What is the setting of To Sir, With Love?

The setting of To Sir, With Love, is the East End of London in the late 1940s. The setting is crucial, as this was a very run-down part of the capital that had been particularly badly hit during the Second World War. The working-class children who live in this part of the world are very poor and ill-educated, which means that Mr. Braithwaite has his work cut out for him.

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The setting of To Sir, With Love is the East End of London. We learn this from the very first sentence when the author and narrator talks about the traffic surrounding the bus that he is riding in Aldgate.

The author, Edward Ricardo Braithwaite, wrote about his personal experience teaching in London’s East End. Although the movie version that starred Sidney Poitier updated the story to the 1960s, the book is set during post-war London when the author took the teaching position because he found that racial discrimination prevented him from obtaining other jobs for which he was qualified.

The other passengers on the bus remind the narrator of “peasants,” so we can presume that the neighborhood is not affluent. He writes that

they dressed like peasants, they looked like peasants, and they talked like peasants.

Their speech is peppered with “lewd” remarks. This parallels the speech and general attitudes of the students when we later learn about them. As Mr. Braithwaite gets frustrated with the students' lack of respect for him, as well as for themselves, and with their rude conduct, he decides to take a stern approach to the classroom, telling the students that

As from today, there are certain courtesies which will be observed at all times in this classroom.

He decides that they will address him as “Sir,” hence the title of the book. They will address the female students as “Miss” and the male students by their last names. This is intended to create a more structured and respectful environment in his classroom.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on July 28, 2020
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To Sir, With Love is set in London in the later 1940s. Or to be more precise, it’s set in the East End, which was at that time and for many years thereafter a very run-down impoverished part of Britain’s capital city. As well as suffering from high rates of poverty and poor housing, the denizens of the East End had also been badly affected by the Second World War. German bombing raids were a regular feature of the war of the people of the East End and caused widespread death and destruction.

Even though the war may have ended by the time Mr. Braithwaite starts teaching at Greenslade Secondary School, the scars of war are still visible everywhere. As Braithwaite makes his way through the streets, he notices that there is filth everywhere, as well as noise and flies. Under the circumstances, it’s not surprising if children who grow up in this unmitigated hell-hole should be so difficult to teach.

These are streetwise kids, who’ve already learned an awful lot in the School of Hard Knocks and so don’t really appreciate the kind of formal education offered to them at school. Braithwaite soon discovers just what a challenge it will be to get through to these children, scarred as they have been by poverty, poor housing, and lack of opportunity.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on July 28, 2020
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Time is indeed important to mention since London nowadays is nothing like London of the late 1940s.  Now, many of the peoples who have come from former Indian and African colonies populate the city.

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Another important aspect of setting is the setting of time.  This is quite significant in the case of the autobiographical novel, To Sir, with Love. The novel is set in the late 1940s (which is a bit different from the film which is more vague about timing).  It follows the actual life of Mr. Braithwaite who, out of work in 1945, seeks employment in the school systems of London's East End.  Considering London's culture in the late 1940s was a bit different from the 1960s when the movie was made, I thought the setting of time would be appropriate to mention.

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The setting of Braithwaite's work is London, England.  Specifically, the setting is the East End of London.  This is a working class setting and Braithwaite's students reflects such a reality.  The neighborhood is populated by people who work at minimal wage professions and struggle to make daily subsistence.  This is reflected in the lives of the students, some of whom do not enjoy parental supervision or guidance and have been exposed to some of the darker aspects of consciousness in the modern setting at a very young age.  When one of their fellow students cannot afford a funeral service after the death of their parent, the students start up a collection for their colleague.  This reflects the setting in which Braithwaite has to teach, and it compels him to adopt the mentality that his best approach with his students is to teach them about life's reality that exists outside of the classroom, as opposed to teaching them abstract intellectual notions that are confined to inside it.  This working class and economically challenged setting is of vital importance to the development of the work.

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