The overall setting of this novel is inundated with the circumstances of war. In the first section, the time is 1940. The place is Paris, France, and nearby French villages. The French army is crumbling and later is completely defeated. Germany is in the process of taking control of the country.
German bombs are exploding first at a distance and then directly on Paris and everyone panics. Most never thought the Germans would get so close, so they have waited the war out in their homes, believing they will be safe. But as the bombs come closer, they realize their mistake. But even then, they do not fully comprehend what danger they are in. They believe the French army is too strong to be overtaken. Therefore, when they do leave the city, it is almost in an atmosphere of a temporary vacation, at least for the wealthy. They leave Paris with their most valuable possessions packed in their cars. As the novel continues, the setting becomes more mobile as the main characters are constantly moving, looking for safety and food.
The wealthy may have chosen to remain naïve but the average citizens are more tuned in to what is happening. They have seen the long lines at the train stations. They have no other way to leave except on bike or foot. They choke the roads with their numbers and their wealthy counterparts become frustrated, trying to break through the crowded streets.
These wealthy people do not fully understand the tragedy that has grabbed their lives. Many of the characters that the author chooses to focus on are spoiled by their financial success. They believe money always protects them. In many ways, they do not truly see how their lives have changed.
As the people become more desperate, the atmosphere changes to one of survival of the fittest. One of Nemirovsky's greatest skills is her depiction of how her characters adjust as the setting keeps changing from bad to worse. At first, people are more willing...
(The entire section is 624 words.)