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13 Seiten, Note: 3,0
2. Definition of the term setting
3. The general setting in “An Encounter”
4. Analysing the setting in “An Encounter” regarding its function
4.1 Atmospheric Function
4.2 Characterising Function
The Irish born author James Joyce was one of the most important representatives of modernism (Kreutzer 2005: 171). His first literary works appeared in a collection called Dubliners. The short stories in this collection deal with the everyday life in Dublin. Joyce's intention was to reveal the situations of people being trapped and thus “betray the soul of that [...] paralysis which many consider a city“ (Gilbert 1966: 55). Although one can read the short story “An Encounter” on its own, it fits into the pattern of Dubliners. This is because it portrays a boy who is looking for “doors of escape” (Joyce 1976: 20) to get out of that wearisome world.
When writing those short stories, artistic form and symbolic significance were important to Joyce (Leatherwood 1976: 71). Four years before he started working on Dubliners he was recorded as saying:
“I am trying [...] to give people some kind of intellectual pleasure or spiritual enjoyment by converting the bread of every day life into something that has a permanent artistic life on its own” (Joyce 1958: 103f.)
A significant element of the artistic form of “An Encounter” is the setting because it could have more functions than only providing a context for the short story to occur in. During reading that short story, a reader may have the impression that the setting is fulfilling the additional function of supporting a certain atmosphere. The reason for that is that it seems to be important for the general mood of several episodes. Furthermore, the setting appears to be very relevant for understanding the character of the protagonist since it is the background for his action. In conclusion, the setting could perform the function of characterisation as well. Because of that, this term paper deals with the questions of whether the setting is used to contribute to a certain mood and whether it is exerted to characterise the main character of the short story.
In order to answer these questions, first of all, a clear definition for the term setting will be given. That definition will serve as reference for distinguishing exactly between elements that belong to the setting and elements that are not a part of it. Furthermore, the relevant functions of the setting will be explained in order to show in which ways they can be fulfilled by elements of it. To have necessary information about the whole context of this short story, the general setting of the short story will be examined after that. This is important because the whole context of the plot shows in which ways certain parts of the setting are related to each other. Then, the setting in “An Encounter” will be examined to see which part of it carries out either an atmospheric function or a characterising function and in which ways that is achieved. Finally, the results of this analysis will lead to the conclusion whether the setting is relevant for those functions in this short story or not.
The setting of a literary work is the context of its plot regarding the three elements place, time and social circumstances (Abrams 1999: 284). On the one hand, the spatial context frames the action of the plot in view of the general location. A general location is a crucial part of the setting since it “is necessary in the rendering of action, which must have a [...] place to occur in.“(Lutwack 1984: 17) There is no necessity that such a location must be a really existing or a specific place. Even places that exist only in imagination can be considered as setting or as part of it. Moreover, the spatial context includes aspects of the place like landscapes as well as objects and sensorial aspects such as sounds and smells. Additionally, conditions of weather and light which are due to the location are further important facets of the place.
On the other hand, the temporal frame of a plot provides information about the temporal context of the plot. Significant aspects of that temporal frame are the day time, the season and the frequency of an event because they can be the reason for certain moods or actions. Furthermore, taking the general location of the plot into account, it can reflect the cultural and political background with its values such as honesty and loyalty, opinions and dominant beliefs. For example in stories which take place during the Middle Ages in Europe, religious ideas play an important role in the cultural background.
Moreover, the social context is represented by the social milieu in which the action takes place. In determining the social milieu of a story, the class membership of a character plays an important role. The class membership depends on facets such as the vocation of the character or the position of his or her family in the society.
In addition, there are several functions which the setting can fulfill but there are only two functions that are relevant for this term paper. The first “and perhaps principal function of setting is to contribute to the mood of the narrative” (Chatman 1978: 141). This is possible because it “refers to climates of emotion, opinion, and attitude that hover about the fiction” (Chatman 1993: 63). For instance, a dark forest as a setting may support a general feeling of loneliness and fear because that specific place connotes those emotions. Secondly, it can have a characterising function since the setting provides the background for characters and their doings. Parts of it can be the reason for or the result of a certain behavior of a person (Toolan 1988: 104). This is because the setting “functions as the detailed and continuous environment in which character is formed and to which character reacts over a long period of time“ (Lutwack 1984: 17). Furthermore, analysing a character is also possible by examining his reaction to a certain environment because „a characters subjective response to a place may serve to convey states of mind and feeling in a concrete way“ (Lutwack 1984: 17).
To sum up, the setting consists of the spatial, temporal and social frame which all together provide the context for the plot of the story. Additionally, setting is significant for supporting an atmosphere and characterising a character. With that knowledge it is now possible to recognise all features of the setting in “An Encounter” and to distinguish them from features which are not part of the setting.
In “An Encounter”, particularly during the journey of the boys, the clear places where the story takes place are often explicitly mentioned with geographical information such as the name of the street. Such clearly mentioned places are for instance the North Strand Road as stated in “We walked along the North Strand Road” (Joyce 1976: 22) and Ringsend which is given in “we wandered slowly into Ringsend” (Joyce 1976: 23). Especially the intended destination of the excursion of the boys, the Pigeon House, and the Liffey, the river at which Dublin is situated and which is mentioned in ”We crossed the Liffey in the ferryboat” (Joyce 1976: 23) clearly indicate that the general location of the short story is Dublin. The fact that the boy states “We pleased ourselves with the spectacle of Dublin's commerce” (Joyce 1976: 23) emphasises that point. Furthermore, the specific information about the place is not only used to provide the spatial context. It is also used by the author to show explicitly that the short story is about people of Dublin because Joyce intended to describe their situations in a critical way.
