Across the United States, 1960-2005
Road to Nowhere
When you go on a road trip across the United States, you usually want to see the major attractions: the Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore, the French Quarter, the Statue of Liberty. The Walls family, by contrast, will take you to the smallest, poorest towns in the country, places where no one wants to live—unless they're stuck there.
Notable stops for the Walls family include Midland, California, which is now described as a "ghost town." Yeah, it was definitely on its dying breaths when Jeannette lived there.
From Midland, the Walls family upgrades 22 miles south to Blythe, California, a town that still exists. However, after living in a near-ghost town, Dad decides that Blyth "too civilized" (2.10.15). Seems like any place where his daughter has to wear shoes to school is too civilized for this guy.
The family spends a lot of time in Battle Mountain, Nevada, another gold mining town. But the only gold the Wallses find there is fool's gold. The family looks on the bright side, as usual, saying that what they find is "especially good quality for fool's gold" (2.14.9). Battle Mountain, as it happens, is also a place where teachers carry rifles to school. To defend their fool's gold, we guess.
In a Jam
The place where Jeannette spends most of her adolescence is Welch, West Virginia. Welch is the place where the country's first food stamps were handed out. It's ridden by poverty, and Jeannette's family lives in the worst house in the poorest town in the country. Mom calls it "an adventure" that they have to step around holes in the floor and deal with electrical shortages in the kitchen.
After being stifled in all these small towns, it's no surprise that Jeannette wants something different and decides to move to New York City in the end. These small towns are places where people try to define her. In New York City, she can define herself.