What is the actual setting for Dream Children by Gail Godwin?

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durbanville | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Setting in literature is a literary element that authors use in order to create a scene, a feeling and a mood. It aids in determining not only where a novel takes place, but also when and for what reasons the particular story takes place. In Dream Children, the McNairs have, in the last twelve months, moved into a new neighborhood where "Nobody knew anything" about their tragic loss. This couple is one of

"So many ambitious young couples moving to this Dutch farming village, founded in 1690, to restore ruined fieldstone houses and plant herb gardens and keep their own horses..."

This reveals the physical or geographic setting but it also contributes to the reader's understanding of the romantic element of this setting and the nobility of those who want to restore something of the distant past. However, the past harbors secrets and tragedy, whether it is the ancient past of their old farmhouse or their own recent past. The reasons behind the story will be revealed to the reader in the different settings, including the historic references within the village itself and within their home and the more modern office of Mr. McNair, the paddock and areas where she rides and in other modern references.  

Unfortunately for the McNairs, they cannot reclaim what lies in their past and what they have lost, and they cannot understand or rationalize their loss. The reader is brought back to the present day when he or she understands what has happened in a modern "American hospital." The setting then assists the reader in understanding the characters and their motivations. This quiet place in a village-type setting defies Mrs. McNair's hidden need to express herself and it on her stallion where she causes concern among her neighbors.

The ancient structures also create the connection with the past that Mrs. McNair is so desperate for, and it is significant that she makes a connection with her imaginary child in the oldest part of the building where "You'd think there's be a few ghosts around."

The couple are unwittingly driven apart by their very different needs and inability to communicate effectively or really understand each other, despite their genuine concern and love for each other. The setting, as Mr. McNair leaves for his producer job each week only to return at the weekend, therefore also contributes to understanding the disintegration of any real chance at a relationship that connects on any other level than in terms of their loss. 

Mrs. DePuy, an astute neighbor, has "recognized something beyond recklessness in that elegant young woman... 'She has nothing to fear anymore,' thought the farmer's wife, with sure feminine instinct; she both envied and pitied her." The rural setting also contributes to the theme of escapism; both the McNairs are trying to escape from their feelings of helplessness. The season, being autumn, is also an important part of the setting in this novel and develops the plot as Mrs. McNair is forced to find her peace within their home rather than on her horse. Autumn signifies so much more than the romantic notion of "the galaxies of autumn-sharp stars," and cements the confusion and contradiction of life for the McNairs. 

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