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The story is set in the rural South during the time period. Phoenix Jackson lives in the country, "away back off the Old Natchez Trace," which was an early road that ran from Natchez, Mississippi, to Nashville, Tennessee. Life in this rural environment was isolating, especially for the poor; Phoenix walked quite a distance through an empty, rugged countryside before finally reaching the dirt road leading into town. Being poor, she had no private transportation, and there was no public transportation to serve her. She meets only one other person along the way, the hunter.
Since Phoenix is the central character in the story, conditions in the South at this time are shown primarily in how they impacted her. Being poor, she can avail herself of some minimal free medical assistance for her grandson, but she is treated as a "charity case," which hurts her pride. She also endures the racism of her society, evident in how she is treated by the hunter and by one of the attendants in the county office.
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