The setting in Raymond Carver’s “A Small, Good Thing” plays a significant role in the mood of the story. I will focus primarily on the hospital, since the majority of the action takes place there.
Scotty’s mother and father agonize over their son’s unconsciousness, which they are repeatedly assured isn’t a coma—although it is later discovered to be one. The sterile, detached atmosphere of the hospital stands in contrast to the emotional turmoil Ann and Howard experience. The doctors, nurses, and orderlies regard the couple with a detached formality; Dr. Francis only ever shakes Howard’s hand during each visit, choosing to hug Ann only after Scotty dies.
While Ann and Howard’s entire world is Scotty and what happens to him, the hospital has many other patients to whom it must tend. This emphasizes the isolation that Ann and Howard feel while simultaneously clinging to each other for support. This point is further demonstrated in Ann’s encounter with the African American family in the waiting area. When she exchanges stories about each family’s child, she feels a connection with the family despite an inability to express it. This shows that Ann has been so focused on her own suffering that she neglected to realize the suffering that surrounds her at the hospital.
In this way, the setting underscores both the isolation and connection of the parents in the story.