Setting Changes In The Novel Jewel By

Bret Lott Essay, Research Paper

Setting marks the beginning of the plot and is the most important aspect to consider when writing a novel. The setting is more than just the place where the plot occurs; it can mean much more to the theme of the novel. Setting creates a mood that surrounds the characters and enhances their identity by using writing devices to reveal an underlying theme to their character. This also creates an underlying theme to the novel. Setting changes also create a mood that helps the author more fully establish an idea that they wish to convey. This can relate to the feelings of the characters in certain settings. Also, setting changes are added to create a more interesting plot and more intricate characters. Setting uses writing devices to develop the story s intricate characters, thus producing a more vibrant and effective plot. Therefore, the setting changes in the novel Jewel enhance and personify the novel’s theme of overcoming obstacles, most obvious in Bret Lott s use of symbolism, imagery, and pathetic fallacy.

An author uses symbolism to relay meanings for different settings in a more subtle manner, which helps to reveal a character s true personality. At an early age, Jewel faces the difficulty of becoming an orphan, and moves in with her Grandmother Missy Cook. This move to her Grandmother s house is a symbol for the end of her simple free-spirited life she led with her mother, and the beginning of her sheltered set out life she leads under the care of Missy Cook. This symbol is represented by the setting of Missy Cook s house and in the way Missy Cook is described in this passage: “She seemed to float down the staircase, the hem of her dress simply dancing about her hidden feet, so for a moment I thought maybe she had died, was in fact a ghost before me” (Lott 21). This description of Missy Cook portrays somewhat a supernatural figure that is cool and harsh, while creating a prison like atmosphere for young Jewel Hilburn. However, this prison-like atmosphere proves to make Jewel a stronger person; because of this harsh childhood she gives her children twice the love she lacked and dedicates her motherhood to securing a special motherly bond with each of her six children.

Another example of how symbolism in setting change is effective is when the Hilburns move back to Mississippi after a prosperous life in California. The move, or change of setting, is a symbol of how Mississippi is a form of sadness, and California is happiness. Just after Jewel and her husband Leston move back to Mississippi her description of her childhood home changes. She now describes Mississippi as, ” the air cooler, no less stagnant than out on the water and in the woods” (Lott 296). The words are cold and represent Mississippi as a cold, dreary place. Jewel uses the word stagnant to describe Mississippi as a home with no life, contrary to their old life in California. Symbolism in these settings is very effective in reflecting the emotions of the characters, as well as making it easier to relate the setting with these feelings of the character.

Imagery helps the descriptions of the characters, and the events in the plot, feel real while personifying the setting. Imagery proves that Jewel s descriptions of California has a deeper meaning: “I saw orange blossoms going strong, took in the warm salt-filled sea air and the crystal blue sky; and I saw a place where Brenda Kay would find friends, teachers, and saw Leston at work somewhere, doing something, the doing it was all that mattered” (Lott 163). This quotation proves, through imagery, that Jewel s vivid description of California shows her passion for a better life for her children. This also shows her selfless and dreaming character. This quotation shows her dedication for a new life away from the hardship of Mississippi and the happy description associated with California. The imagery associated with this setting change, also shows her dedication, when considering what the Hilburn family has been through and how Jewel s passion originates from past experiences.

Lott also uses imagery effectively to show Jewel s feeling for the past and how it effects her as a mother. The smell of her father s hair pomade, as she describes in this quotation, ” his black hair slicked back and shiny with pomade. It was the thick sweet smell of his hair that woke me up on Sunday mornings,” (Lott 5) shows her hatred underneath her love for her father. This vivid use if imagery enhances Jewel s feelings towards her father; the hatred she feels, that reoccurs every Saturday night, when her father visits to have a way at her mother, from whom he is separated from. This hatred is felt in the bitter-sweet description of how intrigued she is by him: ” and began to take things up, examine them for what they might tell me about the man I d wished dead” (Lott 13). She loves her father and this feeling shows itself after his death.

