Essay 1 – Writing About Setting

Fall, 2014
Instructor: Prof. Mitchell Smith

Essay 1
Writing about Setting

Due Date: 11:59 pm Tuesday, September 16, 2014 (via email)

Length: 4 pages, approximately 1000 words (you may write more)

Task: You will write a paper of interpretive literary criticism focusing on the setting of “Mars in Heaven!” by Ray Bradbury. Essays of literary criticism should aim to enrich the reading of others by identifying and explaining aspects of the story that you find significant. This does not necessarily mean you will reduce the story to a simple meaning or message. Instead, you will show how the story creates meaning primarily through its crafting of setting, but also with some mention of character, plot, point of view, language, and style. Essays that do not make setting their primary focus will not be considered passing.

Discussion: In order to begin writing about setting, notice how important it is to the story. Ask yourself a set of questions about setting: How does place reveal the personalities of individual characters? And why does the story include these particular characters? How does setting prompt most of the events in the narrative? What symbolic meanings might the locale and time have? And look at the title: why should Mars, heaven, and small-town America have anything to do with one another? Your essay can explore some, all, or none of these questions. The questions are just here to get you thinking. Your goal is to explain your overall interpretation of the story vis-à-vis setting.

Please make use of the sample student essays and checklists for writing about literature that I post as PDFs on the course webpage. These can help guide you through the writing process.

Audience: As always with literary criticism, this is a critical paper, not a book review. You can assume your audience has read the story, so there is no need to waste space with summary.

Purpose: Since this is a critical essay, you will need to find repeated patterns in the story that support your interpretations and readings. Keep in mind, while there is no one “correct” reading to a work of literature, there can be many wrong ones. It is not “all up to one’s interpretation.” You need to find multiple citations from the text to support your analysis.

Format: Essays for this course must use MLA style formatting and citations. Failure to use MLA or excessive errors can result in a failing grade. The MLA style guide, any good English manual (like the Diana Hacker series), or the OWL at Purdue website ( can give you help on using this style correctly.

Highlights include:

  • All essays must be typed and double-spaced
  • Margins must be 1-inch on all sides of the page. Align the left margin only.
  • Use 12 point Times or Courier font
  • On the first page (only) type your name, professor name (“Professor Smith”), course number (English 110 plus section number), and date at the top left corner margin 1″ from the top of the page
  • On each page put your last name and page number in the upper right hand corner outside the margin, ½” from the top of the page (most insert page # commands will default to this placement)
  • The title (not underlined or italicized or in quotes) should be centered above the first paragraph
  • Proper MLA citations for all sources (for this essay, just the story)
  • A Works Cited page






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