The Use Of Setting Essay, Research Paper
The Use of Setting
All Stories take place at a certain time and place, a certain setting. The setting of a story helps us to better understand the characters involved in the story. The setting also gives us insight as to why the characters feel, act, and react as they do. The setting in Amy Tan’s “A Pair of Tickets” and Flannery O’Connor’s “Everything That Rises Must Converge” explores the relationship of place, heritage, and ethnic identity to give us better insight into the feelings and actions of the characters. The more we know of the setting, and of the relationship of the characters to the setting, the more likely we are to understand the characters and the stories themselves.
Amy Tan’s “A Pair of Tickets,” especially, explores the relationship of setting to place, heritage, and ethnic identity. Jing-Mei Woo, the main character, has trouble accepting that she is Chinese, despite her heritage. Jing-Mei Woo believed, at fifteen, that she had no Chinese whatsoever below her skin. If anything, she perceives herself as Caucasian; even her Caucasian friends agreed that she “was as Chinese as they were.” Her mother, however, told her differently, “It’s in your blood, waiting to be let go.” This terrified Jing-Mei, making her believe that it would cause her to suddenly change, “I saw myself transforming like a werewolf.” Jing-Mei Woo finally realizes that she has never really known what it means to be Chinese because she was born and has lived in America all her life. After her mother’s death, Jing-Mei discovers that she has two twin sisters living in China who have been searching for their mother and that she must go to China to tell them of their mother’s death. As she enters China on the train she begins to feel differently about herself, she thinks “My mother was right, I am becoming Chinese.” However, once in China she finds that, in spite of the huge change in place and culture, modern China is startlingly similar to the United States. Even the hotel she stays in looks like “a grander version of the Hyatt Regency” and the Chinese feast she had envisioned was replaced by “hamburgers, french fries, and apple a la mode.” It is not until she finally meets her twin sisters, in modern Shanghai, that she realizes that she is Chinese because of “blood” and not face or place. Within this story, however, is her mother’s story, set in another time and place. Fleeing from the Japanese invasion, during World War Two in 1944, Jing-Mei’s mother is forced to abandon her twin daughters on the road between Kweilin and Chungking. Upon hearing her mother’s story Jing-Mei Woo is able to understand a great deal more about her mother and their relationship, as well as her own past.
“Everything That Rises Must Converge” also uses its setting to explore place and heritage to give us better insight into the actions and feelings of the characters. Julian, living in a poor neighborhood with his mother, shortly after the integration of blacks to public transportation, struggles to get his mother to understand that the world has changed. No longer are there huge plantations with hundreds of slaves, in fact “there are no more slaves.” Once fashionable neighborhoods, like the one in which they live, are now run down and dingy. Julian’s mother persists in her belief that “since this had been a fashionable neighborhood forty years ago, they did well to have an apartment in it.” Her grandfather had owned a plantation with two hundred slaves, whom she believed would have been better off if they stayed as such. To Julian’s mother, “Your great-grandfather was a former governor, your grandfather a prosperous land owner. Your grandmother was a Godhigh,” heritage makes a person. Having grown up with free blacks and integrated systems, Julian wanted to make his mother realize that you are not just born to status and culture any more by saying, “True culture is in the mind.” He wanted her to understand the world he lived in, with free blacks and integrated systems, even if she couldn’t accept it for herself “If you will never learn where you are, you can at least learn where I am.” Julian’s mother must ride the public transportation like everyone else, yet she feels she is above them. Her distaste and fear since integration has inconvenienced Julian and he wants to show her his message, that she is not better than these people, by sitting with and talking to blacks. Julian tries to get his mother to see the world differently because the condescending, what she sees as gracious, way she treats people, especially black people, is really unacceptable. Not only is it unacceptable but it could cause serious trouble and harm as demonstrated near that end of the story with the black woman and her child. Of course the black woman reacted as she did, after years and years of persecution she doesn’t need to take it anymore. Julian’s mother didn’t realize this, she thought she was being “gracious.” The stroke Julian’s mother receives at the end is a direct result of her failure to adapt to her current setting.
“A Pair of Tickets” and “Everything That Rises Must Converge” are good examples of how setting explores place, heritage, and ethnic identity to give us a better understanding of the characters. In “A Pair of Tickets” Jing-Mei Woo discovers for herself what makes her Chinese and the setting played an important role in helping us understand how she came to this discovery. The setting in “Everything That Rises Must Converge” gave us a good understanding of why the characters acted as they did to the situations presented. The setting in both of these stories greatly contributed to the understanding the characters better and in general the whole story.