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Setting in The Woman at the Store and Beginning of the Tournament

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Consider how and to what effect setting is created in two of the short stories you have read.

In the short stories “The Woman at the Store” by Katherine Mansfield and “Beginning of the Tournament” written by Witi Ihimaera, the setting is an important aspect which contributes to the development of themes in the texts. Setting in both of the stories varies, one being a friendly more familiar one (“Beginning of the Tournament”) while the other is ominous and foreboding (“The Woman at the Store”) although they both take place in New Zealand but in different time periods. Through the setting, we can generalize what will happen next to the character, or at least in what direction they are headed, whether it is disaster (“The Woman at the Store”) or family (“Beginning of the Tournament”).

In “The Woman at the Store” by Katherine Mansfield, the setting conveys the idea of disaster, already right in the beginning, which foreshadows that something might happen to the travelers, more on the negative side, by the words the author uses. The opening scene of the story depicts the setting as almost apocalyptic. The travelers are travelling at the time of day where “the heat was terrible” and “the white pumice dust [is swirling] in [their] faces and [sifting] over [them like a dry-skin itching for growth on [their] bodies”. When they reach the whare though, the descriptions of the setting changes.

While they view the outside of the whare from a distance, positioned “far back from the road – a big paddock opposite,” with “a creek and a clump of young willow trees”, the description of setting conveys a friendly, maybe even too friendly mood, with the nice cottage in the middle of the hills. When the whare is sighted though, there are no other houses for miles around, introducing the theme of isolation, and how it affects character. A possible hint at the whare’s true nature though, at this point, is that it is “roofed with corrugated iron”. The corrugated iron hints at the true nature of the place, a bit barbaric, primitive and disorganized. The whare is not as welcoming as it seems which is shown when the characters are walking along the garden path, with cabbages “planted on both sides”.

“They smelled like stale dish-water” though, which one can compare to the woman living there. Although the woman may appear normal, like a cabbage does, she has something to hide, like the bad smell of stale dish water. Inside the whare, the narrator is immediately introduced to the real image of this so-called friendly cottage. The rooms walls are “plastered with old pages of English periodicals” and “broken cane chairs [are] pushed against the walls.”, depicting a room that is anything but welcoming. One also gets the idea of death in the room as “flies buzzed in circles round the ceiling”. Flies are usually present at cadaver. The author has chosen to have the narrator in the room at the time of day “when everything appears grotesque”, and while she is “sitting alone in the hideous room, [she] grew afraid.” The atmosphere is very uncomfortable, and the narrator is noticing it, and accompanied with the time of day it is, everything appears worse than it really is. When the narrator decides to take a bath, the uncomfortable feeling comes back again because “the water [is] as clear and soft as oil”.

The water is unnatural, abnormal, which one can also say about the whare. The description of the storm confirms all suspicions that something bad will definitely befall the characters. The scene is tense, with everyone seated around a table in a rundown room, in an uncomfortable environment, when the storm starts. With the idea of the “rain [beginning] to fall, sharp as cannon shot on the roof”, the looming outline of disaster is sighted. The sleepless night at the whare confirms all the previous suspicions, when the child draws the picture of the woman shooting her husband and burying him in a hole. The woman’ health has deteriorated due to her isolation at in the whare, with no company except her husband, who came back from time to time. After brother and narrator leave the whare, a new day begins, where all of their troubles at the whare have been overcome. With the “white clouds [floating] over a pink sky”, the author describes the scene as if it were paradise-like and the characters have a chance to start a new beginning.

In “Beginning of the Tournament” by Witi Ihimaera, the setting contributes to the theme of family and how important it is to come together as one community. The story takes place in a rural Maori village called Waituhi, where everyone knows everyone else. The sense of togetherness is then developed through the hockey tournament that takes place, with visiting Maoris from other villages. When the narrator visits the village with Jerry, he sees his father, who “was like the sky above [him], wide open, embracing, filling [his] life with sunlight.” The atmosphere created through this statement is of a close family, father and son. When Jerry takes a look at the hockey grounds, on which they are to play hockey on, “[Jerry] was horrified” as they are playing on a paddock.

We realize the tournament is not official when “Nani Kepa [wanders] onto the field, [shoos] away a couple of cows, and [shouts] into a megaphone” which signalizes the start of the hockey tournament. With the start of the hockey tournament, we learn that the tournament is a hockey game for some of the Maoris, while for other tribal villagers, it is (according to the narrator) “not just because the game’s important but because coming is important. Coming, meeting together, laughing together, remembering our family ties, that’s what the tournaments are all about.” While the Maoris are playing hockey, we see this statement become reality, as not many people take it seriously.

When Jerry meets Moana, he learns how important the family values are for the Maoris, when he tells her “You might even win”. She replies “Does it really matter?” which shows that the game is not important and implies that it is the family values, discussed earlier that are more important to the Maoris in general. The setting contributes to the family theme, not so much because of the way the setting is described, but more so of where the entire story takes place. The rural village, together with the local villagers and other Maoris make Waituhi into a large family meeting ground, with people from different villages coming to the tournament to meet and talk. This rural village, along with it taking place in New Zealand, a small country, with indigenous inhabitants, all contributes to the effect the story has on the reader.

Both short stories, “The Woman at the Store” by Katherine Mansfield and “Beginning of the Tournament” by Witi Ihimaera have settings which help develop the theme. In “Woman at the Store”, the setting is almost always scary/foreboding, conveying the message to the reader that something will go wrong along the narrator’s path in the story. This is shown immediately in the beginning paragraph, when they are walking through the almost apocalyptic landscape. The sense of ill happening grows further when the whare is sighted, and the characters are introduced to the lonely, strange woman. The strangeness of the whare become clear when the narrator and her brother find out that the woman murdered her husband, after too many years alone. The setting foreshadows a bad turn in the story and is also the fault of the woman’s madness due to her isolation.

In “Beginning of the Tournament”, the setting contributes to the dominant theme of family and coming together, as the small, rural village is a meeting point for the annual hockey tournament. The narrator invites his friend Jerry for the tournament, who comes, awaiting an organized game of hockey. He is pleasantly surprised by the true nature of the tournament though, which is a coming together of family and friends. He learns that the Maoris place family values before everything else, which he learns from the narrator’s cousin Moana. The setting strengthens the family values theme as the small village makes everyone seem closer together. Both stories have settings which contribute to either a theme or idea present in the stories, and through the author’s choice of setting and description, the stories manage to convey ideas more clearly and fully.

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