Asterisk denotes entries on real places.
*Atlanta. Georgia city to which the narrator goes to attend college when his mother dies, shortly after he graduates from high school. In Atlanta he encounters lower-class black people in large numbers for the first time and is appalled and repelled by their dialect, manners, and appearance. Johnson’s viewpoint is different from that of his unreliable narrator; his purpose is to demonstrate the dwarfing and distorting influence of racial discrimination on his protagonist and, by implication, on all Americans. Johnson also takes advantage of the narrative opportunity of his narrator’s train ride to Atlanta to document the work of Pullman railroad car porters–an occupation that offered cultural as well as geographical mobility to several generations of young black men.
*Jacksonville. Northeastern Florida city in which the narrator works in a cigar factory–a trade in which no color-line is drawn. Johnson extends his analysis of minority cultures in America to the Cuban American community that the narrator encounters in Florida. There the narrator also begins giving music lessons to the children of the emergent African American bourgeois class, “the best class of colored people,” giving Johnson the opportunity to analyze their mores and the social and economic threat they pose to the middle-class whites who attempt to undermine their success.
*New York City. City in which the narrator associates with black entertainers, athletes, and gamblers and experiences another completely different range of black culture. Johnson continues the narrator’s ascent up the social scale indirectly, not by showing large numbers of upper-class black characters–a virtual impossibility in a realistic novel of the time–but by depicting the upper-class white patrons–primarily women–who make up the primary audience for the black artists and musicians.
*Europe. Continent to which the narrator travels as the companion of a white American millionaire. In Europe he himself is accepted as white, and his experiences there allow Johnson to contrast the more liberal and enlightened racial views of Europeans with the generally narrower views of white Americans.
Ocean liner. Ship on which the narrator returns home from Europe. Aboard the ship, he meets an educated and well-to-do black doctor, who introduces him to other highly cultivated black men. As elsewhere in the book, Johnson’s protagonist shows himself to be as bigoted as many white Americans in his acceptance of only those upper-class African Americans who are the most thoroughly acculturated to white standards of behavior. His experiences among white Americans have caused him to become white himself in many ways, particularly in accepting and internalizing white stereotypes about race.
*Deep South. After returning to America from Europe, the narrator tours the Deep South to study African American spirituals and ragtime music with a view toward commercializing them for a large white audience. The traumatic experience of witnessing a lynch mob burn a black man alive prompts him to return to New York City to spend the rest of his life “passing” as a white man.