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Role of Setting in Anita Desai's "Games at Twilight"

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The setting of a story is the context in which the action of the story takes place; it includes time, place, and environment in which the characters perform actions. The setting of a story can also change as the story progresses to build the themes. The setting of a story plays a crucial role in the development of plot and themes and in overshadowing the impending events; it allows the reader to visualize the story vividly and it also creates the tone and mood of the story. By grounding the story in a rich setting the author allows the readers to experience the changing or static emotions of the characters involved in the story. The story “Games at Twilight” by Anita Desai, seemingly revolves around a bunch of kids playing hide and seek without paying heed to the scorching heat outside, but on a deeper level, it hints at the harsh realities of life like loss of innocence and death. The backdrop of the story is tropical India and the action of the story mainly takes place in the verandah and shed; the time of the action spans between afternoon and night.

Through the emotions of the character Ravi, the author reveals the harshness of the real world which snatches the innocence of children once they step out to face the world. The initial description of the setting in the story adds to the richness of this theme. The surrounding of the story is described as scorching and harsh which has the tendency to rob people of vigor and life, for instance, the author writes “it was too hot. The garden outside was like a tray made of beaten brass, flattened out on the red gravel and the stony soil in all shades of metal”, this description foreshadows the upcoming event in which Ravi is robbed of his innocence and is taught a harsh lesson of “frailty of human existence” by the brutal world. The details about the setting of the story portrayed by using words like “sizzling still air”, “beaten brass” and “lifeless” evoke the imagery of a brutal and harsh world which is not conducive to the growth of children.

Another overarching theme that is emphasized and foreshadowed by the description of the setting in the story is that of death and the frailty of human life. In order to hint at the ultimate and inevitable reality of life which is death, the setting of the story adds to the sepulchral and gloomy mood and tone of the story. The author portrays the veranda as a vast desert with no sign of life “no life stirred at this arid time of day---the birds still drooped, like dead fruit; some squirrels lay limp. The outdoor dog lay stretched as if dead on the veranda mat”, this description of the setting foreshadows the approaching event of realization of the insignificance of life and inevitability of death. The shed where Ravi was hiding from the seeker is described by the author as a place which was “dark and spooky. It had muffled smell, as of graves”, these details add to the overarching theme of death that is revealed in the resolution of the story. The way the author has portrayed the shed as “a dark and depressing mortuary of defunct household items”, accentuates the insignificance of the existence of the protagonist and in turn, brings to attention the insignificance of human life. Humans like the defunct items in the shed have a measured time after which they are buried in the grave and the rest of the world moves on as if nothing has changed.

The gradual change in the time of the action of the story also foregrounds the theme of gradual movement towards death. At first, everything is “bright” and “gleaming” in the story which signifies the start of life. When Ravi goes into hiding the time gradually shifts from afternoon to evening to twilight “it grew darker in the shed as the light grew softer, turned to kind of a crumbling yellow pollen that turned to yellow fur, blue fur, gray fur. Evening. Twilight”, this gradual drifting of the afternoon into twilight symbolizes the gradual movement of a human towards death. As the light gradually turns into darkness, a human moves through different phases in his life and ultimately is engulfed by death. The author again utilizes her knack for providing rich details to the setting in the scene where Ravi comes out and witnesses his friends and cousins playing as if oblivious to his existence. The author adds lugubrious details to the setting to end the story on a melancholy note; she writes “their faces were pale and triangular. The trees and bushes around them stood inky and sepulchral, spilling long shadows across them”. This description highlights and foregrounds the theme of looming death and the insignificance of life. Eventually, every human will be lost to the shadows of death and even his family will forget about him.

Conclusion

The setting of a story is not merely a backdrop against which an action takes place rather it is a substantial literary element that foregrounds and foreshadows the themes of the story. The setting of a story is crucial to the themes and mood of the story, for instance, “The Scarlet Letter” against the setting of a Harry Potter movie instead of Puritan England would fail to put across the themes of the novel. Similarly, a horror story with a setting of a comic would fail to evoke the desired response. Hence, it can be concluded that the setting of a story plays an indispensable role in the development of themes present in the story.

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