In contrast to the plenty of information given about the place, there are hardly any clues about the temporal frame of the story. The only explicit information about the general time of the plot is that it occurs “in the first week of June” (Joyce 1976: 21). However, Joyce worked at this short story in 1905 (O'Brien 2008: 44) and intended to depict the contemporary paralysis in Dublin. Therefore, the reader can draw the conclusion that the general time in “An Encounter” is the beginning of the 20th century.
Moreover, the temporal context in combination with the geographic location determines the political and cultural background of the characters. The main character lives in a country that is a British colony. The city of Dublin is heavily garrisoned by British authorities (Pierce 1992: 91) and at the same time first movements for Irish independence develope (Pierce: 1992: 162). What is more, the Irish society at that time is strongly influenced by Catholicism which can be seen in religious schools and the authority of the Catholic Church (Kreutzer 2005: 171). In addition to that, it is important to consider that the Irish society at that time, as Joyce intended to show, is a kind of society that suffers from a paralysis. This paralysis can be partly seen as the result of the conventions of the Church and the state (Kreutzer 2005: 173). The relevant aspect of that for this term paper is that people were generally “unable to move out of their social milieu or to take a decision to improve it a lot ” (Benstock 1994: 86).
The part of this society which is shown in “An Encounter” provides the social context. On the one hand, there is a lack of substantial information about the family or the circumstances of that young- aged main character (Malcolm 2015: 215). However, on the other hand, it can be seen in the fact that he attends a Catholic college that the depicted social milieu is the Catholic middle class. In opposition to public National Schools in Ireland, a religious college is a private school which requires money to attend. Since no poor family can afford this kind of higher education at this time, it indicates thus that the boy is a member of the middle class.
In addition, the world of Wild West can be considered as an imaginary part of the setting. The world with the “adventures related in the literature” (Joyce 1976: 20) is a “literary construction of American West” (Norris 2003: 35) that is derived from fantasy texts. That imagined world is in direct contrast to the “authoritarian, constrictive society“ (Bowen 1984: 157) which can be found in reality. This is because it is a world without authorities and a world of adventures.
In summary, the plot of “An Encounter” occurs in Dublin during the beginning of the 20 th century in a middle class milieu. The context is additionally marked by a society with the authority of the British and of the Catholic Church. Furthermore, there is a part of the setting that exists only in the imagination. Analysing the general setting in this short story will provide necessary information during the examination of specific features of the setting. They indicate in which ways elements of the setting are related to each other such as the contrasting relationship between the imaginary world of literature and reality.
In order to answer the question in how far the setting in “An Encounter” fulfils an atmospheric function, two aspects are to be considered. First of all, it is important to examine critically which elements of it are relevant for the mood in specific scenes. Secondly, those features must be analysed under the question in which way their atmospheric relevance is caused.
During reading, a reader can find several instances of atmospheric relevance. For example in the initial scene, there is the moment in which a part of the setting has the function of supporting a general mood. The part of it that is relevant for the general atmosphere is the smell of Joe Dillon's Mother which is mentioned in “the peaceful odour of Mrs. Dillon was prevalent in the hall of the house“ (Joyce 1976: 19) That aspect of the place contributes to an atmosphere of peace and harmony because that smell refers to those feelings. But it is limited to the inside of the house and has therefore only little influence of the general mood in the garden. Another sensorial perception and part of the spatial context which is relevant for the atmosphere is the noise in the streets near the river. That is given in the following words “we spent a long time walking about the noisy streets” (Joyce 1976: 22). Its atmospheric relevance is caused by contributing to a mood of amusement and cheerfulness in relation to the adventure of the boys as well as annoyance at the same time in relation to the racket. However, the influence on the general mood of this scene is little as well.
In direct contrast to that regarding its significance for the atmosphere is the scene in which Leo Dillon is discovered with a magazine. In this scene, the sentence “Everyone's heart papitated as Leo Dillon handed up the paper and everyone assumed an innocent face.” (Joyce 1976: 20) plays a very important role in generating a general mood. Everyone includes not only Joe and Leo Dillon but all the class mates of the main character who are not named and therefore have a lack of characterhood. As a result, they can be regarded as “simply part of the ambiance in which a character finds himself’ (Chatman 1978: 139). That as a feature of the setting creates a general atmosphere of excitement, suspense and danger and has demonstrated clearly its atmospheric relevance. Furthermore, the weather is a feature of the setting which is important for the general atmosphere. As it is described in “It was a mild sunny morning” (Joyce 1976: 21), the weather is sunny when the boys start their trip at the canal bridge. The sunshine supports a general mood of optimistic and joyful anticipation. But during the journey the weather changes. Before the encounter with the perverted man, the main character mentions “the sun went behind some clouds”. (Joyce 1976: 24) When the sunlight is gone, there is no atmosphere of joy any longer.
The encounter itself occurs in a wide field in which there is nobody but the boys (Joyce 1976: 24). The description of the field and the fact that there is nobody else may reinforce a general feeling of loneliness and helplessness in that situation. However, the given description of that setting is too superficial to have an atmospheric function. The lack of detail might be intended by the author to emphasise a universal significance of the encounter.
The result of analysing the setting in “An Encounter” concerning its atmospheric function in specific scenes has shown that it is used in very different ways and to different degrees. It is rarely exerted in order to generate a general atmosphere. In most cases, facets of the setting support a certain mood. What is more, elements of the spatial context are by far more important for the atmosphere than aspects of the historical frame or the social milieu.
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