Animal Farm Questions and Answers
by George Orwell

Animal Farm book cover
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What is a "physical setting" in a novel, in particular, three physical examples of setting in Animal Farm? Thank you!

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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A physical setting is the place where the action occurs in the novel. It is described with at least some of the five senses—sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste—and creates a sense of mood that influences how readers respond to a story. Settings can be both "real" and imaginary: characters in their "real" settings can imagine another reality.

In Animal Farm, the main setting is the farm itself, which is a typical English farm described only in the broadest of brush strokes, leaving it to the reader to imagine. However, we get a joyous, if sketchy, physical description of the scene that occurs when the animals finish rebuilding the windmill:

Tired out but proud, the animals walked round and round their masterpiece, which appeared even more beautiful in their eyes than when it had been built the first time. Moreover, the walls were twice as thick as before. Nothing short of explosives would lay them low this time! And when they thought of how they had laboured, what discouragements they had overcome, and the enormous difference that would be made in their lives when the sails were turning and the dynamos running−when they thought of all this, their tiredness forsook them and they gambolled round and round the windmill, uttering cries of triumph.

Another setting is the imagined world the animals will occupy once the dreamed-of Revolution changes their lives. Imagining this better future motivates the animals. It is described in the song "Beasts of England" as an idealized and beautiful place overflowing with food:

Wheat and barley, oats and hay, Clover, beans, and mangel−wurzels Shall be ours upon that day. Bright will shine the fields of England, Purer shall its waters be, Sweeter yet shall blow its breezes On the day that sets us free.

A third setting is Farmer Jones's farmhouse. It is a typical English farmhouse but an alien space to the animals, who tour it after the Revolt. They determine to set themselves apart from humans by not sleeping in beds or wearing clothes. Orwell shows the house through their eyes, in much greater detail than he depicts the farm:

They tiptoed from room to room, afraid to speak above a whisper and gazing with a kind of awe at the unbelievable luxury, at the beds with their feather mattresses, the looking−glasses, the horsehair sofa, the Brussels carpet, the lithograph of Queen Victoria over the drawing−room mantelpiece. They were lust coming down the stairs when Mollie was discovered to be missing. Going back, the others found that she had remained behind in the best bedroom. She had taken a piece of blue ribbon from Mrs. Jones's dressing−table, and was holding it against her shoulder and admiring herself in the glass in a very foolish manner. The others reproached her sharply, and they went outside. Some hams hanging in the kitchen were taken out for burial, and the barrel of beer in the scullery was stove in with a kick from Boxer's hoof,−otherwise nothing in the house was touched.

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Setting is one of the major elements of a work of literature (some other major elements include character, tone, mood, conflict, symbolism). Setting is defined as the time, place, circumstances, and physical details in which a story occurs. For instance, you could write as story about the year 2018 and place it in Boston, MA, in the downtown shopping district in summer, with a physical detail of horse drawn carriages. Then you could write another story about the year 2020 and place it in Boston, MA, in the downtown shopping district again but in December, not summer, with a physical detail being a great Christmas Tree in the Town Square.

For your assignment, "three physical examples of a setting" (which admittedly is confusing wording), you will pick three instances of time, place, circumstance and physical detail. These will be your three settings. For example, Chapter 1, page 1 of Animal Farm develops a setting that is as follows: Time: night: "hen-houses for the night." Place: Manor Farm farmyard: "hen-houses...across the yard." Circumstances: closing up for the end of the day: "made his way to bed." Physical detail: lantern: "ring of light...dancing from side to side." There are a number of different settings in Animal Farm, which would be wherever in the text the story continues in a different location. Pick three and analyze them the way we've just analyzed this one and you'll be all set (no pun intended)! [You're welcome!]

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