Barkley Cove: Delia Owens’ Fictional Small Town

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "Where the Crawdads Sing" by Delia Owens. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.

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Where is Barkley Cove? What is Barkley Cove like in Where the Crawdads Sing?

Barkley Cove is the town and setting for the book Where the Crawdads Sing. Though the marsh where Kya lives is actually outside of town, the town still plays an important role in the story.

The setting of Barkley Cove shows the separation between Kya and the townspeople, and the prejudice she faces as a “Marsh Girl.”

Marsh Girl: The Outsider of Barkley Cove

Kya’s family home was a shack on a large plot of land a few miles outside the main town of Barkley Cove. The land was surrounded by palmettos, lagoons and channels that curled like gnarled fingers through the marsh, a forest of oak trees on one side, and the Atlantic ocean on the other. 

The Little Woman

The only income the family had was Pa’s disability checks from the Army. He took most of the money for himself, but he gave Kya a dollar and some change to buy food in exchange for her taking on the role of woman-of-the-house: cleaning, doing the laundry, stockpiling wood for the stove, and cooking all the meals. 

For the first time in her life, Kya walked the four miles to Barkley Cove. The town was small and surrounded by everglades. Along the waterfront was Main Street, which held a handful of shops, such as the Piggly Wiggly, a Western Auto parts store, a diner, a bakery, and the Dog-Gone beer hall. All the buildings were weathered from years of salt spray and wind off the ocean. 

Barefoot and awkward in overalls too small for her long frame, Kya nervously entered town. The town folk carried low opinions of the marsh dwellers, and she was afraid of people seeing her. She also didn’t know how to count past twenty-nine, and figuring the change for the groceries felt scarier than talking to strangers

When she arrived on Main Street, three boys nearly ran her over on their bikes. A local fabric store owner, Miss Pansy Price, scolded the boys after they nearly ran into her, too, and Kya heard her call one of them Chase Andrews and refer to Kya as swamp trash. Kya recognized Chase as the son of the family who owned Western Auto. 

After the boys left, Kya scurried inside the Piggly Wiggly. She grabbed a bag of grits and took it to the counter. When Mrs. Singletary—the soft and sympathetic clerk—counted out change into her tiny hand, Kya was stunned to still have money. She took the bag and ran all the way home. 

Life in Barkley Cove

Winter became spring, and spring grew into summer. It was 1953, and Pa and Kya had settled into their new life together. They ate meals at the table, talked, and sometimes played gin rummy after dinner. 

Pa started to take her places, too. On one occasion, he took her to Jumpin’s Gas and Bait, a filling station and fishing shop that sat along the shore between the marsh and Barkley Cove. The shop was a shack on a floating wharf held in place by a cable tied around a tree. Jumpin’ was an old black man with gray hair. He lived in Colored Town, a small Black community located outside of town. He was kind to Kya, as he was with everyone who came to fill up their boats. 

On another night, Pa took Kya into town for supper at the local diner. Kya had never been to a restaurant before. Before they went inside, she tried to clean the mud off her dingy clothes and smooth her wild black mane down. Pa ignored the snide looks and comments from the other patrons and ordered them a feast for dinner, including blackberry cobbler for dessert. 

Kya waited outside the diner while Pa paid the bill. A small voice said hello, and she turned to find a four-year-old girl in a snazzy dress and blonde ringlets holding her small hand out. Kya was afraid to touch the little girl because of how clean she was, but she extended her hand anyway. Before they could shake, however, Teresa White, the preacher’s wife, burst from a store and shooed Kya away. Mrs. White warned her little daughter not to go near the Marsh Girl because she was dirty. Kya didn’t have time to be offended, preoccupied as she was watching a mother show love to her child. 

Kya still hoped Ma would return someday. Now that Pa was being civil and engaged, she reckoned things would be better at home if everyone came back. He wouldn’t hit Ma over and over until she fell in a heap anymore. Things would be different. They could be a family again.

All of Kya’s wishing seemed to have worked when she found a letter from Ma in the mailbox one day in early fall. She wanted to rip open the envelope and read what Ma had written, but she didn’t know how. She left the letter on the table for Pa to read when he got home. 

When Kya saw Pa coming up the lane, she ran from the house, too nervous about his reaction to the letter. She hid in the outhouse until she was sure he’d read it. After a minute, Pa slammed through the front door and stomped to his boat. Kya ran to the house to retrieve the letter, but all she found were its charred remains in the garbage. She collected the remains and stored them in a glass jar. They were the only pieces of Ma she had left. 

After the letter, everything reverted back to the old ways. Pa was drunk all the time. He never took her fishing again and stopped coming home more often. 

Tate told himself to not bear judgment on Chase’s actions. He cursed himself for leaving Kya and returned to town.

Murder and Arrest in Barkley Cove

A few days before Christmas, Kya motored toward Jumpin’s before dawn. She was more cautious than usual, had been ever since the sheriff and deputy had started coming to her shack. When she got close enough, she could make out Jumpin’ on his chair near the store. She waved as she normally did, but Jumpin’ didn’t move or say a word. After a second, he gave the slightest shake of his head. Kya slowed the boat, turned quickly, and headed back to her shack. Appearing out of the fog were several boats, one with the sheriff at the helm. 

Kya tried to lose the boats by heading out to sea. But there was no time. The boats surrounded her, and two officers jumped into her boat and detained her. Deputy Purdue said she was under arrest for the murder of Chase Andrews and read her her rights. 

Kya was held in custody in the town’s holding cells for two months. On February 25, 1970, she was led into a courtroom in handcuffs with her lawyer Tom Milton by her side. Tom had taken over for the public defender after reading about Kya’s arrest. He was from the area and had heard stories about the Marsh Girl over the years. He took her case pro bono, coming out of retirement at seventy-one. 

The courtroom was packed to the rafters with townspeople, everyone wanting a chance to witness the Marsh Girl in handcuffs, a possible death sentence looming over her head. Kya didn’t look at anyone as she took her place behind the defendant’s table. 

Jury selection started after the presiding judge, Judge Sims, announced that Tom’s motion to have the trial moved for bias was denied. The judge turned to two rows of jurors and asked if they would have a problem sentencing Kya to death. No one raised their hands. 

Kya recognized most of the jurors from town but didn’t know their names. Two, however, she knew: Sally Culpepper, the truant officer from Kya’s youth, and the preacher’s wife, who’d rushed her little girl away the night Kya and Pa ate at the diner. All the jurors agreed to not be biased.

Hearing about her possible death made Kya’s breath catch. It wasn’t that she was afraid to die. She was afraid of dying by appointment at the hand of someone else. She’d never relied on anyone for anything, but the thought that her freedom would be hijacked at the last moment of her life terrified her.

Though Barkley Cove is fictional, it serves as an important symbol for Kya and her community. Kya is outsider, and feels discomfort going to Barkley Cove. After the trial, she never steps foot in town again.

Barkley Cove: Delia Owens’ Fictional Small Town

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Here's what you'll find in our full Where the Crawdads Sing summary :

  • How Kya Clark's abandonment as a child affected her through her entire life
  • How Kya discovered love despite steep obstacles
  • The murder trial that embroiled Kya's town, and the ultimate truth behind the murder

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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