24 September 2008
Setting in “IND AFF”
In her short story “IND AFF,” Fay Weldon intends to send a message to her readers about the benefits of making logical decisions over passionate ones, and living life to minimize regrets. In order to do this, Weldon weaves a story of an affair between a student and her professor set on a rainy day in Sarajevo, Bosnia. In doing so, she enables her narrator to draw parallels between her own life and the historic assassination of Franz Ferdinand that took place in the city of Sarajevo; these parallels lead to a crucial epiphany for the narrator, which is essential to conveying the theme of the story.
As the narrator says in the beginning of the story, the rain sets a dark and somewhat depressing mood-the narrator concedes immediately “This is a sad story. It has to be. It rained in Sarajevo.” (201) But aside from the bleak atmosphere it sets for the story, rain is also generally considered to be a universal symbol of new beginnings. Near the end of the story, when the narrator chooses to leave Peter, she is making a life-altering decision that will lead to a new beginning for her.
The most crucial element of the setting in this story is the physical surroundings of the characters-their presence in Sarajevo. Throughout the story, the narrator weaves between her conversation with Peter in present day, and the day when, in the same city, Princip assassinated Franz Ferdinand. As the story progresses, the resemblances between the crossroads the narrator is at in her life and the grave choice Princip had to make become increasingly clear. The narrator says that she loved Peter “with an inordinate affection.”(203) She goes on to explain that Princip did what he did out of an “inordinate affection of his country;” (206) in this sense, they are both acting out of passion and love rather than out of rationality. The narrator makes it clear that, in Princip’s case, there were positive and negative effects of his actions, and the negative effects of his rash decision may outweigh the positive ones. The fall of the Austro-Hungarian empire was overall a positive change, but this did, after all, cause huge losses around the world-the death of 30 (or 40) million people. The author draws another parallel between her situation and Princip’s when she says that “If Princip hadn’t shot the archduke…neither World War I nor II [might have] ever happened. We’ll just never know.” (206) This is a reference to her decision to hasten the collapse of Peter’s marriage, which may or may not have crumbled without her intervention. Because the characters are placed in the city with so much historical context, the narrator is able to logically discuss these similarities; by choosing to compare her situation to Princip’s, she exaggerates her actions and brings them to a scale that all readers can recognize.
Also, the fact that the characters are in a restaurant when the narrator makes her enormous decision to leave Peter is extremely significant. When the narrator leaves the restaurant, it is in order to leave Peter, but when Princip left the restaurant he was in it was to assassinate the archduke-here is where their stories deviate. Because the narrator believes that Princip’s “second chance was missing in the first place,” (205) she intends not to make the same mistakes he made, and instead leaves the situation she’s in rather than delving further into it. It is at this point in the story that the author finally conveys her theme; she used Princip’s story to teach her narrator a lesson about the negative effects of irrational decisions, and because the narrator utilizes this newfound information to better her own life, the reader is convinced of the same. Although the narrator admits that she regrets her affair with Peter, the regrets were not felt to the full extent they would have been if she had not cut off her relationship with him when she did.
In this story, the setting and the theme are completely intertwined; without the characters’ surroundings being set up as they were, the entire comparison between the narrator and Princip would be nonexistent-or at the very least, extremely illogical-which would ultimately lead to an ineffective story.