Southern Gothic Literature

Subject: Literature
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Word count: 1473
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Southern Gothic literature is a genre of literature derived from Gothic fiction. Most of Southern Gothic settings is based in the southern parts of America. Unlike Gothic fiction which included elements of romanticism alongside plots which were unusual, super natural and thrilling in nature, Southern Gothic’s focus was much more on the dark side. Southern Gothic literature makes use of the grotesque, the unnatural and ironic events to add something more than just suspense and thrill to the story. Each of the Southern Gothic element deals with broader themes such as terror, crime, punishment. These elements work together to reveal the dark psychology of humans and the often forbidden intentions of the characters.

Several writers included elements of southern Gothic in their writings. Flannery O’Connor and William Faulker have written a few short stories that have elements of Southern Gothic. Flannery O’Connor’s writings relied a lot on pivotal grotesque protagonists and most of her writings exuded Southern Gothic elements. Even though Faulkner was not a regular Southern Gothic writer some of the elements in his stories were derived from Southern Gothic style. Flannery’s works- A Good Man is Hard to Find and Good Country People and Faulkner’s short story-A Rose for Emily have clear features and elements of a good Southern Gothic story

A Good Man is Hard to Find

A Good Man is Hard to Find is one of Flannery O’ Connor’s classic example of Southern Gothic. In the short story we find the two main characters- the grandmother and the killer to be completely different characters, where one believed in Jesus and his goodness while the other belived that Jesus has “shown everything off balance” (Connor, 10)From the very beginning of the story there is a sense of eeriness and suspense. The Grandmother’s foreboding warning about the killer who called himself “Misfit” being lose in Florida creates an environment of thrill. The readers are again reminded of the killer when the vacationing family stops at Sammy’s.

The conversation between the grandmother and Red Sammy, highlighted the fact how times were changing. Through his encounters Red Sammy says that it was hard to find someone to trust and there was an absolute divide between good men and bad men and the grandmother agreed to this.

Everything in the short story from the description of the dusty, stranded road to the wood work and secret panels in the old house that grandmother wanted to visit had a sense of something suspicious. But the absolute element of Southern Gothic is brought in by the killer himself-Misfit He was a killer with a dead conscience. He blamed everything on Jesus and he really believed that he “ain’t a good man.” The way in which Misfit described to the old lady how exactly he turned into a bad  man by being punished gruesomely for something he could not even remember. The Misfit time and again made it clear that we wished he was there when Jesus raised the dead and when the Old lady said “may be He didn’t raise the dead”, there was a moment of penitence and a pitiful look on misfit’s face. However, as soon as the lady touched him on his shoulder, just like Jesus touched to awaken the dead, Misfit shot her through without any second thoughts. Like many of the writer’s stories A Good Man is Hard to Find also has a Lucifer-trickster element to it Misfit, the ambiguous characters draws explanations for his crime from narration, he is amoral, a creator and destroyer,” He knows neither good nor evil yet he is responsible for both. He possesses no values, moral or social . . . yet through his actions all values come into being” (Schaum 5)

Good Country People

This short story by Flannery O’Connor is violent, heartless and engaging. Even though there are not many details that could be termed as being gruesome but mildly sad, the ending of the story engages the reader with grotesque details and redemption. Hulga’s arrogance in spite of her age is clearly described by the writer. Her age had not made her more sober, sophisticated nor understanding and in spite of having a wooden leg she was not humble either (O’Connor 2). Joy, who had taken the name Hulga all by herslf gives us an image of an unhappy person.

The very description of Hulga/Joy is in the fact that she had a wooden leg which never made her humble but was symbol of how her soul lacked faith (O’Connor 4) Just like without a leg we are incomplete and handicapped, similarly without faith we are not complete as humans.

