Asterisk denotes entries on real places.
Hawley lives in his family’s ancestral home, from which he walks two blocks every weekday down Elm Street that angles into High Street where he works. Nearby, the old Bay Hotel is being leveled, to be replaced by a Woolworth store, the old giving way to the new. New Baytown is a charming town with tree-lined sidewalks where Mr. Baker, the banker, walks daily from his home on Maple Street to the First National Bank, with unequal steps observing the old childhood superstition that stepping on the cracks will break his mother’s back.
Baker’s father and Ethan’s grandfather, Captain Hawley, had jointly owned the Belle-Adair, an exceptionally fine whaling ship that mysteriously burned–a fire Ethan suspects Baker’s father of instigating for the insurance money.
*Harvard University. Cambridge, Massachusetts, university from which Ethan graduated. Although Ethan complains that his education is worthless in his present job, his use of language, literary quotations and allusions, and obvious love of the humanities, and the sophistication he gained at Harvard provide a contrast to the provinciality of New Baytown.
Old Harbor. Abandoned harbor near New Baytown that reflects the past that infuses the novel. Once protected by Whitsun Reef, the harbor now is filled with silt and sand and no longer fit for ships like those that once frequented it. While going to Old Harbor, Ethan reflects on the nautical lore that his grandfather taught him.
Located just off the edge of the harbor is Ethan’s private and secret “Place,” a tiny enclosure with a seaward view near the remnants of the Hawley dock. Within this womblike space Ethan escapes his mundane world, descending into a self-absorbed solipsism–a passive experience that he likens to a sheet being hung on the line to dry. While musing on what happens to him when he goes to his place, he rationalizes that it does not matter whether what happens there is good or bad as long as it is right for him–thus reflecting what John Steinbeck at the time saw as America’s extreme emphasis on individualism.
At the end of the novel when Ethan goes to his private place to commit suicide after his son has been caught plagiarizing in a national essay-writing contest, he is spared by an epiphany. As he reaches into his pocket for razor blades, he finds instead a family talisman that his daughter placed there. Thanks to this discovery, a sense of familial responsibility and love returns to him, and he struggles against the rising tide, to leave his place to return home and return the talisman to his daughter.
Porlock Street. New Baytown neighborhood in which the most luxurious homes are located–houses with widow’s walks on their roofs and exotic furniture and artifacts, many from China. By contrast, the Hawley and Baker houses on Elm Street are Early American, with peaked roofs and board siding, shaded by huge elms planted when the houses were built.