Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*New York City

*New York City. America’s greatest city typifies the urban metropolis of the industrialized United States. Scenes of wharfs, skyscrapers, tenement dwellings, and even streets form the backdrop for incessant noise and activity. Beginning with workers whose jobs are tailored to the building trades—from architects down to bricklayers and carpenters’ helpers—the people of many languages construct their lives as they make their homes and places of work in the busy cityscapes of New York, Chicago, and other urban centers of industry and trade. The skyscraper is the “Tower of Babel,” erected by people of all languages who come from all over the world to settle and build their lives in the land of opportunity. From the wealthy industrialist to the poverty-stricken homeless of the city, the voices of the people blend in the raucous song of the big city.

*Great Plains

*Great Plains. Great central region of the United States, stretching from the slopes of the Rocky Mountains in the west to the Upper Mississippi basin in the east, and from Texas in the south into Canada in the north. As in the great cities, people from “six continents, seven seas, and several archipelagoes,” build railroads, bridges, riverboats, and roads that connect their settlements. In the Texas Panhandle and the high plains, the cowboys and cattle shiver in the cold winds that sweep from the North Pole to Amarillo, Texas, their only windbreak a barbed wire fence or the North Star. Voices heard on the prairies, in the deserts, and in Pacific Ocean ports define their lives in terms of their jobs—railroad men, meat wholesalers, fishermen, shippers, politicians, trial lawyers, merchants, waitresses, and housewives—and in so doing, describe the breadth and diversity of the land that is their home.

As Sandburg describes the people who construct the nation as they construct their dwellings and workplaces, he defines the character they impart to the “United States of the Earth.” It is infused with their contradictory spirits of courage and fear, despair and hope—builders and wreckers blending together in a restless but accommodating land with a republican government that guards individual freedom and inspires hope of future success for its people. In a very real sense, the land itself in all its diversity is the setting for this epic of the rise of the United States and its people’s struggle for survival.