Master Document: Setting
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Cross-Class Collaboration Perspectives Document (this is the raw information everyone posted)

Here's the PP from Concordia's presentation on Setting:



How Setting is Utilized in Joseph O’Connor’s Star of the SeaBob Borvan, Ethan Nichols, Sarah Widger, Ella Worth University of Nebraska-LincolnEnglish 252: Introduction to Fiction
How setting is introduced within the text can be a key starting point. It has that dominating effect that gives the writer the ability to encompass the reader into the world of the piece from the first page. O’Connor does this quite effectively in the opening sentence of the preface, “The steerage cabin was situated directly below the maindeck, its half-rotted roof planks here and there as brittle as the biscuit that kept its inhabitant one swallow from death.” (O’Connor XIX) This starts the reader in the heart of the ship where starvation holds reign and death is just around the corner for many passengers. When discussing the epigraphs in class, Ms. Babine brought to our attention the purpose of these opening pages to establish the point that there is no right way to tell this story. The epigraphs also place the reader directly into the world of 1847 Ireland, England, and the Star.

It’s important to note that there is more than one setting within this story. While everybody in the novel is presently placed on the one boat together, O’Connor always takes us back to his or her individual pasts in these other settings. The setting is conveyed not only through straightforward text, it is also described through the characters themselves. “She was one of His Lordship’s charity cases: the local girl he rescued from beggary in Dublin. She knew her role and he knew his” (O’Connor 46). As Sarah Widger (UNL) pointed out, the previous passage exemplifies the use of Mary Duane as the source of describing the poor and struggling state of Dublin. The technique of expressing setting through characterization is repeated throughout the novel. In the following passage, O’Connor uses the descriptions of characters themselves to simultaneously describe the setting. “The smell of his sweat like new-mown grass… The aromas of their bodies and the aroma of crushed ferns. The tang of dandelion milk on his sunburnt skin” (O’Connor 66). From Lauren Morgan’s (UNL) perspective, O’Connor does this “in order to give the reader some description of Ireland and not detract from the character development.” She explains that this can also be seen in the case of “the Ghost” at the beginning of the novel, when O’Connor is consistently making parallels between the character and the setting of the dark, mysterious ship. From these observations, we’ve learned that both the setting and characters in this novel often rely on each other to create the working story that it is.

O’Connor writes Star of the Sea in a way that the setting would continually affect the characters, and took advantage of what putting the story on the boat offered him in terms of plot and characterization. Writers have to remember that when it comes to creating a setting, one does not have to reinvent the wheel. We have talked in class about how often the best settings are based on very real places that the writer is intimately familiar with. In some cases, certain aspects of the setting such as symbolism and metaphor already exist. In the case of Star of the Sea, the layout of the ship gives O’Connor a lot of opportunities to discuss the differences between each social class and class separation without overtly stating it. Through Captain Lockwood, O’Connor further separates each class through how he refers to each in his narrative. Bailey Cocoran (UNL) notes that “when referring to the “first-class-problems” he comments on things matter-of-factly”, and that he seemed more “emotionally attached” to the lower class passengers. Through physical descriptions, the reader gets a feel that there are two very different worlds above deck and below deck. Passengers bought the accommodations that they could afford, and the circumstances of these accommodations parallel their situations in life. In Ireland, the noble class lived in relative comfort as they lorded over the poor class. On the ship, they are literally lording directly over the poor class while they starve and die in what Ella Worth (UNL) points out “is literally called the coffin” of the ship. Even within the confines of the ship, the passengers are physically separated from each other. The fear that the poor class might try and break through these physical barriers is a constant worry for the upper class, driving the tension further. Through O’Connor’s descriptions of the luxurious accommodations of first class that foil the wretched suffering in the hold, he silently asks the reader if maybe the poor class would be justified in taking what the noble class squanders.

As the novel goes on the setting reinforces the rising tension of the plot. Luke McLaughlin (UNL) states, “The setting is always key to get the right feeling of emotion for that point in the story.” The setting of the ship in the Star of the Sea plays a huge role on the mood and tension in the novel. Becky Farmer (CC) writes, “The ancient boat that is creaky and falling apart along with the dark, stormy night time creates an image of someone definitely up to something.” This is a good example of how the ship is starting to lend to the dark and dreary nature of the characters’ moods. Ashley Franey (CC) also thought this when she said, “The dismal weather enhances the characters’ moods. They are not rambunctious or seem to be happy.” O’Connor does a great job incorporating the setting into the mood and the tension of the characters. The setting of the ship the Star of Sea plays very well into the mystery of this book. The old boat with many faults and secrets of its own brings in its own mood and itself creates tension on itself.

