Asterisk denotes entries on real places.
The novel opens with a French epigram meaning, “When are we setting forth toward happiness?” It suggests the allegorical nature of the voyage that is to come. The notion of human happiness is set forth as a destination, that is, a place, or a stasis, that the travelers desire to reach. Thus, the literal geographical references introduced in the novel parallel the great variety of human culture across the globe, yet these various places represent the particular and universal longings of passengers who inevitably mistake place for purpose, who confuse national identity for authenticity. The localizing of the passengers at Veracruz anticipates what will occur on the ship once the passengers are on board en route for Europe.
In addition to Veracruz, the novelist refers to numerous cities and countries in her work. Since the story is an allegory, it uses these places literally; on one level the book is about a great variety of peoples coming together to travel on a ship. Each passenger has a special reason for traveling to a specific destination. On other levels, however, the work is a moral commentary on the political climate, class distinctions, and social displacement of humans in the 1930’s. Porter comments in a preface to the novel that she is “a passenger on that ship” and implies that the readers are as well.
Vera. German passenger liner on which the bulk of the novel’s action occurs. Passengers interact with one another and reflect on various matters as they are united in the controlled environment of this ship. Attitudes of superiority, suspicion, and animosity that exist among people the world over are accentuated when viewed in the controlled space of the ship. Attitudes that might otherwise be dissipated or obscured by political and geographical boundaries are centrally focused because of the confines of the ship.
The second section of the novel opens with a German epigram that translates as “No house, no home.” It suggests the existential displacement of the passengers. Although most passengers are literally returning to their own homes (or continuing points of destination for the tourists on board), the allegory suggests a disconnect between place and value.
As the ship crosses the Atlantic Ocean, its passengers are located in distinct places on board that suggest their social position. On the lowest level–literally near the bottom decks of the ship–in steerage, more than eight hundred dislocated migrant field hands are uncomfortably bunched together. At the other end of the spectrum, the German captain has the freedom to wander throughout the ship, though he does not want to enter the lowest part of the ship, and other people are not allowed to enter his domain. He routinely interacts socially with the fifty or so passengers who are traveling on the high, first-class deck. The places of the characters on the ship thus parallel their places of social privilege and assumed value in the larger world.
*Bremerhaven. German port that is the final destination of the ship and most of its bourgeois passengers.
*Canary Islands. Islands off the western bulge of Africa that are the destination of the Cuban field workers traveling in the ship’s steerage level.