Chapter 19: Geography Matters

Jake Duckworth

Literary Geography

  • In Chapter 19: Geography Matters, Thomas Foster informs us on how much impact geography can have on a story from the reader's perspective.
  • Geography is not just rivers, hills, valleys, and beaches. It's much more than that.
  • In literature, geography can be a part of the theme, mood, tone, or even a major part of the plot.
  • Students need to know how to recognize when geography can be more than just a place in order to get the full message that the author is trying to convey to the reader.

Geography Plays a Major Role in the Plot of a Literary Work

  • Without a setting a story, poem, or any other piece of literary work has no mood.
  • A setting brings mood, history, and culture to a story.
  • Without a setting where would a story be?
  • When reading, the first question asked is usually "Where does this story take place?"
  • The plot-setting geography is important to know because predictions are able to be made, and it allows the reader to visualize what is going on.

  • In "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee, the story takes place in a small town in Alabama in the 1930's. The author picked this setting to emphasize the racial intolerance that the whole story (plot) is based around.

Direction Matters

  • In some stories, characters may travel somewhere to either escape something, or thrive for something. The direction the characters go make an impact on the story itself.

"When writers send characters south, it's so they can run amok." (Foster)

  • In "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" Huck Finn and an escaped slave named Jim sail themselves SOUTH down the Mississippi River.
  • Slaves were afraid to sail DOWN the river because slavery got worse the farther south you went.

Geography can Define a Character

  • Foster attributes geography to define a character.

Some characters are only who they are based on their surroundings.

  • An example of this is illustrated in "The Great Gatsby".
  • Gatsby, Tom, and Daisy all live in upscale New York during the roaring 20's.
  • Because of the geography of upscale New York and all of the factors that go into the geography one could argue that these characters would not be who they are if it wasn’t for the specific geography they are in.
  • If the story was set on the prairie or in the Deep South, none of these characters would have the uppity, arrogant attitude associated with the materialistic, lavish lifestyle associated with the geography/location of New York.

Types of Places

Think about what land forms and climates exist down low or up high...

Thomas Foster writes about how the different land forms and geographical settings differ and create the story or create a deeper meaning in the story.

Foster also talks about how hills and valleys have a logic of their own

  • Hills: Higher
  • Valleys: Lower

  • Low: Swams, crowds, fog, darkness, fields, heat, unpleasantness, people, etc.
  • High: Snow, ice, purity, thin air, clear views, isolation

One is much less wholesome than the other.


  • Geography plays a major role in the plot of a literary work
  • Direction matters
  • Geography can define a character
  • Types of places

Works Cited

  • Foster, Thomas C. How to Read Literature Like a Professor. New York: Harper-Collins publishers, Inc., 2003. Print.
  • Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. New York: Warner Books, 1982. Print.
  • Fitzgerald, Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1925. Print.
  • Twain, Mark. Mark Twain Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. New York: Dover Publications, 1994. Print.

Learning Strategy

  1. Read the 3 excerpts given to you.
  2. Based on your view, write on a sheet of paper of how the geography effects the tone of the 3 excerpts.