Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Catfish Row

Catfish Row. Fictitious section of Charleston in which a disabled beggar, Porgy, and other black characters in the novel live. Most of the time, Catfish Row is full of life and energy, but whenever a white person enters the neighborhood, every resident leaves its central square for the indoors. Porgy himself usually sits in the square in front of his room and watches what happens, except when he gambles. Aside from one brief summer, when Bess joins him in his dwelling, Porgy participates in the life of the Row and enjoys living.

Opposite Porgy’s room is the cookshop run by Clara, who constantly struggles to impose order on Catfish Row. The Row is near the wharf and the bay. When a hurricane comes, its residents flee to upper stories of their buildings to escape the rising waters.


*Charleston. South Carolina port city. Some critics have said that one of the central ideas behind Porgy involves the conflict between the recently emancipated black residents of Catfish Row and the modern city in which they live. When members of the African American organization called “Sons and Daughters of Repent Ye Saith the Lord” parade through the “reticent, old Anglo-Saxon town” on their way to greet a steamer, the white residents of Charleston laugh at them. The African Americans appear sadly out of place in the city. Porgy does his begging in the white section of the city, on the...

(The entire section is 564 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Alpert, Hollis. The Life and Times of Porgy and Bess: The Story of an American Classic. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990. Traces the history of Porgy from Heyward’s novel to the October 10, 1935, Broadway premiere of Porgy and Bess. Includes illustrations from several productions of the opera.

Durham, Frank. DuBose Heyward: The Man Who Wrote Porgy. Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1965. Focuses primarily on the novel Porgy and its stage versions. Greatly ignores the author’s other works, but offers valuable background to the story’s creation and reception.

Durham, Frank. “The Reputed Demises of Uncle Tom: Or, The Treatment of the Negro in Fiction by White Southern Authors in the 1920’s.” Southern Literary Review 2, no. 2 (Spring, 1970): 26-50. Discusses Porgy in relation to types of African Americans in literary history: from primitive portrayals in abolition literature, to the plantation myth of black man as folk figure type during Reconstruction, to the “New Negro” after World War I.

Rhodes, Chip. “Writing Up the New Negro: The Construction of Consumer Desire in the Twenties.” Journal of American Studies 28, no. 2 (August, 1994): 191-207. Discusses desire in Porgy in context with other works of Southern literature. Describes Catfish Row as being in limbo between slavery and freedom.

Slavick, William H. DuBose Heyward. Boston: Twayne, 1981. Critical biography provides extensive discussion of the novel Porgy, as well as Heyward’s other fiction, poetry, and drama.