This map plots the settings and references in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
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The Deep South of America includes the states of Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina. It is more of a cultural concept than a geographic entity. Some people would include Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina within the Deep South. The lower part of the Mississippi river passes through Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana, contributing greatly to the character of these states.
Carson McCullers lived in Columbus, Georgia until she was 17 years old. While writing The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter, she was based in Charlotte and Fayetteville, both in North Carolina. The town in The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter is large, with factories and mills, a river, a railroad and an opera house. It seems likely it is based on Columbus, which has all of these features.
Textile mills and factories were characteristic of the Deep South in the 1930s, when The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter is set. McCullers' factory is "big and flourishing", although most of the men who work there are poor.
From the mid-1920s, the Southern textile industry began to suffer. The price of textiles dropped and cotton crops were devastated by weevils. Cheaper textiles from overseas became available; to maintain profits, mill owners cut wages and increased the hours of mill workers.