Historical Context

Rural New York

Though New York City is a huge and densely populated urban center, much of New York State is rural farmland. The area that stretches north toward the state capital, Albany, and west toward Buffalo is referred to as upstate New York. The western part of the state is mostly rural, with more in common culturally with the farmlands of Pennsylvania and Indiana than with life in New York City. In this western area, Oates set several of her works, including We Were the Mulvaneys.

The fictional town of Mt. Ephraim in upstate New York is described as being "in the Chautauqua Valley approximately seventy miles south of Lake Ontario." New York does have a Chautauqua County, but it is unlikely that it is the location Oates has in mind, since this area, along New York's westernmost border with Pennsylvania, is the adjacent to Lake Erie, not Lake Ontario. The area she describes is further east, toward the Finger Lakes Region, named after a series of narrow lakes that look a little like fingers flared out and stretching southward.

Agriculture plays an important role in the economy of New York State, providing about a $3 billion business annually. About a quarter of the state's land is used for farm production, including apples and grapes (western New York is considered one of the country's best climates for producing quality wines); corn, oats, and soybeans; and livestock and dairy products, which account for more...

(The entire section is 464 words.)