how essential is the setting to the story? and could the story have taken place anywhere else?
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Steinbeck's settings were often in Southern California. I think the vastness of the land combined with the isolation of the men, the Great Depression and the lands beauty all serve as the perfect canvas to tell this particular story. The story could have taken place elsewhere but Steinbeck had the ability to capture the texture of Southern California at the time and weave it into the context of the story.