Discuss the significance of the setting in any two stories you have read (‘The Village Saint’ by Bessie Head & ‘Games at Twilight’ by Anita Desai).

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‘The Village Saint’ is s short story written by the reputable short-story writer Bessie Head where she explores the concept of a village which is enriched with facades: an idea that we can not only relate to this village, but rather, communities as a whole. ‘Games at Twilight’ is a short story written by Anita Desai where she splendidly explores the development of a young boy and his eventual discovery of his replicability. The setting is integral to both short stories, where in Head’s story the idea of a community is infatuated with the idea of facades and the community’s apparent liking of it, whereas in Desai’s story the protagonist’s home is Indian-based, mixed with a veranda and a shed which both assume important symbolical references throughout her story.

In Head’s story, it comes to light that the idea of facades is something consistently resisted by the community, especially with how her story ends. The concept of fake personalities could be seen as a motif throughout the story, where characters are involved with deceiving others with their apparent self-righteousness and compassion, as we see with Mma-Mompati. The deceptive tone that lurks about the story sets the scene and establishes the theme of facades being the norm in said society. Head’s peculiar wording, for instance ‘…humorously’, informs the readers that the citizens are somewhat amused or entertained by the facades people hold. This is further developed with the addition of the line ’…cheat, liar, pompous’, where there is a whole catalogue of words to describe such people. This is interesting and integral at the same time because without a community that functions along such lines, then the message Head is attempting to establish as a moral or lesson in her story would be waived and undermined. The community ‘…seemed to cater for massive public humiliations’, and it is with this line that the readers are informed that not only do such activities occur in this community, but rather, the society actually endorses and almost allows them to take place. This ensures us of the way citizens are entertained with such occurrences. Even in Head’s title ‘The Village Saint’, we see dramatic irony in the word ‘Saint’ and an antithesis to the story and its didactic undertone of the existence of deception. However, this deceptive role has been maintained due to the ad-populum ideology of the village citizens and their shared bandwagon of thought. The term’ Saint’ is used by Head as a metonymy of Mma-Mompati, before her true character is ultimately disclosed. Alternatively, we see the establishment of said bandwagon of thought provides the feasibility of such facades occurring; therefore this isn’t a message only maintained for the central character, rather, for the community as a whole and an almost criticism of the structure of thought of communities in this way.

In Desai’s story, the setting is held in India, where the atmosphere and climate is very arid. This is seen with the line ‘They faced the afternoon. It was too hot. Too bright.’, as a result, we see the climatical conditions being pre-defined as they provide the context of the setting in which the children are playing their games. The house is defined as ‘stuffy’ and ‘hot’, where the veranda almost symbolises a sort of freedom upon escaping the borders and confinements of their house. In this way, the veranda is important as an integral symbol in the setting to denote freedom to the children to play their games and to enjoy the twilight. There is an elaborate use of imagery in Desai’s language, especially where she says ‘…confined…suffocated…joy…excitement’, and thus the reader can almost relate to the characters at such an age where playing games was their main concern. The importance of the setting being held in India is also visited as we see a large household in terms of the number of people living in the house, with many children part of the household. This is something standard for developing countries, especially that of Asian countries, for example Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. Therefore, the presence of many relatives playing games is not something peculiar, instead, it is an element of relation between the characters and the readers. In addition to this, the idea of a familial hierarchy of authority is also prominent where Ravi, the youngest child (and also the protagonist), assumes the role of a social pariah due to his low position in his family’s hierarchy and therefore not really given the attention he believes is his right — yet ultimately faces a moment of disenchantment by the end of the story and therefore establishes a contrast between both ideologies and outlooks. This also creates a moment of reflection for the reader since we would be able to relate to a time where we thought ourselves as extremely important to the functioning of the family and community, however, eventually, we realise that this is merely a misconception of the world functions with or without you essentially.

In Head’s story she uses asyndeton to address certain ideas, for instance when describing Mary Pule, she is described as ‘thin, wilting, willowy’, as if her physical appearance negotiates the actuality of her personality and to equally emphasise all traits — which are almost synonyms of each other — to essentially endorse the level of her apparent weakness. Head uses concrete language with Mary Pule, and with that, we understand what Pule must look like physically. There is repetition of the word ‘Mompati’ throughout the entire text as if to emphasise the dominating connotation of the Mompati family. Alternatively, this draws a contrast between the son, Mompati, and his lack of achievements with his legacy-like name, ‘…the Bamangwato Tribe’, which is something that is enjoyed in a community like this which is constructed via facades. Head uses an epithet to further explore the gossiping-like nature of the community, which further defines the setting which encapsulates the nature of the people in the society, where Head says ‘…hush-hush talks’, as if the village citizens attempt in ‘..agony’ to find out what is under discussion by others and develops the idea of entertainment derived from facades. Mma-Mompati is bestowed with the idea of being an ‘…English lady’, which easily denotes how Asian women may attempt to seek the title of being acknowledged of having a Western persona, as if that denotes someone’s worth or as being someone exclusive in a way. This also, alternatively, further denotes the way people may idolise Western culture and customs. This is also something acknowledged by the readers, and which further develops the setting as being idealistic of Western envisions and customs. The idea of Mma-Mompati being ‘assiduously cultivated’ denotes the extent of Head’s idiosyncratic diction which is noticeably specific and ‘cultivated’ is a ludicrous term usually to describe something artificially constructed. Thus, Head’s language is specific and informs the reader of Mma-Momptti’s accuracy of building a facade. Alternatively, the idea of something being ‘cultivated’ is almost always dependent on the environment in which surrounds it. This could possible denote that the reason why such a facade was originally constructed was because of the environment in which Mma-Mompati lives and surrounds herself with — further exploring the idea of a facade not only confined to that of Mma-Mompati, but to that of the village as a whole.

Further exploring Desai’s monumental short story, the symbol of a shed is completely integral to her story. The shed symbolises an area where Ravi ‘hides’ for a game of hide and seek, denoting his intelligence in which he found such a place where he believes he would eventually win the game. Alternatively, this same place originally or initially considered an area that would win him the game and gain acknowledgement from his siblings, eventually resulted in him being forgotten and could instead symbolise a grave when exploring the metaphor of being forgotten by loved ones after death. Desai uses violent imagery, for instance ‘…in search of a worthier prey’, almost makes the game sound life-and-death, which is what is it for the children and they reality they have constructed in their social setting. The shed is described as ‘…dark, spooky’, and thus the reader feels discomfort and almost worry for Ravi, and the line is further developed with the line ‘…such a dark and depressing mortuary of defunct goods’, and this is where Desai makes the connection with the idea and metaphor of death, where she uses the specific term ‘mortuary’, and thus makes this line crucial in the setting of the story because it visits the idea of death and the shed acting like a grave in this scene with Ravi. The fact that Ravi is placed amongst ‘defunct’ goods shows that Ravi has now been forgotten and is treated as if he were dead; completely and utterly unacknowledged by his siblings. To further develop this metaphor, the defunct goods could be considered as other dead bodies, which helps the reader to explore the idea of the shed being linked to death and the concept of mortality. The inclusion of irony by Desai is employed seamlessly, where the reader understands the truth and reality that she is trying to convey about being forgotten and the difficult moment of realising Ravi’s own self-insignificance — which comes to him like an epiphany where Desai writes ‘They had quite forgotten him…Raghu had found the others long ago.’, and Ravi although thinks he had won, realised that he had lost by default since he was forgotten and therefore the idea of a shed adds to the setting and plays a vital role in conveying the message Desai is attempting to establish. This idea is that of a person’s own self-insignificance and that essentially the world does not revolve around each individual character, but a society or set of characters as a whole. In addition, this raw idea is more explicitly explored by the end of the story where Desai writes ‘silenced by a terrible sense of insignificance’, and the reputation of the ’s’ sound almost produces a sinister tone as if this sudden disillusionment has robbed Ravi of his childhood. The shed, which is part of the setting and wider setting of Ravi’s home being in India, is extremely important because it eventually paves the way of Ravi’s disenchantment which is the ultimate moral of Desai’s story in which she concisely and eloquently conveys to the readers.

Furthermore, in essence, we see that the setting in Head’s story is quite essential as it paves the way to the development of such facades as the society ‘…cater[s]’ for such ‘…humiliations’, which means that the eventual exploration of Mma-Mompati’s character is dependent on the community, in other words, external environment rather than that she development completely independently of the setting around her. In Desai’s story, the veranda, shed and the wider setting of an Indian household marks the setting essential to ultimately develop her moral of disillusionment of one’s self-worth, Ravi in this case, which holds a strong meaning amongst the overall plot of her story and readers alike.


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