Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Port Warwick

Port Warwick. Industrial town in Virginia. The events of the central plot occur on one hot August day, in 1945, in the town of Port Warwick, based closely on William Styron’s hometown of Newport News, Virginia. In the opening scenes of the novel, a train carrying Peyton Loftis’s body arrives in Port Warwick, a town where heat and dust oppress the inhabitants. As the funeral procession drives toward the cemetery, the characters feel the omnipresent heat, smell the marsh and rotting fish, and hear the sounds of the shipyard. Peyton’s father, Milton, his mistress, and the funeral home director drive Peyton’s coffin past workers’ houses, supermarket signs, freight yards, gas tanks rising from the marsh, garbage heaps, a deserted brewery, a decrepit garage, a hotdog stand, and a waterlogged tent belonging to an itinerant fortuneteller. In other words, the town, its industry, and its heat reflect Milton’s pain and suffering; he has just lost his daughter, the one person he has loved above all others.

On the trip to the cemetery, as Milton remembers the past and Peyton, the narration shifts to other settings. In his memories and later in Peyton’s memories, Port Warwick is occasionally a beautiful place. The Loftis house is located on the Chesapeake Bay, surrounded by gardens, cedars, and a beach. Peyton’s mother loves the garden, and Peyton’s disabled sister Maudie enjoys the outdoors and the rain. Images of water, of baptisms in the James River, and of rain in the cemetery contrast with the omnipresent...

(The entire section is 638 words.)

Ideas for Group Discussions

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Lie Down in Darkness presents a special challenge to discussion leaders. The best approach to discussing and understanding the novel...

(The entire section is 374 words.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Like all of Styron's novels, Lie Down in Darkness has an intricate, dramatically justified narrative structure. Although the point of...

(The entire section is 188 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Although its theme is universal rather than regional, both structurally and stylistically Lie Down in Darkness belongs to the Southern...

(The entire section is 84 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Baumbach, Jonathan. “Paradise Lost: Lie Down in Darkness by William Styron.” In The Landscape of Nightmare: Studies in the Contemporary Novel. New York: New York Uni-versity Press, 1965. Places novel in the context of Southern gothic literature. Useful for comparisons with Faulkner and other writers of the genre.

Casciato, Arthur D., and James L. W. West III, eds. Critical Essays on William Styron. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1982. The most comprehensive collection of criticism available on Styron. Good basic resource for scholars and students, making available some of the more useful work published on Styron.

Crane, John Kenny. The Root of All Evil: The Thematic Unity of William Styron’s Fiction. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1984. Organized around the themes in Styron’s Sophie’s Choice and traces the themes through his earlier works including Lie Down in Darkness.

Pearce, Richard. William Styron. University of Minnesota Pamphlets on American Writers, No. 98. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1971. Traces Styron’s development as a writer in his four novels. Examines the tensions between Styron’s belief in the traditional form of the novel and the nontraditional techniques he uses.

Ratner, Marc L. William Styron. New York: Twayne, 1972. Deals with Styron’s main techniques and ideas inherent in his characters’ struggles as “rebellious children.” Sees Styron as apart from the Southern tradition of literature.