Throughout this course and throughout this collaboration, this class has analyzed the role the setting plays into writing. O’Connor’s Star of the Sea is a wonderful example of how a writer can utilize the setting of a story to express mood, tension, characterization and conflict. In class we have discussed how a story can only exist in one setting. The Star of the Sea could not have taken place anywhere else in the world. As we continue to develop our writing skills, we must never forget that the setting must be developed as extensively as the characters or plot, and has a central role in how a story is told.




Setting in Star of the SeaRebecca Farmer, Sam Moheban, Tiffany Petru, Ashley FraneyConcordia College, Moorhead, MNEnglish 346
The setting of Joseph O’Connor’s Star of the Sea is important to the novel in many different ways. The time period, place, and mood contribute to the plot line and characterization throughout the story. O’Connor uses the setting of the Great Famine and the ensuing diaspora to justify his assembly of characters on the Star, as rich and poor both required transportation across the Atlantic. Their current situation is bringing these diverse characters together, while the layout of the ship attempts to isolate the two different economic groups. The UNL students found that the layout of the ship gives O’Connor plenty of opportunities to discuss the differences between social classes without overtly stating it. While Sam Moheban of Concordia points out some themes are clearly addressed by O’Connor, like the conflict between the Irish and the English and the Irish nationalist movement growing out of their distrust for their rulers. Though the characters are confined by the ship, the readers are not as O’Connor gives us a look into the past of the passengers aboard the Star through Dixon’s research. Sarah Widger of UNL notes that these chapters bringing us back in time give us a description of place and setting through taking us off of the ship and into a more vibrant and less desperate Ireland. The author intends us to not only understand the conflict between the main characters but also the rich historical time the novel is set in.

Another way in which the setting contributes to the setting of Star of the Sea is that it allows the murder of David Merridith to occur. The close, crowded quarters of the ship create a tense mood between the characters leading to motive for the murderer to kill. Grantley Dixon and David Merridith are enemies before they even board the ship. From the start it is clear that David does not like Dixon as Merridith says “A clown, Grantley Dixon, a perfervid parrot, with his militant slogans and second-hand attitudes: like all coffeehouse radicals a snob at heart” (O’Connor 5). Because these two are forced to spend time together on the ship, it heightens their feelings of hatred towards each other. Not only does the setting create motive for Dixon, but every other person on the ship as well. Because of this, there are several suspects to David’s murder, moving the blame away from Dixon. Every person on the ship is sick, hungry, angry, or desperate. Ella Worth from UNL points out that the “separation between the first class and the brig by means of physical boundaries also serves to enforce the tension between the starving Irish refugees and the well-off British Voyagers.” The tense mood throughout the ship makes most of the passengers likely murder suspects for a variety of reasons.
Not only does the setting of the ship create a motive for murder but it also creates means. Ella Worth describes the ship as having “a couple of hundred people dying of starvation and numerous diseases.” This crowded, noisy ship creates many distractions. It is difficult for the captain to keep track of everything that is going on making it easy for the murderer to plot and commit his murder. At the point in the novel when it was still believed that Pius Mulvey was the murderer we hear about some of the ways in which he plans his task. The captain notes in his log that “late last night some person – presumably male – had sawn through the bars in the lower foredeck gate, which leads to the First-Class compartments” (O’Connor 33). Most likely it was Pius Mulvey who did this while trying to figure out how to get access to David Merridith’s cabin. If this had been set in a city and David was living in a house or apartment, Pius Mulvey would not have been able to do this undetected. At the end of the book it is revealed that Grantley Dixon is the actual murderer. The reason that Dixon was able to commit this murder and get away with it was clearly the setting. Because they were on the ship these two enemies were always close to one another. Luke McLaughlin point out that “the characters had limited setting.” This limited setting provides plenty of opportunities for Dixon to kill. The ship is also beneficial to Dixon. It was probably relatively easy for him to kill David and then disappear into the crowd without anyone noticing that he had been in the Merridith’s compartment. If it was not for the setting it would have been much more difficult for any murder or attempted murder of David Merridith to occur.

