Diary of a Wimpy Kid

by Jeff Kinney

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How does the setting affect the plot in Diary of a Wimpy Kid?

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The suburban setting of Diary of a Wimpy Kid frames the parameters of the book's plot, which is less a linear story than a personal narrative of middle-school experience. The relative stability of a two-parent home life and a safe community frees Greg, the young protagonist, to focus on universal middle-school concerns: status, acne, tests, girls, bullies, etc.

The setting appeals to kids who are living in this type of environment, as well as to their parents and teachers, many of whom were also suburbanites. Author Jeff Kinney pokes fun not just at school experience, but also at the perils of suburban life—such as Greg's having to walk through the men's showers at the local swimming pool. It's this broader appeal, combined with the book's easy-to-read, school-notebook style pages, that has made it a renowned bestseller and movie. Even though it's set in suburbia, Greg's adventures and observations have transcendent appeal, because in the end the problems Greg faces are the concerns of most adolescents, regardless where they live.

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Diary of a Wimpy Kid is set in a suburban middle school as well as at the Heffley's house. The setting is important to the plot because many of Greg's travails deal with the difficulties of navigating the social and academic parts of middle school. For example, at the beginning of the book, Greg relates that kids are all different sizes in middle school—a situation that can be very awkward and that can lead to bullying (as he notes). He is also put into the gifted reading group, but he doesn't want to work that hard. These are the kinds of social and academic hurdles that he faces. In addition, at home, he has to deal with his parents, his younger brother Manny and his older brother Rodrick. Manny is an out-of-control little kid who is treated like a prince by his parents, and Rodrick often plays pranks on Greg. The setting helps explain the kinds of problems Greg and has to deal with and why he needs to write in his diary to get his problems off his chest.

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The setting is a suburban community, with many families being close friends and the children, including the protagonist Greg, being very aware of their relative social status. People in this community generally don't have life-changing problems; every event is filtered through Greg's immature eyes, and he cannot fully understand things that would be more dramatic to an adult. Instead, since his life is relatively simple and safe, the story becomes about his small problems of social status and friendship. The setting contributes to this because Greg starts the book outside his comfort zone; he enters middle school and is unprepared for the new unwritten rules of school heirarchy and interaction.

 Like I said, Bryce is the most popular kid in our grade, so that leaves all the rest of us guys scrambling for the other spots.

The best I can figure is that I'm somewhere around 52nd or 43rd most popular this year. But the good news is that I'm about to move up one spot...
(Kinney, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Google Books)

Greg has to balance his supposed school reputation with his home life; he is comfortable with his home life but he is also annoyed with much of his daily routine. However, because it is a comfort zone, he never has to worry about real consequences. In his school life, he is hyper-aware of his social status, and creates his own problems by misbehaving or acting "incorrectly." In this way the "new" setting of middle school creates most of his internal drama.

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