The most important motif throughout literature is setting. Simply put, in Foster’s words, “Geography Matters…” The place where each character finds himself/herself in different scenes is important to the meaning of the work and serves as a motif in the story.
The Scarlet Letter is an excellent example of why location matters. Hester is shunned from the community because of her sin. Members of the community want her out of their minds and out of town effectively removing her from their society. Her cottage represents this removal as it is isolated on the outskirts of town. Hawthorne writes, “its comparative remoteness put it out of the sphere of that social activity”
In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, geography matters as well. On his journey down the Mississippi River, Huck misses the turn onto Ohio River as he attempts to free Jim from slavery. Instead, he heads further south on the Mississippi. This symbolizes running amok and allows the protagonist to encounter his/her subconscious. In this case, Huck realizes that slaves are “real” people with “real” emotions and decides that he will save Jim from slavery even if it means going to hell. The further south Huck goes, the more he is aware of what his subconscious is telling him.
In The Great Gatsby, Gatsby lives on West Egg which is located outside of downtown New York City. The former symbolizes Gatsby’s inability to reach his dream of being with Daisy. She lives on East Egg which is separated from West Egg by a body of water. Gatsby is unable to cross this water and his physical location will symbolically forever divide him from his dream. Fitzgerald writes, “his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it.” The latter symbolizes Gatsby’s alienation from the city and Meyer Wolfshiem. Gatsby will never be a true participant in Wolfshiem’s gang and his location outside the city symbolizes his location outside of Wolfshiem’s inner circle.
Geography matters in literature. It adds so much meaning and depth to novels and expands the understanding of characters. There would be no story without a place for it to start.
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