5 Novel Setting Maps for Classic American Literature

Invite Students to Follow the Journeys of Huck, Holden, Ahab, Lenny, and Scout

The setting of the stories that make up the literature of America are often just as important as the characters. For example, the real Mississippi River is as important to the novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as are the fictional characters of Huck and Jim who travel through the small rural towns that populated the riverbanks during the 1830s. 

Setting: Time and Place

The literary definition of setting is a story's time and place, but the setting is more than just where a story takes place. Setting contributes to the author's building of the plot, the characters, and the theme. There can be multiple settings over the course of one story. 

In many of the literary classic taught in high school English classes, the setting captures places in America at a specific point in time, from the Puritan colonies of Colonial Massachusetts to the Oklahoma Dust Bowl and the Great Depression.

A setting's descriptive detail is the way an author paints a picture of a location in the mind of the reader, but there are other ways to help readers picture a location, and one of the ways is a story setting map. Students in literature class follow these maps that trace the movements of characters. Here, the maps tell America's story. There are communities with their own dialects and colloquialisms, there are compact urban environments, and there are miles of dense wilderness. These maps reveal settings that are distinctly American, integrated into each character's individual's struggle. 

Section of the map that chronicles "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn"; part of the Library of Congress America's Treasures online exhibit.

1. One story setting map of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is housed in the Library of Congress digital map collection. The landscape of the map covers the Mississippi River from Hannibal, Missouri to the location of the fictional "Pikesville," Mississippi.

The artwork is the creation of Everett Henry who painted the map in 1959 for the Harris-Intertype Corporation.

The map offers locations in Mississippi where the story of Huckleberry Finn originated. There is the place where "Aunt Sallie and Uncle Silas mistake Huck for Tom Sawyer" and where "the King and the Duke put on a show." There are also scenes in Missouri where "the night collision separates Huck and Jim" and where Huck "lands on the left shore on the land of the Grangerfords."

Students can use the digital tools to zoom in on sections of the map that connect to different parts of the novel.

2. Another annotated map is on the website Literary Hub. This map also plots the travels of the main characters in Twain's stories. According to the map's creator, Daniel Harmon:

"This map attempts to borrow Huck’s wisdom and follows the river just as Twain presents it: as a simple trail of water, heading in a single direction, which nevertheless is full of endless complexity and confusion."

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Section of the story map "The Journey of The Pequod" for the novel Moby Dick created by Everett Henry (1893–1961) - http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/treasures/tri064.html. Creative Commons

The Library of Congress also offers another story map that chronicles the fictional travels of Herman Melville's whaling ship, The Pequod, in chasing the white whale Moby Dick across a authentic map of the world. This map was also as part of a physical exhibition in The American Treasures Gallery that closed in 2007, however, the artifacts featured in this exhibit are available digitally. 

The map starts in Nantucket, Massachusetts, the port from which the whaling ship The Pequod sailed out on Christmas Day. Along the way, Ishmael the narrator ponders:

"There is nothing like the perils of whaling to breed this free and easy sort of genial, desperado philosophy [life as vast practical joke]; and with it I now regarded this whole voyage of the Pequod, and the great White Whale its object” (49)."

The map highlights the Pequod travels down in the Atlantic and around the bottom tip of Africa and the Cape of Good Hope; through the Indian Ocean, passing the island of Java; and then along the coast of Asia before its final confrontation in the Pacific Ocean with the white whale, Moby Dick.  There are events from the novel marked on the map including:

  • The harpooners drink to the death of Moby Dick
  • Stubb and Flask kill a right whale
  • Queequeg's coffin canoe
  • Captain Ahab refuses to help The Rachel
  • An inset for the three days of the chase before Moby Dick sinks The Pequod.

The map is titled The Voyage of the Pequod was produced by the Harris-Seybold Company of Cleveland between 1953 and 1964. This map was also Illustrated by Everett Henry who was also known for his mural paintings. More »

Section (upper right) of the fictional town of Maycomb, created by Harper Lee for her novel "To Kill a Mockingbird.

Maycomb is that archetypal small Southern town in the 1930s that Harper Lee made famous in her novel To Kill a Mockingbird. Her setting recalls a different kind of  America—to those most familiar with the Jim Crow South and beyond. Her novel was first published in 1960, it has sold over 40 million copies worldwide.

The story is set in Maycomb, a fictionalized version of author Harper Lee's hometown of Monroeville, Alabama. Maycomb is not on any map of the real world, but there are plenty of topographical clues in the book. 

1. One study guide map is a reconstruction of Maycomb for the movie version of To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), which starred Gregory Peck as the attorney Atticus Finch. 

2. There is also an Interactive map offered on a thinglink webpage that allows for map creators to embed images and annotate. The map contains several different images and a video link to a conflagration accompanied by a quote from the book:

"At the front door, we saw fire spewing out of Miss Maudie's dining room windows. As if to confirm what we saw, the town fire siren wailed up the scale to treble pitch and remained there screaming"

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Section of the Interactive Map for "Catcher in the Rye" offered by the New York Times; embedded with quotes under the "i" for information.

One of the more popular texts in the secondary classroom is J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye. In 2010, The New York Times published an interactive map based on the main character, Holden Caulfield. He travels around Manhattan buying time from confronting his parents after being dismissed from preparatory school. The map invites students to:

"Trace Holden Caulfield's perambulations... to places like the Edmont Hotel, where Holden had an awkward encounter with Sunny the hooker; the lake in Central Park, where he wondered about the ducks in winter; and the clock at the Biltmore, where he waited for his date."

Quotes from the text are embedded in the map under the "i" for information, such as:

"All I wanted to say was good-bye to old Phoebe..." (199)

This map was adapted from Peter G. Beidler's book, "A Reader's Companion to J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye"(2008). More »

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Steinbeck's Map of America

Upper left corner screenshot of "The John Steinbeck Map of America" which features the settings for both his fiction and nonfiction writing.

The John Steinbeck Map of America was part of a physical exhibition in The American Treasures Gallery in the Library of Congress. When that  exhibition closed in August 2007, the resources were linked to an online exhibition that remains  a permanent fixture of the Library’s Website.

The link to the map takes students to view images from Steinbeck's novels such asTortilla Flat (1935), The Grapes of Wrath (1939), and The Pearl (1947).

"The outline of the map shows the route of Travels with Charley (1962), and the central portion consists of detailed street maps of the California towns of Salinas and Monterey, where Steinbeck lived and set some of his works. Numbers on the maps are keyed to lists of events in Steinbeck's novels."

A portrait of Steinbeck himself is painted into the upper right corner by Molly Maguire.  This color lithograph map is part of the Library of Congress map collection. 

Another map for students to use as they read his stories is a simple hand drawn map of California sites that Steinbeck featured includes settings for the novels Cannery Row (1945),Tortilla Flat (1935) and The Red Pony (1937), 

There is also an illustration to mark the location for Of Mice and Men (1937) which takes place near Soledad, California. In the 1920s Steinbeck worked briefly at a Spreckel's ranch near Soledad.