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.)