The story outlines a bit of possible romanticism when Hulga meets Manley. The element of something supernatural has been planted in the ending of the story when Manley steals Hulga’s wooden leg thereby contributing to God’s work. Manley believed that by doing so he would be providing Hulga a chance to think about herself and become humble by accepting her state. The small theft that Manley committed might seem like a low joke yet it symbolizes a grotesque deed. The leg symbolized a part of Hulga’s soul (Yaghjian 270)

In addition to this the act of theft conducted by Pointer, a smaller theft goes unnoticed where he also steals her glasses which adds to the mystery. This is seen in the story when Hulga sees him walking on water when in reality he vanished in the lush green fields.

A Rose for Emily

William Faulkner’s short story A Rose for Emily has several Southern Gothic elements to it. Even though Faulkner’s style was not exactly Gothic, yet this short story based in white southern society  exuded a lot of grotesque and unnatural events.

The first few lines successfully creates a feeling of suspicion about Miss Emily- the fact that no one had ever seen her or been to her crumbling down mansion sans the two workers. However, the fact that Miss. Emily was not seen by many was just the beginning of  much more unnatural and grotesque narration about her past life.

Miss. Emily embraced the myth of paradise and romanticism. Like many southern people she too could not accept the death of her father or Homer Barron. The story has several events in which we understand that perhaps Miss. Emily was not stable in her mind. This could be because of the fact that she had been kept away from any sort of affection by her father- “none of the young men were quite good enough” (Faulkner 1066). Among the Southern whites, the men saw it a duty to protect the women of the house. Gleeson-White in her study of the southern regions and writers is of the opinion that this intense need of the men to protect their women also may have emerged from the need for sexuality in the white women (Gleeson-White 47)

The story does not really spell it out but it does seem that Miss.Emily engaged in necrophilia. The shocking revelation often steals the limelight from the fact that the townspeople might have had suspected the killing years before when Barron was last seen entering he house and Miss.Emily had brought arsenic from the druggists without being questioned about its use (Dilworth 4). Even the stench that came from the mansion years ago, which the judge dismissed as a being a dead rat or a snake hinted towards a gruesome event inside the house where Miss.Emily lived alone.

Conclusion

The three short stories that we have analyzed here i.e. A Good Man is Hard to Find, Good Country people and A Rose For Emily,  are some of the best examples of Southern Gothic. In each of the stories we find characters which are suspicious, titillating and gruesome in their acts and thoughts.

In A Good Man is Hard to Find, we come across Misfit, the killer whose description and acts are nothing less than being heartless when he kills his conscience and also the grand mother. The story also had descriptive elements such as the house with panels, the long dusty road, Sammy’s shop all symbolized suspicion and added to the surplus of mystery.

Good Country People does not have Southern Gothic elements that are visibly pronounced. However, the interpretation has deep Gothic elements associated, especially to all the characters described. The title is an irony by itself-Good Country Men which suggests that country people as opposed to folks from the city are simple, humble and good natured. However, all the characters described in the story are not stable, ignorant and ill-mannered.

In A Rose for Emily, we see a short story filled with a hint of suspense in every single line. In the entire story the writer made Miss.Emily wear a halo of suspense. Everything, from her behavior to her activities contained of suspense in them.

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  1. Dilworth, Thomas. “A romance to kill for: Homicidal complicity in Faulkner’s “A Rose.” Studies in Short Fiction. Newberry, 1999. 1-9.
  2. Faulkner, William. A Rose for Emily. USA, 1930.
  3. Gleeson-White, Sarah. “A Peculiarly Southern form of Ugliness: Eudora Welty, Carson McCullers, and Flannery O’Connor.” .” Southern Literary Journal (2003): 46-57.
  4. O’Connor, Flannery. A Good Man is Hard to Find. USA, 1953.
  5. O’Connor, Flannery. Good Country People. USA, 1955.
  6. Schaum, Melita. “The Lucifer-Trickster Figure in Flannery O’Connor’s Short Fiction.” The Southern Literary Journal (2000): 1-26.
  7. Whitt, Margaret Earley, Understanding Flannery O’Connor, Univ. of South Carolina Press, 1997
  8. Yaghjian, Lucretia. “FLANNERY O’CONNOR’S USE OF SYMBOL, ROGER.” Theological Studies (2002): 268-301.
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