemian Girl was by far the best when it came to setting the scene. But it was also the longest of the three. I could almost see the fields, the train ride, and the emotions of the characters. In Araby the opening of the children playing reminded me of my childhood. The playing till dark, hiding from people and pushing the limits with parents staying out. They way the study is described brought about images form old movies of studies from classic movies. With were i am going, were i have been just one word ... CREEPY. The last half or so with Arnold Friend, all I could think of was Prince of Darkness anyone. As for the home work i am reading the three again and again, trying to figure out what 3 sentences to write. Frankly there are hundreds of choices and all of them great.
As a note Oberest suggested to me to print each one out, and make notes as you read, which i am going t try ..
"Araby" and "The Bohemian Girl" were excellent examples of setting. Both took the reader to places familar to the author and made them familar to us. I found "Araby" a bit challenging at times because I felt like he could have included a bit more to give us non-Dubliners some direction. Not a huge issue. Cather, like Joyce and Steinbeck, is all about one place, one area: her beloved Midwest. I live in the Midwest, and Im stunned to see it portrayed so lovingly and descriptively.
The Oates work used setting differently. Instead of describing a specific place, she went more generic. This could have been any American suburb. What happened could have happened in any American town. The genericness may seem like a weakness of the story, but I found it a strength.
Thinking more on "The Bohemian Girl", I realized why Cather devoted so much of the story to the setting: it is as much a part of the story as the plot and characters, and is a big reason why Eric returns. We have the Nebraska country described in loving detail. Every building, every road, every farm has its surroundings detailed. Meanwhile, the world outside is not detailed. Sure, Chicago is famous, but Bergen, Norway is not. Bohemia is unknown to Americans. These outside places remain hidden, mysterious, like Nils's intentions. Tis a sly trick by Cather. Because we don't know what these foreign places are like but know in detail what the Ericson's home is like, we are subtly persuaded to dislike Clara for running away with Nils and praise Eric for returning home. The way Cather paints Nebraska makes it more appealing than Bergen. One place is described, one isn't. Which would you choose?
Steinbeck also manipulates us through place. He depicts the countryside around Salinas, California in exquisite detail. Before we meet Elisa, we're already primed to like her because she lives in this beautiful place. When we meet the traveling salesman/huckster, we already don't like him because he's not from this wonderful place. He's seen the entire west coast, and yet he doesn't like this magnificent place enough to stay here? To heck with him!
That's the great thing about settings. It is one of the most important parts of a story, and used right can gain you sympathy or derision for a character. When I'd read Cather and Chrysanthemums, the first time, I hated them. I didn't hate them for the imagery. Or the characters. I hated them for the setting. Growing up in a city, with these insane allergies gives me a great hatred for rural and wilderness areas. So the first read through, my skin was itching, my nose was itching. And I was ready to burn down every plant within 500 miles of me.
And that's the best part of setting. That one detail. It can evoke so much emotion.