The Importance of Setting

by Mr. Sheehy

I realize we all roll our eyes when a teacher starts talking about setting – we all know what it is and don’t want to hear someone tell us, again, that it is a part of literature and that it is technically just the time and place where a story takes place. But setting is SO important, and I was reminded of that again in June when I went to my brother’s wedding. We’re from New Hampshire and he got married in Massachusetts in what I’d call a classic New England wedding. The ceremony was in an old church (picture a big white building with a steeple and you’ve just about got it) and the reception was right on the ocean (now picture a slight rocky slope to the crashing waves – it was that perfect), and, let’s face it, those settings have a ton to do with making the day special. When my brother and his wife look back on their wedding day, they’ll always remember it as a happy day: they’ll recall certain feelings from certain incidents, and they’ll have general ideas about how nice each of them looked. But possibly better than the pictures of each other, they’ll retain clearly pictures of the setting. They’ll remember each other standing on the rocks by the ocean or on the granite steps in front of the church. Maybe they’ll remember the windows of the reception hall that overlook the coast or the horribly uncomfortable pews in the church, which they sat in when they waited for the wedding rehersal to begin.

For me, one of the most striking aspects of our memories is their ability to retain pictures. Some people think that we never forget things that we experience. They call it the episodic memory – the episodes that we go through. They claim that the only reason we cannot recall every episode we’ve experienced (after a certain age) is that the similar episodes, or events, get mixed up because they’re so similar. Thus, if you go to a unique house once and then return to it 10 years later, you probably could say with confidence whether you’d been there before, because you hadn’t experienced anything it the last 10 years to mix up your memory.

So setting is vitally important, especially for a wedding, which you hope you’ll remember forever. The key, aparently, is to set your wedding somewhere unique to you, where it cannot get tangled up with the other episodes stored in your head. If you’re looking for suggestions, I’d reccomend by the ocean.

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