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The major setting of this novel is the provincial university where Dixon is working and also desperately trying to maintain his position. His chief opposition to his goal is the family of his superior, the Welches, who, with their own desire to rise through the ranks of power and prestige, end up in opposition with Dixon's attempts to ingratiate himself with them. Dixon however is also hampered by his own ineffectual incompetence, and much of the comedy of this hilarious novel revolves around the attempts of Dixon to conceal his mistakes and errors from those around him, such as his burnt sheet and his inability to sing. The description of the university is very important symbolically to establishing some of the key themes of this text, in particular the way that pretence and aspiring to be something you are not is liked to stasis and stagnation. Note how this is presented in the following quote:
An ill-kept lawn ran down in front of them to a row of amputated railings, beyond which was College Road and the town cemetry, a conjunction responsible for some popular local jokes. Lecturers were fond of lauding to their students the comparative receptivity to facts of "the Honours Class over the road," while the parallel between the occupations of graveyard attendant and custodian of learning was one which often suggested itself to others besides the students.
The setting clearly establishes the university, which at the beginning of the novel Dixon is so keen to remain working at, as linked with death, and as the novel progresses it is clear that woking at the university is something that makes Dixon superficial and dishonest, exhibiting the same kind of hypocrisy as the Welches. Setting is therefore important to show the kind of stifled form of social control that exists in this academic environment that is so repressive to Dixon. This also acts as a contrast to the liberty to finally be himself that Dixon finds when he loses his job and moves to London.
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