The setting of a story is more than the simple background. It is not the same to encounter a lion in the middle of New York as it would be to find it in Africa. As well as it not being the same for a woman to be a nurse in the twenty first century as it would be for her in 1945. The setting of a story plays a part as important as the characters themselves. In the stories “The Gospel According to Mark” by Borges, and “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson we encounter backgrounds that appears to be ordinary, that allow for something catastrophic to appear just as ordinary.
In “The Gospel According to Mark” Borges wrote “These events took place on the Los Alamos cattle ranch, towards the south of the township of Junín, during the final days of March, 1928” which suggest the story develops in real place. In “The Lottery” Jackson wrote “On a warm summer day, villagers gather in a town square to participate in a lottery” it does not give a specific time and place like Borges does, nevertheless it talks about a town in a summer day which are also aspects of realistic setting.
The reason why both authors chose to present a place we can almost relate to, is because it allows for the unexpected ending that both stories have. the ending creates a contrast with the ordinary setting, that is almost ironic. As the story unfolds and we are given more details about the setting and the story, we have details that reassure us on how normal everything is while at the same time having details that make us suspicious about something not being right. Almost like saying “this is too good to be true” and that is where the irony comes in.
In Borges’ “The Gospel According to Mark”, Espinosa believes to have everything under control, we could even say that he believes to be finally communicating with them. They have dinner together every day and, on the surface, there is nothing wrong. However, we have small details like the daughter going to his bed at night and how they follow him around, that suggest that perhaps there is something else going on. Something that we, as readers, don’t know nor can deduce because there is no clear sign of anything actually being wrong.
In “The Lottery” the same thing happens, we have details like the story of the box and the many rules that seem to apply to a real lottery game, that suggest that even though the story is fiction it could be real. It feels like historical fiction. Just like in Borges’ story, in this one we also have details that suggest that not everything is what it seems. We have kids who carefully select and pile rocks, we have Mrs. Hutchinson who gets upset when her husband supposedly wins the lottery, and the old man Warner who celebrates never having won in 77 years.
It isn’t up until the end that we are left to wonder whether anything is real or not. As weird or dream-like both settings might seem, it isn’t until the last line when we actually see something clearly wrong happen. What becomes concerning is not the act itself of killing Espinoza or Mrs. Hutchinson but the fact that all of the other characters seem okay with it. This can only be achieved due to how real, normal and ordinary the setting is presented to us. Small things of our cultured are twisted in a negative way, creating horrendous consequences that everyone seems oblivious to. The setting is important, in both stories, because it allows the plot to develop and serves the story by deceiving the readers into believing that everything is the way it should be when nothing is what it seems.