Places: Reflections in a Golden Eye

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1941

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Psychological realism

Time of work: 1930’s

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedArmy post

Army Reflections in a Golden Eye post. Unnamed military installation in the South that is the novel’s main setting. Because the novel is set during peacetime, the atmosphere is described as dull, one in which mundane events recur repeatedly. The layout of the army post parallels the routine events that occur on its premises. The post contains rows of officers’ tract houses, a gym, a chapel, a golf course, and swimming pools. The structure of the army post is as rigid as the rules imposed on its inhabitants. Within the boundaries of the isolated army post, a subculture emerges. This insular, dull setting makes the action that unfolds in the novel depart from routine and seem even more dramatic than if it had occurred outside the subculture that exists within the army post. The army post setting is important because it shows how the characters who live within it do not conform to socially acceptable rules, even though they reside in a very rule-oriented, regimented environment. The army post setting also provides an environment in which characters have hierarchical ranks. This situation is imperative to illustrate the complicated relationships between Captain Penderton, Private Williams, and Major Langdon. Amid structured and ordered physical surroundings and clearly defined professional ranks, the characters are all emotionally and psychologically distressed and unstable.

*American South

*American South. The narrator points out that the army post is in the South. Readers are also informed that although Leonora was not originally from the South, she has cultivated habits that define her as southern. Moreover, Captain Penderton’s aunts never let him forget that he was a southerner. The southern setting, the characterization, the pessimistic outcome, the violence, and the oddity of the circumstances and events that are portrayed place the novel in the southern gothic tradition, a perspective from which many modern southern writers such as William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, and Truman Capote wrote.

Penderton home

Penderton home. House Captain Penderton and his wife, Leonora, share on the outskirts of the army post. It is a new two-story stucco house with eight rooms and exactly like every other house in the neighborhood. A large mass of uncleared land faces the Penderton’s house. The Captain spends much of his time in the study inside his house. Private Williams stands between the outside of the window in Captain Penderton’s study and a row of evergreen trees and peers through the window. Also, Williams routinely sneaks inside the house and sits in Leonora Penderton’s bedroom, while she sleeps.


Woods. Fifteen square miles of country that surrounds the army post. The woods are filled with pine trees, flowers, and wild animals. Captain Penderton gets lost in the woods, which symbolizes his search for inner peace. In the woods, Penderton becomes consumed with hatred for Williams.

BibliographyCarr, Virginia Spencer. The Lonely Hunter: A Biography of Carson McCullers. Garden City, N.J.: Anchor Press, 1975. This definitive biography of Carson McCullers has numerous photographs and a good index. Discusses the circumstances surrounding the writing and publication of Reflections in a Golden Eye.Carr, Virginia Spencer. Understanding Carson McCullers. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1990. Argues that the characters in Reflections in a Golden Eye are grotesque. Describes characters and plot, giving a brief overview of contemporary reviews of the book.Cook, Richard M. Carson McCullers. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1975. Cook analyzes the main characters in the novel and discusses the theme of isolation.Graver, Lawrence. Carson McCullers. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1969. Noteworthy for its vituperative attack on Reflections in a Golden Eye, which Graver criticizes for “luridness of subject” and “lack of artistry.”McDowell, Margaret B. Carson McCullers. Boston: Twayne, 1980. Describes the book’s plot, then discusses its comic effects, the use of the gothic, its “fragmented vision of human existence,” the motif of isolation, and its horror.
Categories: Places