Prof. Jessica Penner | OL05 | Fall 2020

Week 9: Setting & Context in Fiction (or any genre)

No word is absolutely wrong or dirty or insulting.
It all depends upon context and intention.
Janet Jackson

Think about a specific word that is considered “wrong or dirty or insulting.”

Imagine someone says this word to you or in your presence.

  • Is there a person/time/place where this word wouldn’t offend you?
  • Is there a person/time/place where this same word would offend you?

Right there, you’re already thinking about setting and context. We’re going to focus on setting and context and how authors do it in fiction.

What do we mean when we talk about setting and context in literature?

First, watch this YouTube Video.

What’s the setting?

Next, look at this picture.

And these pictures.

All the pictures were taken around the same time as the pictures shown on YouTube, so the essential setting (place and time) is the same, but the context (circumstances) for each picture is vastly different.

Consider the chapter from The Water Dancer, which you need to have read by Wednesday, 10/21.

  1. What is the setting? What is one specific clue that helps you decide where/when this novel takes place?
  2. What is the context? What is one specific clue that helps you decide the circumstances the narrator is in?

Answer one of these questions in the comments section of this post by Wednesday, 10/21.

We’ll be continuing to talk about setting and context over the next few posts, but let’s go to the Assignment page to review the tasks for this week!


  1. Jozelyn

    2. I believe the context of the story is that the author is experiencing death and is accepting his current fate by finally being able to feel free. One specific clue that helped me decide the circumstances the narrator was in was when he was already in the water and realized that what he was facing was more peaceful than life itself. The narrator stated ” There was peace in that blue light, more peace than sleep itself, more than that, there was freedom…”

  2. Robert Rampersaud

    The setting of ‘The Water Dance’ is during the 17th century. This was the time during slavery because the narrator mentions “Maynard who held my chain. Maynard, my brother who was made my master”. Also, the narrator meant he was pushing the horse as hard as he could which led me to believe that hose was the only means of traveling. This could not be taking place in modern time.

  3. Amna Ahmed

    The circumstance surrounding Hiram is that he is experiencing death by drowning in water. The context that gives this away is the water that surrounds Hiram leading him to be unable to breath. In the story Hiram says, “There is no sensation like drowning”. After the carriage broke, Hiram and Maynard were thrown into the river Goose where they both eventually drowned.

  4. Angelica Hernandez

    1.What is the setting? What is one specific clue that helps you decide where/when this novel takes place?
    As in location, It takes place in Virginia because it was mentioned, definitely not in a city setting. As in time, I think this took back when slavery was still a thing in the U.S because slavery and freedom were mentioned often, theirs no indications that this takes place in current time.

  5. Leviza Murtazayeva

    I chose the first question, What is the setting? What is one specific clue that helps you decide where/when this novel takes place?
    This novel most likely takes place as mentioned in Virginia. The specific clue that allows me to consider that the novel mostly takes place in age of slavery since the author added that character Maynard was purchasing a woman.

  6. nickay82

    1. the story took place in Virginia in the 17th to 18th century on a rainy night while the author was traveling with his brother and a fancy lady along the river bank. The author mention slavery and the use of a horse as a means of transportation that is associated with those early times.

  7. Sarvi

    1. It was in Virginia during times of slavery when he said at the beginning of the story “when I was young, back when the Virginia earth was still red as brick and red with life” He also mentions places like the river, bridge, hills, valleys, green woods, and mountains which shapes the context of the setting.

  8. Luzmery

    1. The story takes place in Virginia between the 17th and 18th centuries which were times of slavery. What helped me realize that was the use of words like “slavery” “free” and “my master” as well as what they used as their transportation.

  9. malik lee

    1.I would have to say due to hints from the story is takes place in Virginia, mostly likely in the era of slavery since one character is traveling to purchase a woman.

  10. Diana Rivera

    I am answering question number 1, the setting takes place in Virginia around either the time of the slave trade. The reasoning behind that answer is because one, one of the characters was purchasing a woman, and two, there were words being used such as ‘free’ and ‘my master’. Also, the way that the surroundings were described, such as rivers, bridges, and mountains.

  11. Parikshit Thapa

    1. I feel like the setting takes place in Virginia during the time where the US used to buy slaves during the 17th or 18th century. The author talks about horses and as we know that the horses were used as a means of transporation to trade the slaves.

  12. Dylan

    2. What is the context? What is one specific clue that helps you decide the circumstances the narrator is in?
    The main character has given his life up to take care of his brother, who never thanks or appreciates him for the sacrifices he has made. He describes Maynard as his chain, as “[his] brother made [his] master.” Near the end of the story, when both are drowning, Maynard begs for help, even saying “please.” This is the first time he ever acknowledged “the true nature of [their] positions,” meaning that Maynard had never admitted how much he relied on his brother. He took him for granted since the beginning. This provides the context as to why the main character decides to let go, leaving his brother to die as well.

  13. Angelica Salazar

    1. The story took place in Virginia, as it was mentioned. Also, could be around the 17th century, by the context that was given to us by Coates such as “to see the man who held her chain” we can infer that it was time time when slavery took place.

  14. Kiara Wright

    1. The story takes place in Virginia. and when the narrator stated ” Maynard my brother who was made my master” shows that this took place during the time of slavery.

  15. Saja Musa

    1. The story is taking place in the 1800’s when slavery was not abolished. The main hint that helped me understand the setting and context of the story was when the author states how his half brother who is younger than him is his master. The narrator recalls shackled individuals in his memories which lead me to infer that the setting was taking place during the times of slavery in the 1800’s.

  16. Mohammed Hashim

    1.) This setting of this story is in Virginia, as the author mentioned in the story. It was around the time of slavery back in the days because the author mentions freedom, peace and other freeing feelings they wanted more than life itself because they wanted to be at peace and feel free.

  17. Mamadou

    The story is taking place moments before the narrator’s death. The narrator talks about swimming to the top of the water after almost drowning but then just giving up and letting himself and his brother die.

  18. Marina Malak

    The setting seemed like the story was taking place in the slavery times in Virginia according to the details the author mentioned about his brother being his master.

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