What are some examples of descriptions of setting in Mary O'Hara's novel My Friend Flicka, and how are they used?  

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vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Mary O’Hara’s novel My Friend Flicka offers many memorable descriptions of setting. One such description occurs, for instance, in the opening sentences of the book:

High up on the long hill they called the Saddle Back, behind the ranch and the country road, the boy sat his horse, facing east, his eyes dazzled by the rising son.

It seemed like a personage come to visit; appearing all of a sudden over the dark bank of clouds in the east, coming up over the edge of it smiling, bowing right and left; lifting up the whole word so that everything smiled back.

This description of setting seems significant in a number of ways, including the following:

  • It implies immediately that this is horse country, since a hill has been named “Saddle Back.”
  • It therefore already seems appropriate to a novel in which a horse will play a very significant role.
  • It already implies the kind of setting in which the novel will take place – a setting that is rural and in which one particular ranch plays a crucial part.
  • It already implies that a horse and a boy will be major characters in the novel.
  • It creates a hopeful, optimistic, pleasant tone as the book begins – a tone that will be significantly qualified later, as the novel develops and darkens.
  • It suggests that part of the tone of the novel will be comic and literally sunny.
  • It suggests the beauty of nature.

Much later in the novel, when Ken tries to save the seriously injured Flicka from drowning by holding her head above the waters of a stream, the setting is described far less pleasantly than above. Ken now feels

. . . the deep chill from the cold water running over his legs, his thighs, almost up to his waist. The mountain stream was fed by the Snow Range in the North West, and the water was far colder than the shallow, sun-dappled surface looked.

This description of setting seems significant in a number of ways, including the following:

  • It associates the creeping coldness of the water with the possible encroachment of sickness and/or death for the horse, and perhaps even for Ken as well.
  • It shows that nature, although sometimes beautiful, is also sometimes harsh and dangerous (even when it is beautiful, as in the “sun-dappled” waters here).
  • It implies that the stream has an almost inexhaustible source of very cold water, since it is fed not simply by one mountain but by an entire “Snow Range.”
  • It helps establish the later irony that it is actually the very coldness of the water that helps to break and tame Flicka’s life-threatening fever.


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My Friend Flicka

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