Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


Powderhead. Tiny settlement somewhere in rural Tennessee—perhaps east of Nashville—where the boy, Francis Marion Tarwater, has spent nearly all of his fourteen years living with his great-uncle. There they live as if in another century, literally prophets in the wilderness, in a two-story shack surrounded by woods and corn fields, plowing with a mule and selling homemade liquor from their still. After his great-uncle dies, Tarwater gets drunk and burns the cabin and the old man’s body, instead of burying him as he has promised. He then escapes to the city, a place he views with distrust.

The imaginary Powderhead is a primal, magical realm, isolated from the modern world both literally and symbolically. The old man’s cabin is inaccessible by car; like holy ground, it must be approached on foot. While Powderhead proves a paradise of sorts for the young Bishop Rayber, a city child who has “never caught a fish or walked on roads that were not paved,” its thorns bar his entrance when he returns as an adult. With its thickly enclosing woods, thorn bushes, and blackberry brambles, Powderhead is alternately oppressive and edenic. The old man’s remote cabin, like his religious vision, has a haunting power that draws both nephew and great-nephew back after they have left it.


City. Large unnamed southeastern city—possibly modeled on Atlanta, Georgia—that is home to about 75,000 people, including Tarwater’s uncle, the schoolteacher George Rayber, and...

(The entire section is 627 words.)