1930s North Carolina
When Serena first arrives at her husband's property, she surveys the land and workers, giving us some hints about what life is like in this time and place. Here's what we find out:
The loggers soon left the main train line that went over the right side of the mountain and instead followed the spur, their lunches in tote sacks and paper bags, metal milk pails and metal boxes shaped like bread loaves. (2.24)
That sure sounds different from our day jobs. Cutting down trees is no easy task, as the book shows us time and again—workers are bitten by rattlesnakes, get their fingers and hands chopped off, and even have trees crush them to death. It's not for the feeble hearted, but this is the Great Depression so people take whatever work they can get.
There's a lot about the tough terrain and lifestyle that reminds us of our girl, Serena, throughout. We can see that only the strongest can survive the Great Depression in the North Carolina wilderness. The desperation of the times adds an additionally unsavory element to Serena's thirst for power, though—with so many people just barely scraping by, her absolute disdain for empathy is only that much colder.