The setting in 1960s-70s America is very important to The Memory Keeper’s Daughter. First of all, David’s past has a strong influence on his decision to give up his daughter Phoebe when he finds out she has Down ’s syndrome. He grew up in the early 20th century when medical technology was not modern. His sister died as a result, and her death and his mother’s reaction haunted him forever.
Phoebe and Paul are born in 1964, when genetics were not really understood. People with Down’s syndrome often died, and if they didn’t they were considered retarded and sent to mental institutions like the one Caroline visits to leave Phoebe at. David strongly believes that if they keep Phoebe they are in for a life of misery, because she will either die or have a very difficult life.
Another way the setting influences the storyline is Caroline’s struggle for services for Phoebe. In the 70s, people did not understand mental limitations and Phoebe was considered retarded and uneducable. Caroline’s desire for special education mirrors many parents’ at that time, because they did not have the equal education laws we have today since the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed.