Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*Ohio River Valley

*Ohio River Valley. Region lush with wild game and vegetation, yet also the domain of animal struggle, the uncontrollable river, and dense growth of weeds and thorns. There, the woods are home to Brackett Omensetter, who can whistle like a cardinal. When he and his family first arrive in Gilean in a horse-drawn wagon, he finds a house to rent owned by Henry Pimber down the South Road near the river, where the woods are dense with trees. Gass depicts nature as the original home of humanity before the onset of rationality and self-consciousness.

Gilean townsfolk, such as Pimber and Jethro Furber, know better than to live there, yet the separation they feel from the natural environment creates significant distress in both. Shamed by the naturalness of Omensetter—who heals Pimber’s lockjaw at one point with a beet poultice—Pimber hangs himself in a white oak, seventy feet above ground, representing the pain of his separation from nature. Pimber’s suicide, coupled with the death of Omensetter’s son Amos from illness, causes the townspeople to blame Omensetter’s lack of reason, introducing him to the pangs of conscience, causing his “fall” from natural grace which is signaled by his family’s departure from the woods.


Gilean. Imaginary Ohio town in which the novel is principally set. Gass does not describe the town in detail, but it is clearly a backwater settlement near the Ohio River and not far from Columbus. The town contains a Methodist church, to which Furber ministers, Matthew Watson’s blacksmith shop, where Omensetter works after arriving in town, and numerous houses, including Henry Pimber’s.

In a novel of consciousness and intense metaphysical...

(The entire section is 722 words.)