What characterizes the physical setting of the narrative in "Jean-ah Poquelin"? If there are several physical settings, how are they different? To what senses do the author appeal in order to establish the physical setting?

“Jean-ah Poquelin” presents two physical settings that appeal to all five of the reader's senses. The first setting is a run-down plantation house in the midst of a swamp. Over time, however, the area is developed, the swamp is pushed back, and the setting changes to a pleasant road. The house, however, stands the same as always, now an eye-sore that must somehow be removed.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Some stories possess a setting that is so detailed and vivid it is almost another character. George Washington Cable's “Jean-ah Poquelin” is one such story.

The tale begins with the first setting, a run-down plantation house in the midst of a

noxious wildness and grown up into one of the horridest marshes within a circuit of fifty miles.

We can see the house and its surroundings through the narrator's description. It is raised on pillars, built of “heavy cypress” with a “dark, weatherbeaten roof and sides.” It stands above a “jungly plain in a distracted way” almost like “a gigantic ammunition-wagon stuck in the mud and abandoned by some retreating army.” The house is surrounded by vegetation, water willows, thorny bushes, prickly vines, “coarse and spiritless flowers,” all growing up out of the mud and stagnant waters of the marsh. Two dead cypress trees stand nearby, as well as a canal, with its crawling waters. The whole place is infested with reptiles of various sorts.

The setting is described with so much detail that we cannot only see it but almost smell the reeking, stagnant water and taste the sharp pungency of the air. We might imagine that we reach out to feel the slippery or prickly or slimy plants or hear the swish of a snake in the underbrush or the snap of an alligator's teeth.

As time passes, people move in and begin to develop the area around the house. They build a “sunny road” and dig a new canal for better drainage. The reptiles slip away further back into the swamp, and cattle move freely around and along the road, trampling down the undergrowth. The ugly, poisonous, prickly plants give way to lilies and other colorful flowers. Even the dead cypresses are covered with living vines.

Birds fly in to pluck berries off the newly growing bushes. “Over all these came a sweet, dry smell” to replace the previous noxious odor. We can almost hear the birds singing, smell the light scent of the flowers, taste the clean air, and feel the solid road beneath our feet. The house, however, still stands, as decrepit as ever, and the neighbors decide they must get rid of both that eye-sore of a house and its owner.

Indeed, the settings of “Jean-ah Poquelin” are rich and vivid and appeal to all of our senses, and they also play a prominent role in the story's plot, almost as much as if they were characters in their own right.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial