Student Question

What is the importance of time and place in literature?

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A short note on the notion of time and place in literature could touch on how time and place is key to the narrative of novels and the themes of poets.

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A short note on the notion of time and place as it relates to literature could touch on an array of subjects. One possible way to shape this note would be to think about how the notion of time and place relates to a novel one is familiar with.

In Thomas Hardy’s novel Far From the Madding Crowd, time and place play a central role. If the story didn’t unfold during the 1800s (time) in rural England (place), it would probably be quite different. If the narrative was moved to present-day London, Fanny Robin might have had a cell phone and could have called or texted Frank Troy. Troy would then realize that he wasn’t being stood up at the altar, and all that happens afterwards would likely change. Indeed, as the Hardy example indicates, time and place are integral to the story arcs of literary novels.

Time and place are also central to another type of literature: poetry. The time and place of poets often informs their poetry. Walt Whitman’s experience with America around the Civil War connects to the themes of his poetry—particularly, America's potential to become a diverse, sprawling democracy.

Finally, one could note the problems that time and place can bring to certain works of literature. The time and place of Mark Twain’s novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn results in the recurrent use of the n-word. Now that readers of this novel are in a different time and place, the use of such words has, mostly, become intolerable.

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