Study Guide

Angle of Repose Setting

By Wallace Stegner

Setting

America...Like All of It

The Ward family lives in their fair share of different locales over the course of Angle of Repose. From the sleepy East Coast to the rollicking West Coast and everywhere in between, the Wards' travels reflect the experiences of countless early pioneers in the American West.

Starting Small

Milton, New York, is the place where our story begins. In many ways, this tiny town on the East Coast sets the standard for all that follows, as Susan inevitably compares each successive home to her childhood abode in Milton. Although she returns to Milton occasionally throughout her life, she's never able to fulfill her dream of moving back and growing old there.

Instead, she's left gallivanting around tiny Western towns like New Almaden, which is her first home on the range. Although she's scared at first, she quickly falls in love with the picturesque environment: the "exotic red-barked trees among the woods" and the "herb-cupboard smells of sage and bay" (2.1.65). Sure, Susan isn't able to spend as much time with fellow intellectuals as she'd like, but New Almaden's proximity to major towns like San Francisco gives her a limited degree of access.

Breaking Into the Big Leagues

Susan ends up even deeper in the wilderness in Leadville, Colorado. Leadville is actually a pretty interesting place. On the one hand, it's a boomtown on the rise, which means that there's a surprisingly large number of bigwigs hanging around. On the other, Susan quickly learns "how deep and violent [...] the divisions in the camp" are when she witnesses several brutal attacks on its small-town streets (2.7.103). In Leadville, all of the contradictions of the West are on full display.

Mexico is a completely different story. Susan has been living in the boonies for years now, so she jumps at the chance to go to Mexico and get "her only glimpse of the ancient and exotic civilizations that in her innocent nineteenth-century local-colorish way she craved to know" (5.1.26). Susan might have a beef with certain aspects of Mexican culture, but she loves the idea of being part of an established aristocracy.

A Home of Their Own

From there, the family sets down roots in Idaho to work on Oliver's irrigation scheme. They actually live in two different homes in the area: first, in a small shack in the middle of a canyon, and later, in a massive McMansion on the mesa. Interestingly, Susan prefers the tiny shack to the big house, although that's mostly due to the good memories she associates with that first home. Regardless, the sheer size of their new digs is a reflection of the growing status of the Ward family.

Eventually, the family ends up in California, where they live in the Zodiac Cottage. We don't actually watch Oliver and Susan move there; instead, we see it in the possession of their grandson Lyman, nearly a century after Susan and Oliver first headed out west. The home is filled with reminders of them, like Susan's paintings and Oliver's old "woodenhandled cavalry revolver of the Civil War period" (1.1.18).

Though the world has changed a lot since they first shuffled into New Almaden, Susan and Oliver are alive and well in the Zodiac Cottage.

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