In the short story "The Flying Machine" by Ray Bradbury, why is the setting significant?
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First, it is interesting to note that Ray Bradbury enjoyed an...
...incredibly prolific career that spans countless styles, formats, and genres...
But what is most interesting with regard to this short story is that Bradbury is most famous not for this kind of story, but for science fiction. One of his most famous stories is Fahrenheit 451, a futuristic tale where books are banned by the government. In Ray Bradbury's "The Flying Machine," the author's only reference to science fiction seems to be the invention of a machine that takes flight "In the year A.D. 400," in China. With this is mind, it should come as no surprise that the setting of the story is critical to the development and resolution of the plot.
First, "setting" is defined as the place in which the story's action occurs (which would include the time and location). The setting also has a specific purpose:
The setting provides the historical and cultural context for characters.
In the setting of this story, the idea of a man flying is considered a "miracle." A servant enters the palace garden, crying:
"Oh, Emperor, Emperor, a miracle!"
If this story was set in China in the present day, a flying machine (while unusual in the form in which it appears in the story) might be noteworthy, it would not create the excitement that occurs in 400 A.D.
There is another aspect of the story that is typical of Bradbury's stories. It is noted...
Bradbury had a knack for tapping into very real human fears...
This aspect of Bradbury's work is evident in the Emperor's actions in the story. For fear of others who might copy the inventor's design and fly over China to harm the country (specifically, the Great Wall of China), the Emperor kills the inventor and destroys his amazing machine. Because the machine is one of a kind and affords power to any evil man that might use it to harm the Emperor's world, the leader does the only thing he can to protect his country and his world. He fears not only evil, but it seems he fears change.
In this story, only because of the time in which it is set, the flying machine presents danger the Emperor can only imagine. And it is for this reason that he destroys any evidence that the machine ever existed. In a modern setting, this would not be necessary. So the setting provides the miraculous nature of the flying machine, as well as the Emperor's fear and his need to destroy it.
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