Study Guide

Where'd You Go, Bernadette Setting

By Maria Semple

Setting

From Starbucks to the South Pole

What's the only thing worse than a Seattle rainstorm? An Antarctic snowstorm. Unfortunately for us, Where'd You Go, Bernadette takes us through both.

The Seattle Freeze

For our titular heroine, Seattle is the opposite of Disney...the unhappiest place on Earth. The people are rude. The local culture is annoying. And don't get her started about the city's notorious five-way intersections. Ironically, Bernadette argues that the "best thing about Seattle is the weather," which is a notion we find tremendously disturbing. (7.100)

Of course, we shouldn't pretend that this is the real Seattle. Bernadette is going through some serious stuff right now, and she's taken "all the energy she had once channeled so fearlessly into architecture" and aimed it "toward fulminating about Seattle" (1.684). By the end, even she has changed her tune. The turning point is when she realizes that Seattle made Bee the person she is today...and Bee is Bernadette's favorite person in the world.

Within the city, the location where we spend the most time is Straight Gate, the Branch family home. A former home for wayward girls, it was purchased with grand plans for renovation, the first shot in Bernadette's comeback to architecture. The fact that the house remains un-renovated almost two decades later, falling into a deeper and deeper state of leaky disrepair, makes it a handy symbolic parallel to the simultaneous deterioration of the family.

The Antarctic Breeze

In case that emotional coldness isn't enough for you, we also enjoy some literal coldness during our brief stint in Antarctica. It ain't exactly paradise. The climate is cold and uncompromising. The environment is an endless, boring stream of grey. And the Wi-Fi is downright terrible. As Bee says, "if Antarctica could talk, it would be saying only one thing: you don't belong here" (6.213).

Sounds terrible, right? Wrong. This overwhelming dullness turns out to be exactly what the doctor ordered for the whole family. For Bernadette, it allows her to quiet her thoughts for the first time in decades, attaining a peace that has long eluded her. For Bee, it forces her to accept the possibility that her mom might be gone for good, even if she does end up finding her, like, five minutes later. Sadly, penguins prove much more elusive than these moments of self-realization. Oh well.

This is a premium product

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

Please Wait...