The imaginary Powderhead is a primal, magical realm, isolated from the modern world both literally and symbolically. The old man’s cabin is inaccessible by car; like holy ground, it must be approached on foot. While Powderhead proves a paradise of sorts for the young Bishop Rayber, a city child who has “never caught a fish or walked on roads that were not paved,” its thorns bar his entrance when he returns as an adult. With its thickly enclosing woods, thorn bushes, and blackberry brambles, Powderhead is alternately oppressive and edenic. The old man’s remote cabin, like his religious vision, has a haunting power that draws both nephew and great-nephew back after they have left it.
City. Large unnamed southeastern city–possibly modeled on Atlanta, Georgia–that is home to about 75,000 people, including Tarwater’s uncle, the schoolteacher George Rayber, and Rayber’s mentally challenged son, Bishop. When Tarwater first visits the city with the old man, he sees it as an evil place where strangers pass by with ducked heads and muttered words, as if “hastening away from the Lord God Almighty.” After the old man dies, Tarwater returns to the city, turning up on the schoolteacher’s doorstep. Though curious about city life, he shows no interest in giving up his country ways; he refuses to wear the new clothes his uncle buys him and finds a terrible hunger growing in him that city food, mere “shavings out of a cardboard box,” cannot fill.
The city is seen as a dead place with no connections to God or the natural world; its packaged products cannot nourish the soul. Each night, Tarwater walks through the city streets with his uncle as if waiting for something to reveal itself to him. The city, he has been told, is where prophets must go to share the visions they receive in the wilderness. Tarwater claims to scorn his great-uncle’s belief, but one night, he slips out after hours to visit a Pentecostal tabernacle, with blue and yellow windows “like the eyes of some biblical beast,” where a child evangelist is preaching. Rayber follows him and finds him there. The boy claims “I only gone to spit on it,” but he is clearly shaken.
Cherokee Lodge. Country motel thirty miles from Powderhead where George Rayber takes Tarwater and his son, Bishop, ostensibly for a fishing trip. The lodge is a green and white converted warehouse, one half of which rests on land and the other half perches on stilts above a small lake, where the novel’s key scene takes place. Rayber’s initial plan in bringing the boy to the lodge is to take him to Powderhead and make him face the site of his great-uncle’s death, hoping that the shock of that return will end his obsession. While fishing with Tarwater on the lake, Rayber confesses that he once tried to drown his son but could not bring himself to do it. Later, Tarwater takes Bishop out on the lake in a boat and drowns him–but first baptizes him, thus fulfilling the task the old man has set for him.