Where the Crawdads Sing Setting: Life in the Marsh

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What is the Where the Crawdads Sing setting? Is it a real place and what is it like?

The Where the Crawdads Sing setting is the fictional town of Barkley Cove, North Carolina. It also has a nearby marsh.

The Where the Crawdads Sing setting takes place mainly in the marsh, where Kya lives, and in Barkley Cove, where she often travels for supplies or other reasons.

Where the Crawdads Sing Setting

The setting of Where the Crawdads Sing is primarily the marsh where Kya grows up. Another Where the Crawdads Sing setting is the town of Barkley Cove. These two places are where Kya spends most of her time, and each have a deep meaning to her.

The Marsh

The first and most important Where the Crawdads Sing setting is the marsh where Kya lives. Kya grows up in the marsh, mostly alone, and the marsh becomes her safety and her family. Read more about this setting in Where the Crawdads Sing below.

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. 

Pa had come to the land by way of inheritance and taken residence in the shabby lean-to made from palmettos. He was a WWII vet on disability because of a leg injury sustained during the war. He walked with a limp, was a hard drinker, and was an even harder man to stomach around the house.

Here’s how Kya describes the marsh: A swamp should not be mistaken for a marsh. A marsh is alive, full of light, winged birds, and grasses stretching through glistening water toward the sky. The marsh meets with the sea and holds various creeks and lagoons that reach like fingers for the open water. 

A swamp, however, is devoid of light and life. It lies in the dark, and life decays and transforms into its most basic cellular level in stagnant, fetid water.

Making the Marsh Safe

As a setting in Where the Crawdads Sing, the marsh is in trouble. Kya wants to stop it being built on and save the wildlife, so when she gets her book advance, she makes moves to do so. Once the house was in order, Kya turned to the land. She’d heard from Jumpin’ that developers were thinking of turning the marsh and swamp surrounding Barkley Cove into resort hotels. She’d already seen construction around the area, watching with horror as rows of trees were bulldozed and marshes drained. She didn’t want her home to suffer the same fate. 

Kya didn’t have any legal papers regarding the ownership of her home or land, so she took the Bible with her family’s names to the courthouse in town to see about attaining a deed. To her delight, Kya’s grandfather had had the land surveyed in 1897. But there were years of back taxes to be paid before the land could be officially claimed, and anyone who paid the fee would own the land. Kya was afraid that forty years of taxes would be too much to pay, but the fee was only eight hundred dollars because of how the land was zoned. She paid in cash and left with a deed for 310 acres of beachfront property. Her home would always be safe.

Barkley Cove

The other main Where the Crawdads Sing setting is the nearby town of Barkley Cove.

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. 

More Experiences in Barkley Cove

As a setting of Where the Crawdads Sing, Barkley Cove only proves dangerous for Kya when bias against her for living in the marsh encourages the authorities to pin her for the murder of Chase Andrews.

Ed argued that Chase was an athlete and not likely to do drugs, so Joe suggested maybe he’d been meeting a woman. Again, Ed dismissed the idea. Chase only mixed with the high-class women of Barkley Cove. He wasn’t likely to mess around with marsh trash. Both agreed the circumstances were unclear, but the information did point to a secret side of Chase’s life that may help their case

Tate neared the channel to the marsh and saw Kya motoring fast in her boat. He tried to get her attention, but it was focused elsewhere. Chase’s boat was coming toward her. Tate’s heart dropped. He’d heard people talking in town about the possibility of this relationship, but seeing it hurt him. It also hurt Tate that Kya had no idea that Chase was living a different life in Barkley Cove, one that included other women. Still, Tate had mistreated Kya, too, and could not bear judgment on Chase’s actions. He cursed himself for leaving Kya and returned to town

No More Barkely Cove for Kya

Kya never stepped foot in Barkley Cove again. Her life and trial became folklore around town, and the townspeople spoke of seeing her moving through the water in her boat as though she were a mythical creature. Theories were postulated over the years about what had happened to Chase Andrews, but nothing ever came of them. Everybody believed that Sheriff Jackson had mishandled the case and was wrong for accusing Kya. He was never reelected, and each new sheriff attempted to reopen the case, but eventually, the circumstances of Chase’s death became lore, as well. 

Since Kya is known as “Marsh Girl” it’s clear that the Where the Crawdads Sing setting is extremely important. Kya is tied to the Marsh in a powerful way, and this Where the Crawdads Sing setting plays a powereful role in her life.

Where the Crawdads Sing Setting: Life in the Marsh

———End of Preview———

Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best summary of Delia Owens's "Where the Crawdads Sing" at Shortform.

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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