What is the setting of Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates?

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Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates is written as a letter to Coates's teenage son. The setting varies as Coates describes his past experiences in order to illustrate racial conflicts in the United States.

The overarching setting is the contemporary United States, which is key to understanding the...

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Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates is written as a letter to Coates's teenage son. The setting varies as Coates describes his past experiences in order to illustrate racial conflicts in the United States.

The overarching setting is the contemporary United States, which is key to understanding the book's main themes of race, the American dream, and the Black body. Coates calls the reader to analyze the state of American life:

America makes no claim to the banal. America believes itself exceptional, the greatest and noblest nation to ever exist, a lone champion standing between the white city of democracy and the terrorists, despots, barbarians, and other enemies of civilization.

In the aforementioned quote, he personifies America as believing in its own exceptionalism, and he goes on to challenge that concept throughout the book.

The book has six individual settings that speak to Coates's experience as a black man in contemporary America. The first is Baltimore, where Coates grew up. The second is HowardUniversity, where Coates attended college, developed a strong community, and met his future wife. The third is PG (Prince George) county, a Maryland county well known for its crime rates. The fourth is Chicago, the hometown of Coates's wife. The fifth is New York City, where he began to work as a journalist. The sixth setting is Paris, France, a contrasting setting to the United States, where the concepts of race are fundamentally different.

Each setting serves to exemplify both Coates's experience and the Black experience in America generally.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates describes several significant settings in his book Between the World and Me (on which you can find a full analysis in the eNotes study guide). First is Baltimore, Maryland, where Coates grew up during the 1980s. After graduating high school he moved to Washington, D.C., to attend Howard University, where his father was a research librarian. Coates refers to Howard as “The Mecca” because of its reputation as the greatest historically black university in the United States. He eventually left Howard and moved with his partner and young son to Prince George’s County, Maryland (PG County for short), an area that, like Baltimore, was plagued by violence and police brutality. In New York City, where he and his family moved just before 9/11, Coates established his writing career and was deeply affected by the gentrification he saw going on around him. Around this same time he developed a fascination with the Civil War and took his son to visit several Civil War sites, including Petersburg and Shirley Plantation in Virginia. Coates was also strongly affected by witnessing an eviction in his partner’s hometown of Chicago. Finally, in Paris with his family, Coates discovered a new sense of freedom from the burden of the United States’ history of racial injustice.

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