Raintree County. Imaginary Indiana county in which the novel focuses on the small town of Waycross. Located on the National Road and near the tracks of the Pennsylvania Railroad, Waycross is the scene of a Fourth of July celebration in 1892. The novel chronicles the events of that date, from dawn until midnight, while weaving in fifty-two flashbacks—not in chronological order—of past events, ranging from national Election Day in 1844 to a day in 1892. Other important sites in the county are Freehaven, the county seat, and Danwebster, a tiny community near protagonist John Wickliff Shawnessy’s home, and a graveyard that plays a significant role in the narrative.
The novel is highly metaphorical, and its fictional places are often clearly symbolic. For example, not only is the aptly named Waycross situated on a major road running from east to west, but it is also the place where Johnny Shawnessy’s path crosses and recrosses those of three lifelong friends: Jerusalem Webster Stiles, a cynical professor-newspaperman; Garwood B. Jones, a clever, unscrupulous, and successful politician; and a local merchant, who eventually becomes a railroad baron. These three recognizable American types are foils for Johnny, the dreamer and poet, throughout the novel.
Shawmucky River. Meandering stream that transects Raintree County from northeast to southwest. The bends of the Upper Shawmucky, as shown in one of the maps accompanying the text, are shaped like the letters “JWS”—the initials of the protagonist, who believes he is destined to become the hero of the county.
Lake Paradise. Body of water formed by the Upper Shawmucky River, northwest of Freehaven. Adjacent to the lake is the Great Swamp, beyond which is an idyllic island. In a flashback scene, Johnny, slightly drunk from Fourth of July celebrations, swims to the lake’s island with Susanna Drake, a visitor from New Orleans, Louisiana, with whom he makes love. The island in Lake Paradise becomes an Indiana Garden of Eden in which Johnny tastes the forbidden fruit and pays a price: He marries Susanna who, believing she is a child of miscegenation, later goes mad and burns down...
(The entire section is 928 words.)