Kelley opens the novel with a short description of an imaginary southern state, including an early history of Dewey Willson and a brief paragraph devoted to recent history, noting the exodus in June 1957 of all the blacks in the state. Although the state is imaginary, it is very much like many of the southern states, its history extending back into the slavery era. By using an imaginary state, Kelley removed the novel from being the story of a particular area; instead, he created a fable which describes a certain type of society and the people within it. The state, thus, is a symbol of the entire South, and the legends, mores, and traditions recorded by Kelley in this novel can be found, with variations, in any of the former Confederate states.
In this section, Kelley introduces one of the main themes of the novel: the importance of family history and tradition to the South. He tells us of Confederate General Dewey Willson, who prevented northern troops from reaching New Marsails. The General is Kelley's symbol of the white southern gentleman. In addition, Kelley shows us the frustration of northern attempts to invade the area; this can also be viewed as a symbol, a symbol of the frustration of the many attempts to bring more enlightened views to race relations and to the structure of the economy.
Essentially, this state — the South — is still run by the same types of men — in the same way — a century after the Civil War has ended. Later in the novel, in a conversation with David Willson concerning the purchase of the farm, Tucker Caliban notes that as long as people refuse to change, there can be no change in conditions. Both Tucker and David realize this fact, but only Tucker is eventually able to change and act effectively.