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Setting in fiction comprises the location and time of a story and is often listed as one of the fundamental elements of fiction. It is the place and time in which the story takes place. Sometimes setting is referred to as milieu, to include a context (such as society) beyond the immediate surroundings of the story. In some cases, setting becomes a character itself and can set the tone of a story (Morrell 2). Setting is important in fiction because the story being told in a particular work must take place in a particular location and at a particular period. The characters discussed in the last unit cannot operate in a vacuum. They need a place and a period to live and interact and that place and period constitute setting in literature.


Setting is defined as “the physical, and sometimes spiritual, background against which the action of a narrative takes place”(Harmsworth 108).Basically, there are two types of settingphysical setting and geographical setting. The reader identifies setting easily through the mention of some identifiable locations and dates but in some cases the writer does not mention realnames of locations or known historical dates so all the names are fictitious. In the latter case, it is difficult to identify setting in the work. However there are pointers which could enable the reader identify the setting. These pointers include names of the characters, issues they discuss and other events in the work.

The Importance of Setting

In the introduction, I tried to explain briefly what setting is, we will talk more about that. In addition, we will look briefly at the different types of setting and why and how the writer makes use of setting. Setting is one of the important elements of prose fiction which the author uses to accomplish various goals like

  • Enhancement of Verisimilitude: Settingin form of description of time, place, weather, furnishings and other elements of setting are usually included because they help to give a sense of reality and credibility to the plot of the story.
  • Mood: Setting may emphasize the mood of a character. For instance a rainy day may bring out or strengthen a feeling of sadness in people. On the other hand this setting could be appropriate to the events that are occurring in a narrative.
  • Special Effects: A writer may use a particular setting for “…an important effect upon the actions of a character (as the river and the market do on Nwibe in Achebe’s “The Madman.” (Adeleke52).

Identification of Setting

A narrative can be specific or vague depending on the style of the writer. Setting is identifiable in a work through various means or landmarks. In some works, specific dates and locations are mentioned but in some they are referred to indirectly. Setting could be implied through a character and is made obvious in the various names, physical appearances, behaviour and language associated with such characters.

A story that emphasizes a particular attitude or behaviour or religion may also help the reader to identify the geographical location of that story. For instance, if characters go to mosque excessively, chew cola, and wear Babaringa and say ranka-dede, then, the setting is most likely in Northern Nigeria while most of Achebe’s novels are set in Igboland and are obvious through the names of the communities, characters, proverbs, and the general mannerisms of the people.

Sometimes, the narrative may not give a particular time but gives it in an indirect way as stated earlier. A narrative set in Nigeriafor example, may not give dates but talks about WAI,Better Life For Rural Women or SAP, any reader that is familiar with the historical development of Nigeria will deduce both the physical and historical setting of the work.

Types of Setting

There are two main types of setting. They are the physical and historical settings.

Physical Setting

The general locale of a work is its geographical or physical setting. In other words, it is the place of the scene. The geographical location of a work is not synonymous with where it is written. For instance, Soyinka wrote Death and the King’s Horseman in Great Britain but the place or the location of the play is Yorubaland (or to be specific, Oyo town). In addition to the general locale of a work, there may be specific places also where different actions take place. Things Fall Apart is set in Nigeria, in Igboland, in Umuofiaand numerous other specific locations like Okonkwo’s compound; the bush and so on. The physical setting is therefore the location in which action takes place (Abrams, 157).

Historical Setting

Some writers give dates and places of the action of their work, while others give the information indirectly. This is referred to as the time setting, temporal setting or the historical setting. This type of setting in a work may be immediate or remote. The temporal setting of a work entails the time element which is almost always (but not necessarily so) different from the time the work is written. The concept of time setting also encompasses what it evokes and carries along with it like the cultural, social, economic and religious issues raised in the work. The time setting also influences the mode of writing and the subject matter.

For instance, Things Fall Apart was published in 1958, two years before colonialism ended officially in Nigeria but the events of the story may have taken place some years earlier and the story itself must have been written earlier than the date of publication. This is very appropriate because the temporal setting presented two years later would not have presented a true picture of the events in the novel. The typical Achebean post-colonial Nigerian society is shown in A Man of the People andNo Longer at Easewritten immediately after Nigeria’s colonial overlords had left, so the two novels contain post-colonial events to justify their post-independence setting.


Setting in fiction is the location where the action of the story takes place. You know that even in the traditional society, stories start with phrases like “once upon a time…in the land of…” That land of whatever is where the action takes place and it is called setting. Abrams (157) explains that it is the general locale and the historical time in which the action occurs; the setting of an event or episode in a work is the particular physical location in which it takes place. Apart from the place and time of a story, setting also includes any “…elements of a story that results from the place or time (such as the weather, historical events that affect the people in the story, or the kind of environment in which the characters live)(Adeleke52).

In this article, we discussed setting as an important element of prose fiction because a story must be located somewhere in terms of time and space. The two major types of setting are the physical and time setting. We also said that some settings are clearly stated by the writer but in some works the reader is left to recognize the setting through some objects, names and other landmarks that indicate the place and time of the fictional world depicted in the work.


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