These events are very prominent in her life as she recalls them throughout the remainder of the novel not as absurdities, but as comforts from a memory of her parents:

I was different, changed in that I found comfort in the ghosts my sounds

brought forth, sounds that now like the children we were that first night, the canoe rocking, water sloshing beneath us. There was comfort in the ghosts of my parents, some sort of reconciliation, peace in the unformed words Leston and I made, me understanding suddenly what it must have been like for my own mother to make love each Saturday night to a man who d already left her. (Lott 144)

Imagery, in this passage, helps to picture how Jewel finally came to the realization of sympathy for her mother and father, for whom when she was little did not understand and formed a hatred for. It can be felt through the words of her declaration that Jewel has great complexity as a character, especially in her childhood home for which the novel portrays as a disliked and disheartening place for Jewel. The ghosts of her past, including the setting of her childhood home, add to Jewel s character and prove to contribute to the character she develops into throughout the remainder of the novel. The hardships of her childhood, again, lead her to grow into a strong person with much heart and emotion for the things that she loves. Through the imagery expressed, the reader is able to feel the setting, as well as the setting changes, which proves that imagery helps to personify the setting changes and the feelings of the characters.

Pathetic fallacy uses the setting to make the mood of the plot and the feelings of the characters similar. Pathetic fallacy uses the setting to reveal the mood and emotions of the characters, this most obvious in Jewel. The author creates a definite contrast between the lives led in Mississippi and then in California. In Mississippi, Lott creates a mood of hardship, coldness, and darkness: “I felt the chill of the morning on my skin, that skin the same colour gray as the small strip of sky I could see above the box pine and the live oak outside the window” (Lott 3). Mississippi, as described, is surrounded by chilling thoughts of grey skies. It can be seen that the Hilburn family only experiences hardship when living in the small town of Purvis, Mississippi. These hardships also center around cold feelings of unhappiness and hopelessness. Jewel decides to move after getting thoughts of a better life in California, away from the obstacles. California also has a special school for children with Downs Syndrome, which is excellent for her daughter Brenda Kay, who was born with the disease. California is seen as a bright sunny place with much opportunity and prosperity, especially in Jewel s eyes. Jewel demonstrates the dreamer and fighter in her when she insists on moving her family to California, in hopes of a better life. California begins a new life for the whole family: “Leston was a new and different man. Suddenly he was in charge of our moving, him all movement and smiles about the prospect of heading away from the old place, the scene in our lives miseries for so long” (Lott 173). This quotation proves that the setting change between Mississippi and California is really a mood change between sadness and hardship to happiness and prosperity.

When reading on in the novel, the events that take place reflect great achievement for the Hilburns, much more than in Mississippi. This contrast between cities can also be seen when Jewel, Leston, and Brenda Kay move back to Mississippi after Leston s retirement, when on the morning that they were leaving, “there was a nest of thick fog, cold fog and untold tears” (Lott 280). This description is just another example of how the setting change tells the reader how the characters are feeling, as Jewel was unhappy to move back to Mississippi and only did so to please her husband. Also the word cold is used to foreshadow an unhappiness and darkness in Jewels character when she moves back to Mississippi; when they are beginning to move back the cold begins again. Through all these examples pathetic fallacy helps the reader see much deeper into the emotion that the setting conveys.

When reviewing the setting changes, it can be seen that all the writing devices in the novel Jewel contributes to the development of the character, as well as relating the feelings of the character with the setting effectively. Thus, it is obvious that the setting changes personify and enhance the theme of overcoming obstacles using various writing devices such as symbolism, imagery, and pathetic fallacy to add emotion and uniqueness to the character. It is rather interesting to see how a novel can have underlying meanings, especially in setting changes, and Jewel is a great example of this.

Lott, Bret. Jewel. New York: First Washington Square Press, 1991