Lost in the City: An Exploration of Edward P. Jones's Short Fiction

Section 3: Northwest as the Center of Jones’s DC

By Lauren Phelps & Mohammed Ali H Sumili
Data Visualization by Peace Ossom-Williamson 

This chart reveals information about place settings in Jones’s two short story collections totaling 28 stories. The various shades of green represent each of DC’s four quadrants. In the top left corner, the pie chart represents the percentage of times a specific quadrant appears across his two collections of short stories. To the right, the various boxes represent location types ranging from homes and neighborhoods to schools and churches. The larger the box, the more times a particular setting was used in a specific quadrant. Hovering over each box reveals the percentage of times the location was used in that quadrant. The bottom chart offers another visualization of the same information in the form of bar charts. This representation ranks the order of location types Jones features in his collections.


Jones draws a map of Washington, DC in his stories that presents readers with a vivid image of Chocolate City. Lost in the City complicates the contemporary discussion of gentrification as readers are presented with thriving Black communities in DC, especially in the northwest quadrant. He solidifies his representation of DC as Chocolate City by consistently tagging individual streets, landmarks, and the northwest quadrant as the locus for the action and grounding environment for his characters.

The northwest (NW) quadrant represents the center of daily life for the characters. Most of the characters in the stories attached their memories of DC to their lives in NW; for example, Joyce in “The Night Rhonda Ferguson was Killed” and “His Mother’s House” moves into an apartment on M Street in NW when she’s pregnant with her son as a teenager and then moves into a new house down the block which her son buys her, establishing this location within NW as the root of her story throughout her life.

Through analyzing Jones’s detailed location tagging, we can see that NW, compared to the other quadrants, is the most common location for plot and character development. The majority of neighborhoods and landmarks mentioned are located in the NW, as can be seen from the chart above. Even in the stories that have settings in other quadrants, NW is central in Jones’s DC geography.

DC caters to pedestrian life in some locations, especially NW, however, journeying through the city is not as easy as Jones's childhood memories show. Street names and landmarks may serve as guideposts, yet some characters appear to be detached from their city and these streets are often transformed when businesses, and even the streets themselves, are converted. Unlike Betsy Ann in “The Girl Who Raised Pigeons,” who “came to know the city so well that had she been blindfolded and taken to practically any place in Washington, even as far away as Anacostia or Georgetown,” in “Young Lions,” Caesar cannot make his way through the city without the help of his address book. Similarly, in “A New Man,” Rita Cunningham hangs a large map of DC in the kitchen to map the search for her daughter overwhelmed by the largeness of the city beyond her known world. The stories themselves thus map the changes in the city for Jones’s readers. 


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