Places: The End of the Road

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1958

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Existentialism

Time of work: 1951-1955

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedWicomico

Wicomico. End of the Road, TheSmall town on the Eastern Shore of Maryland (most likely patterned on the actual town of Salisbury) where the novel’s plot unfolds amid a commonplace backdrop. John Barth gives slight description of the town itself, merely noting that it has little character. A typical mid-Atlantic town of the mid 1950’s, Wicomico’s main importance is that it provides an appropriately bland external setting for the highly charged internal and interpersonal dramas which occur in the book.

Jacob Horner’s room

Jacob Horner’s room. Boardinghouse room rented by Jacob Horner, the novel’s main character, in a house near the college where he teaches. There Joe and Rennie Morgan confront Horner after the first time he and Rennie have sex and where the couple continue to commit adultery on a regular basis at Joe Morgan’s insistence. Symbolically, despite the fact that the room is the site of many of the novel’s dramatic scenes, it is a bare, almost barren setting. The room is large, with high ceilings, big windows and a large bed high off the floor, all of which fit Horner’s hard-to-please requirements. It houses Horner’s few possessions, including his records, all Mozart except for a single Russian dance, a combination that matches his psychological mood. The most notable features are a rocking chair on which Horner sometimes sits for hours, hardly moving or thinking, and a small statue of the Greek mythological character Laocoön which sits on the mantelpiece. This statue becomes a symbolic representation of Jacob’s existential plight in the novel: He is caught in the snares of life and unable to extricate himself. At the end of the novel, Horner simply leaves the room, abandoning everything, including his statue of Laocoön on the mantelpiece.

Remobilization Farm

Remobilization Farm. Unorthodox psychiatric and medical facility in a large old farmhouse located somewhere in the Maryland-Pennsylvania area. This is where the doctor treats patients such as Jacob Horner with approaches of his own such as mythotherapy. A key part of the facility is the Progress and Advice Room, which is completely white and has only two straight-backed chairs. The setting of this room is designed to force the patient to confront the choices posed to him by the doctor. Its decor is echoed in that of the Morgan house in Wicomico. The Remobilization Farm is where Jacob Horner takes Rennie Morgan for the abortion which results in her death.

Morgan apartment

Morgan apartment. Half of a duplex rented by Joe and Rennie Morgan, located near the edge of Wicomico and near fields and forests, which in some ways is an almost idyllic setting. The apartment is large, with almost bare rooms and sparse but very functional furniture. There are no rugs on the hardwood floors, and no drapes or curtains, only white venetian blinds which match the white walls and ceilings, an echo of the Progress and Advice Room at the Remobilization Farm. Jacob Horner and Rennie Morgan first commit adultery here while her husband, Joe, is away on academic business.

Wicomico State Teachers College

Wicomico State Teachers College. Institution housed in a single large and rather ugly pseudo-Georgian brick building in which Jacob Horner teaches grammar. There he meets Joe Morgan, who teaches history there. Horner’s classroom is most notable as the site for his series of highly charged, sexual daydreams and fantasies about his female students.

MacMahon farm

MacMahon farm. Farm owned by Rennie’s parents, located near Wicomico, Maryland. Jacob Horner and Rennie ride horses through the woods here and stop to talk. It is during these conversations that the affair between them first begins to emerge without conscious thought from either.

*Ocean City

*Ocean City. Coastal resort on the Maryland shore where Jacob Horner picks up Peggy Rankin, a forty-year-old English teacher from Wicomico with whom he has an affair.

BibliographyBowen, Zack. Readers Guide to John Barth. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994. An accessible and helpful survey of Barth’s writings, with valuable insights into the underlying philosophical themes which are at the core of The End of the Road.Fogel, Stanley. Understanding John Barth. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1990. An excellent introductory account of Barth’s fictions, including his early “ethical” novels, The Floating Opera and The End of the Road.Harris, Charles. Passionate Virtuosity: The Fiction of John Barth. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1983. A scholarly and in-depth discussion of Barth’s fictions, ranging over philosophical and psychological sources.Tharpe, Jac. John Barth: The Comic Sublimity of Paradox. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1974. Through his concentration on the philosophical content of Barth’s works, Tharpe sheds light on the ethical and existential situations in The End of the Road.Walkiewicz, E. P. John Barth. Boston: Twayne, 1986. This brief but informative book is undoubtedly the best place to start in a study of John Barth.
Categories: Places