The setting of Andre Dubus's "Killings" is an important literary element that is often overlooked. In what way does setting play a significant role in "Killings"? 

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"Killings" by Andre Dubus is a work that deals with the emotional struggle of Matt Fowler after his son is murdered by a man named Richard Strout. The short story often jumps through time and place, sometimes landing in a car in city traffic along the Charles River and...

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"Killings" by Andre Dubus is a work that deals with the emotional struggle of Matt Fowler after his son is murdered by a man named Richard Strout. The short story often jumps through time and place, sometimes landing in a car in city traffic along the Charles River and other times in a bar or at a funeral. The constant, however, is Boston. The city of Boston is a recurring place in "Killings," as it is where each of these families live their day-to-day lives. Boston is contrasted in the story with the woods, where Fowler eventually murders Strout in retribution. A possible thesis regarding these settings could be: Dubus creates two parallel settings, Boston and the woods, which represent the compartmentalized feelings of Matt Fowler and his way of grieving. Boston represents the external and the commonplace, the everyday that Fowler has worked his entire life to enjoy. The woods, however, are more primal. 

Dubus sets up Boston early on in "Killings":

It was a cool summer night; he thought vaguely of the Red Sox, did not even know if they were at home tonight; since it happened he had not been able to think about any of the small pleasures he believed he had earned, as he had earned also what was shattered now forever: the quietly harried and quietly pleasurable days of fatherhood.

Boston is the place where Fowler composed his life. There are small pleasures that he used to enjoy in Boston, such as the Red Sox, or the gentle pleasures of having a stable family. When his son was murdered, Fowler lost the ability to enjoy these pleasures, but Boston remained. The city continues to stand after the death of his son, as his own body continues to stand, but the contents are not the same. Fowler suffers greatly, but he cannot express it externally. He compartmentalizes his feelings, but they are always present, similarly to the woods outside of Boston. These same woods are where Fowler will kill Richard Strout: 

Beyond the marsh they drove through woods, Matt thinking now of the hole he and Willis had dug last Sunday afternoon after telling their wives they were going to Fenway Park. They listened to the game on a transistor radio, but heard none of it as they dug into the soft earth on the knoll they had chosen because elms and maples sheltered it. Already some leaves had fallen.

Matt lives two lives. His outward life, the one in Boston, but then his internal life, which can be more closely compared to the wild woods. For instance, when digging a grave in these woods, the men cannot hear the pleasantries of their life in Boston. Here, their pain is more audible than the transistor radio or thoughts of Fenway Park, which normally distract them from their grief. 

After the brutal paragraph describing the death of Richard Strout ("...squirming on his belly, kicking one leg behind him, pushing himself forward, towards the woods.") Dubus immediately takes the reader back to Boston. Life continues in Boston, despite the murder that took place in the woods. Later that morning, in bed with his wife, Matt thinks about Strout's daughter, also lying in her bed. He weeps for her, but only in his heart, and not out loud. This is one of the great tragedies of this story, the fact that the murder of Richard Strout does not unite Matt's internal and external worlds. He still can only feel his pain internally, and cannot find a way to properly express it in Boston. Like the woods that always surround Boston, Matt Fowler's pain is an ever-present wilderness, always reminding him of his loss. 

 

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