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The Reptile Garden vs. A Wedge of Shade

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While reading a story, one usually pays most attention to the characters and events which are described, but such important factor as a story setting is usually ignored. However, it is exactly the setting that creates mood of a story, informs about the time span, geographic location, epoch, surroundings, and other essential details which help the reader immerse into the story, and even become a part of it. A good story setting makes the reader feel as if he or she is on a trip to the described place together with the heroes.

Louise Erdrich is a distinguished American writer. She spent her childhood in Dakota, so it is no surprise that description of this place in the stories is very realistic. Nevertheless, due to the works’ length, it is not long. In both stories, most of the time is dedicated to the main heroine’s thoughts and actions. Both works deal with personal feelings, relationships, and cultural continuity. In “The Reptile Garden”, the reader learns about Evelina’s background from the first lines. She moves to a dormitory, and from its description it becomes obvious that she feels strange there. One of the most vivid moments is when Evelina leaves her house. The way her parents look at her signals that starting from this moment the girl will have to come through some difficulties. Having come to the campus, Evelina watches other students from her window. The way they look and behave tells her she is very different from them. The settings here convey Evelina’s loneliness and estrangement.

One of the vital elements of the settings is a time span. In “The Reptile Garden” it is somewhat distorted. The change of location is vague and is not stated clearly. In “A Wedge of Shade”, however, it can be understood that the events unfold during one day, and the locations change only few times.

Louise Erdrich pays much attention to the description of rooms and furniture. When the characters are depressed, the rooms correspond to their feelings. For instance, a ward in the mental hospital is tiny, poorly furnished, and does not seem cozy. The settings in both stories evoke the emotional responses in the reader, which are similar to those of the characters. In “A Wedge of Shade”, when the woman, after long anticipation, tells her mother the news, she feels a temporary relief. To stress these feelings, Louise concentrates on the wind, “There is a surge of relief, a wind blowing through the room, but then it’s gone. The curtain flaps and we’re caught again, stunned in an even denser heat” (2).

Weather description is essential in both stories. As it was mentioned above, the atmosphere in “A Wedge of Shade” is somewhat tensed. The temperature is rising both in the air and between people, “Driving home, we see how field after field of beets has gone into shock, and even some of the soybeans. The plants splay, limp, burned into the ground. Only the sunflowers continue to struggle upright, bristling but small” (4). Anyway, when the conflict settles, there appears to be an escape from the heat – fans and ice.

In “The Reptile Forest”, on the other hand, the weather becomes cold and frosty when two lovers estrange from each other, “The night was so cold and dark that the snow made squeaking noises as it settled in drifts around the big, square yard” (6).

One more function that the settings perform is suspense. It is most noticeable in “A Wedge of Shade” when a mother and her daughter are waiting for Gerry. First, they see an empty horizon, than a small dot appears, which becomes bigger and bigger.

In conclusion, settings are a crucial component in stories. Supposing they are aptly described, as in the works of Louise Erdrich, it will be easier for the reader to comprehend the events and understand the main character’s feelings.

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