Asterisk denotes entries on real places.
Culinary and carnal appetites are closely intertwined in Cain’s two main characters, beginning with their first sexual encounter in the diner’s kitchen. It is a scene brimming with irony, in that it is the place where Cora’s husband has sharply rebuked her for not adequately gauging the size of Frank’s appetite. In fact, Frank’s desire for the man’s wife serves to diminish thoughts of food to the extent that it sickens his stomach.
Roads. The many roads that cover Cain’s grim Southern California landscape. The first vision the reader has of Frank is that of him wandering along a road leading to the diner, after having been thrown off a hay truck on which he caught a ride. The open highway symbolizes for Frank the freedom to cross boundaries and to journey into other worlds, where individuals are not bound by stringent social and moral codes. It also acts as a narcotic to undo inhibitions. Accordingly, it is on a mountain road that the two lovers murder Cora’s husband and alongside which the two then make love. Yet the road also serves to separate Twin Oaks from the constraints of the communities that lie beyond it, specifically the specter of the Los Angeles urban industrial complex, which threatens to overwhelm it. In Cain’s world the road is always there, an ever-present enticement to those who seek escape from their emotional and physical confinement.
*Pacific Ocean. On two occasions in the novel, once before their marriage and once after, Frank and Cora take a trip to the beach, which represents a refuge from the mounting pressures of their unfulfilled lives. “All the devilment, and meanness, and shiftlessness, and no-account stuff in my life had been pressed out and washed off,” Frank says to himself on one of these visits. However, the notion of rebirth is not as authentic as the two characters believe it to be. Their rendezvous with the ocean are but brief interludes in their desperate search for fulfillment. The geography of the ocean only magnifies the dislocation of their lives once they return to the diner.
*Los Angeles. Sprawling city in Southern California that acts as a magnet for the hordes of drifters, itinerants, and gypsies who headed west during the Depression era of the 1930’s. The city’s giant shadow looms over Cain’s landscape as a symbol of the broken dreams of those who were seeking a better life but wound up finding just another dead end. The recognition that they may have reached their final destination with nothing to show for it only serves to intensify their desperation and alienation from the rest of society.