Cup of Gold - Setting

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Barbados and Beyond


Drawing of Barbados laborersBarbados, where Henry serves as an indentured servant on Flower's plantation, was an uninhabited island when first settled by the British government in 1627.  Britain brought the slave trade to this area and many captives worked on the sugar plantations on the island until the abolition of slavery in 1834.  The economy of the island depended on the rum, sugar and molasses trade and these are still prominent industries in the area today.  The island endured many political and social changes during the 1940's and gained its full independence from Britain in 1966.  Today the tourism trade to the area as well as the manufacturing of material goods has finally exceeded the sugar and molasses trade as the strongest monetary influence for the region.

Cambria (South Wales)

Wales, Henry Morgan's place of birth, is one of four major political divisions that form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (which does not include the Irish Republic Eire, which is an independent country within the European Union). The United Kingdom consists in Scotland, Northern Ireland, England (often called Great Britain or simply Britain) and Wales. Many Welshmen still describe Wales informally as a "principality" (meaning it has a legal and political independence), although since the Laws in Wales Acts of 1535–1542, which formally incorporated all of Wales within the Kingdom of England, there has been no basis for describing any of the territory of Wales as a principality. Captain Morgan was born in Llanrhumney near Tredegar in the Heads of the Valleys area of the South Wales valleys.

The population of present day Wales is nearly 3 million people.  The strongest growth in this area's population occurred during the late 1600's and early 1700's due directly to the Industrial Revolution.  During this time, people came to populate greater regions of rural Wales and the English countryside.  The port cities of Newport, Swansea and Cardiff grew substantially during this time becoming the main port cities to serve the country with the manufacturing of coal and iron-ore.

The two official languages of the Wales region are English and Welsh.  The Welsh language is the oldest language in Europe and is derived from the Celtic dialect and has changed over the centuries due to the influx of new people learning, adapting and changing nuances of the proper language and dialect.

The way of life for the Welsh people has always been the mainstays of farming and coal-mining, with over a fifth of the population living in rural areas.  Old Robert is a farmer by trade in the novel.  Strong family ties, as well as religion, are still very prominent in the area. The ways of the "Old World" are still found in smaller, less populated areas of the countryside, including religious customs as well as family values and customs learned from previous generations.  Henry's grandmother and Old Merlin represent the mystical and religious past traditions in Steinbeck's story.  Religion has been traditionally vital to the function of Welsh life and only in the last century has that emphasis changed due to the migration of people towards larger cities and areas beyond the lands where they originated.

During the late 1500's, the Bible was translated into the Welsh language and helped the Welsh people establish historical and important events related to the background and history of the region.  Many poets and writers used the Welsh language throughout the 1500s, 1600s, and 1700s.

In Cup of Gold, Cambria (Wales' ancient appellation) is presented in a mystical light.  Birthplace of Geoffrey of Monmouth, known as the primary originator of the Arthurian legends, Steinbeck borrows from that tradition and makes Wales the home of Merlin, the ancient sage.  Like Merlin, Gwenliana prophecies as well, calling to mind the mythical traditions of the Druids who were supposed to dwell in the area in ancient times.  Steinbeck mentions many mythical and historical characters from Wales to endow the area with a sense of history and myth.

Cardiff, Wales

Cardiff, the port from which Henry sails to seek his fortune, is the largest city and county in Wales and was officially made the capital city in 1955.  The city began as the historical county of Glamorgan, which was later renamed South Glamorgan. The city originated as a small port city with regional trade, but gained influence during the Industrial Revolution in the early 1700's.  Seamen from many parts of Europe were to be found in Cardiff introducing young Welsh adventurers like Henry Morgan to tales of exotic lands and pirate booty.  Today, Cardiff is a major port city of influence in the areas of industrial business, sports, media and the government.

Castilla de Oro

The name "Castilla de Oro" was made official in 1513 by the Spanish King Ferdinand II, leader of the Crown of Castile.  Castilla de Oro became the name given to the Central American territories by the Spanish settlers at the start of the 16th century.  The territories were located near the present-day Panamanian-Colombian border.  After Balboa discovered the Pacific Ocean, the jurisdiction of Castilla de Oro broadened to include the Pacific coasts of Panama, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua and the most eastern portion of Castilla de Oro became known as Panama.

Cup of Gold

Cup of Gold is the euphemism for the capital city of Panama and the undeniable wealth and riches of the city that were seized by Captain Henry Morgan when he defeated General Don Juan de Guzman.   Steinbeck writes, "Panama was a great, lovely city in 1670 when Henry Morgan determined on its destruction; […] No place in all the New World could compare with it in beauty and wealth" (105).  In Cup of Gold, the city had become comfortable and lazy in its wealth.  Populated by a merchant class and ruled by the ineffectual Guzman, the city's fortifications and populace were weak when Morgan arrived making it easy for him to conquer the city, which was considered up to that time, unconquerable, thanks to its natural protection from its favorable geographic location.

Setting | Character Summaries | Plot Synopsis | Reception
Cultural References | Key Terms and Concepts