AP Lit and More Skill Spotlight - Setting and Characterization

AP Lit Skill Spotlight: Character and Setting

When you examine the AP® Lit CED, you notice a natural progression in the Setting skills. First, students are asked to identify elements of setting (2.A). Next, they analyze the function of setting in 2.B, such as how it contributes to a story’s mood or theme. Finally, students should analyze the link between a text’s setting and character in 2.C. This lesson will work to cultivate those skills.

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Using Pride and Prejudice to Illustrate

A great film for teaching setting and character is Pride and Prejudice (2005). This movie illustrates how particular settings contribute to conflict, theme, and characterization.

Clip 1 – Elizabeth and Darcy’s Dance

Pride and Prejudice clip 1 - AP Lit and More

In this first clip, Elizabeth is asked to dance by the horrid Mr. Darcy, a judgmental and antisocial gentleman of privilege. Elizabeth has already had a few interactions with Darcy at this point and has found him cold and awkward. When watching, ask students to pay attention to the music, the room, and the dancers that fill it. The tension is illustrated further when the dancers clear out in the final shots, although they are really still there. This illustrates something different for both characters. For Lizzie, Darcy is set in front of her as an adversary, one which she will not allow to defeat her. For Darcy, we learn later, it means that she is the only woman in the room. He is already smitten with her, yet does not know how to show it.

Clip 2 – Darcy’s Proposal

Pride and Prejudice clip 2 - AP Lit and More

This second clip of Darcy’s clumsy proposal is set in the pouring rain. Students can study the purpose of the rain and scenery in this clip, which serves multiple functions. How does it contribute to Darcy’s character? to Elizabeth’s? How can the unique structure that they’re standing in (is it a ruin?) also contribute to the characterization?

Clip 3 – The Finale

Pride and Prejudice clip 3 - AP Lit and More

In this final scene, Elizabeth is walking the grounds of her home because she cannot sleep. Over the course of the story, she has learned of Darcy’s true nature and the extent of his love for her. She not only likes him, but has fallen in love with him. Darcy’s loooooong walk across the fertile field at dawn is highly symbolic in setting. But ask your students, how does this setting affect the characters and their relationship?

Focus Text: Excerpt from Ann Petry’s The Street

The focus text for this lesson will be familiar for most seasoned AP® Lit teachers. One of the most popular prose excerpts from past exams is from Ann Petry’s novel The Street. Besides being an excellent piece of prose, it’s perfect for analyzing setting and character. You can read this excerpt here  on page 3 (it includes the prompt as well, but we won’t be using that for this lesson). Allow your students a chance to read and annotate the text, then ask them the following questions:

  1. What is the setting of this text?
  2. How does the setting connect to other literary elements, such as shifts, conflict, mood or theme?
  3. How does the text’s setting contribute to its meaning or effect?
  4. What is the relationship between Lutie’s society or culture and Lutie herself?

Teacher’s Guide

Here are some thoughts and answers to help guide your discussion.

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  1. The story is set outside of 116th Street on a windy November day.
  2. The wind begins as a nuisance and moves to fully aggressive, described as “fingering” and “prying” those walking the street. This personifies the wind and establishes the central conflict: Lutie versus the atmosphere of 116th street. The wind seems to be actively keeping her from finding an apartment by assaulting her body and moving the street’s signs away from her. This also helps us root for Lutie as she perseveres down the street in search of her future home.
  3. The text’s setting establishes the antagonist of the story (the wind), making it emerge as a character. This complexifies the work and makes it work in multiple layers: Lutie is simply on the street, but Lutie is also set in opposition to the street.
  4. We don’t know the time period of this piece, but it is set before the convenience of internet house-hunting. Lutie must search on foot for this apartment, exposing her to the elements of the predatory wind. One could even make an argument that the wind is symbolic of a predator in the way it is described, foreshadowing a future conflict or emphasizing Lutie’s vulnerable position in this setting. Clearly, Lutie is an unlikely hero for her time, being a single woman. However, she remains unperturbed by the assault from the wind, simply thinking, “Reasonable” as she finds the apartment.

Additional Text Suggestions for Characters and Setting

Here is a list of additional short stories and novels that you can use to help students study the relationship between character and setting. To work for Short Fiction units, I suggest limiting the novels to excerpts of 1-10 pages.

AP Lit Essential Skill Practice - Setting by AP Lit and More
For more practice with the skills associated with setting, try these graphic organizers that can be used with any text!
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
  • “Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway
  • “A & P” by John Updike
  • “A Temporary Matter” by Jhumpa Lahiri
  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
  • Ethan Frome or “Roman Fever” by Edith Wharton
  • “Hunters in the Snow” by Tobias Wolff
  • “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
  • “Sweetheart of Song Tra Bong” from The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka
  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  • The Secret History by Donna Tartt
  • Sunrise on the Veld by Doris Lessing
  • “The Stone Boy” by Gina Berriault
  • “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
  • “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut
  • “Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street” by Herman Melville
  • “Desiree’s Baby” by Kate Chopin
  • “The Swimmer” by John Cheever
  • “The Track” by Walter McDonald
  • “Paul’s Case” by Willa Cather
  • “A Wedge of Shade” by Louise Erdrich
  • Greasy Lake by T. C. Boyle
  • “A Song in the Front Yard” by Gwendolyn Brooks
AP Skill Spotlights, AP Lit & More
Looking for other lessons to help with AP® Lit skills? Check out the rest of them here.

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