Foreshadowing in Star of the Sea is a key component to understanding the next step in the novel. Recognizing some of the foreshadowing O’Connor uses is not clear. The attention to detail and word choice is what makes the difference. The description of the sea when describing Pius Mulvey is an important foreshadow to the murder of David Merridith. The sea is painted with imagery of a “knife-grey” color (O’Connor 24). As Ethan Nichols (UNL) points out the “description is both great to the reader’s imagination and foretelling of what kind of killing may come later on.”

As to how the knife will be used, that is foreshadowed in the death of a whale. The ship hits something, and the whole ship shakes terribly. Immediately after this there is blood seen emerging from below the ship and spreading out quickly through the water. Not long after, almost one hundred yards from the boat, a very large whale is seen floating on the surface of the water (O’Connor 343-344). The whale is described as having, “its noble head gashed quite open from its encounter…” (344). The cut on the whale, of course, is the same that David will eventually receive. The use of the word “noble” is another good example of foreshadowing. Whales are viewed as stately, majestic creatures because of their sheer, massive size. They are also perceived as such because of the power and strength at their command. David is a lord, he is an earl, and his family had extensive land holdings. He can be labeled as “noble” also. Before the method of killing David is known, the word “noble” would be a very key foreshadowing of his upcoming death.

The weather also foreshadows events what will occur. While on ship, the weather is constantly changing, but it always seems to be bad weather. In chapters with the captain’s log, the weather is always noted. It always seems to be raining or sleeting. During the day, the description is milder, like misting. There is normally some storm that has just passed, a storm raging on, or a storm about to begin. The various stages of the storms points to the storms that occur between the passengers. Also, the time of day of the storms alludes to the idea that danger and confrontations occur during the evening as well.

The author of Star of the Sea did his research well for this novel as he included many of the Victorian values that would have been cited or used in the time the novel is set. He establishes the setting by inserting many of the Victorian attitudes. As Sarah Widger of UNL wrote, “Setting simply has that domineering effect of encompassing the reader into the world of the writer’s creation.” O’Connor includes religion, how important it is to some people, and how some people question it. Merridith questions this of religion:

Was there any shred of truth to it, after all, the pietistical absurdity of life after death? Could the story be metaphor for some other, more scientific reality? Would the sages of coming times be able to decode the allegory? And if such a truth existed, how did it work? Where was Heaven? And where was Hell? (O’Connor 10).

While addressing the common beliefs of “life after death,” he takes it further by wondering the specifics of “how” and “where” which have befuddled many people for years. Along with religion is its counterpart: science. The Victorian people relied on well-known scientist such as Newton since at one point Mulvey “ had amused them by explaining in terms of Newton’s Second Law why a river might never be made to flow uphill” (O’Connor 27) which fascinated the people because the increasing wonderment and growth in the field of science. The medicine people relied was not reliable and often only cured symptoms for a short period of time. The use of opium to cure some ailments is used in the novel when the Captains “took a quarter-grain of opium” (33) to cure his “poor chest” (33). This poor knowledge of health in general attributed to many deaths because of misdiagnosis or simply due to proper medicine was not being available or created yet. The upper class was quite intelligent, though. When Mulvey is traveling with William Swales, Swales list the classic authors and books that would have enthralled the Victorian readers and critics; Doctor Faustus, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Keats are all mentioned as authors who were staple—and still are—to becoming a mindful, well-informed person of the Victorian era. Also, they were quite popular in the times before. Paradise Lost is cited (193) and La Belle Dame Sans Merci is mentioned (122), which would be popular references at the time. Laura’s view on art is “Art was about the creation of beauty. An important painter, a truly interesting writer—he took the stuff of ordinary life and turned it into something else” (120) is exactly how the Victorians felt towards art. O’Connor uses all this to help show the time in which the novel was set so the readers understand and feel as if they were people of the Victorian age reading Star of the Sea.


At the start of every chapter are the chapter number, title, and summary of the chapter. In modern times, books are lucky to have even a title with every numbered chapter. The description of the chapter is an indicator of the times as books in the early Victorian period. This directs the reader to where the chapter will go whereas modern books do not do this, mystery novel especially as the authors do not want to give away the endings. The set-up with the chapters is a stylistic choice that reflects how books were written for the Victorian masses.

The setting of the novel does many different things for the novel. The time period that the story was written in and the mood that it sets allow the plot to progress in the way that it does. The tense mood and foreshadowing makes it clear that something terrible is going to happen. The time period creates the characters and their values which in turn creates the plot. Many of their actions have to do with the time period that the story was set in. If it were not for the setting of the novel being on a ship traveling across the Atlantic David Merridith’s fate may have turned out very differently.