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Southern Gothic

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Southern Gothic is a subgenre of Gothic fiction in American literature that takes place in the American South.

Common themes in Southern Gothic literature include deeply flawed, disturbing or eccentric characters who may be involved in hoodoo,[1] ambivalent gender roles[citation needed], decayed or derelict settings,[2] grotesque situations, and other sinister events relating to or stemming from poverty, alienation, crime, or violence.

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  • ✪ Why should you read Flannery O’Connor? - Iseult Gillespie
  • ✪ To Kill a Mockingbird and the Southern Gothic Tradition
  • ✪ Southern Gothic Literature


A garrulous grandmother and a roaming bandit face off on a dirt road. A Bible salesman lures a one-legged philosopher into a barn. A traveling handyman teaches a deaf woman her first word on an old plantation. From her farm in rural Georgia, surrounded by a flock of pet birds, Flannery O’Connor scribbled tales of outcasts, intruders and misfits staged in the world she knew best: the American South. She published two novels, but is perhaps best known for her short stories, which explored small-town life with stinging language, offbeat humor, and delightfully unsavory scenarios. In her spare time O’Connor drew cartoons, and her writing is also brimming with caricature. In her stories, a mother has a face “as broad and innocent as a cabbage,” a man has as much drive as a “floor mop,” and one woman’s body is shaped like “a funeral urn.” The names of her characters are equally sly. Take the story “The Life You Save May be Your Own,” where the one-handed drifter Tom Shiftlet wanders into the lives of an old woman named Lucynell Crater and her deaf and mute daughter. Though Mrs. Crater is self-assured, her isolated home is falling apart. At first, we may be suspicious of Shiftlet’s motives when he offers to help around the house, but O’Connor soon reveals the old woman to be just as scheming as her unexpected guest– and rattles the reader’s presumptions about who has the upper hand. For O’Connor, no subject was off limits. Though she was a devout Catholic, she wasn’t afraid to explore the possibility of pious thought and unpious behavior co-existing in the same person. In her novel The Violent Bear it Away, the main character grapples with the choice to become a man of God – but also sets fires and commits murder. The book opens with the reluctant prophet in a particularly compromising position: “Francis Marion Tarwater’s uncle had been dead for only half a day when the boy got too drunk to finish digging his grave.” This leaves a passerby to “drag the body from the breakfast table where it was still sitting and bury it […] with enough dirt on top to keep the dogs from digging it up.” Though her own politics are still debated, O’Connor’s fiction could also be attuned to the racism of the South. In “Everything that Rises Must Converge,” she depicts a son raging at his mother’s bigotry. But the story reveals that he has his own blind spots and suggests that simply recognizing evil doesn’t exempt his character from scrutiny. Even as O’Connor probes the most unsavory aspects of humanity, she leaves the door to redemption open a crack. In “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” she redeems an insufferable grandmother for forgiving a hardened criminal, even as he closes in on her family. Though we might balk at the price the woman pays for this redemption, we’re forced to confront the nuance in moments we might otherwise consider purely violent or evil. O’Connor’s mastery of the grotesque and her explorations of the insularity and superstition of the South led her to be classified as a Southern Gothic writer. But her work pushed beyond the purely ridiculous and frightening characteristics associated with the genre to reveal the variety and nuance of human character. She knew some of this variety was uncomfortable, and that her stories could be an acquired taste – but she took pleasure in challenging her readers. O’Connor died of lupus at the age of 39, after the disease had mostly confined her to her farm in Georgia for twelve years. During those years, she penned much of her most imaginative work. Her ability to flit between revulsion and revelation continues to draw readers to her endlessly surprising fictional worlds. As her character Tom Shiftlet notes, the body is “like a house: it don’t go anywhere, but the spirit, lady, is like an automobile: always on the move.”



Elements of a Gothic treatment of the South were apparent in the 19th century, ante- and post-bellum, in the grotesques of Henry Clay Lewis and the de-idealized visions of Mark Twain.[3] The genre came together, however, only in the 20th century, when dark romanticism, Southern humor, and the new literary naturalism merged into a new and powerful form of social critique.[3] The thematic material was largely a result of the culture existing in the South following the collapse of the Confederacy. It left a vacuum in both values and religion that became filled with poverty due to defeat in the Civil war and reconstruction, racism, excessive violence, and hundreds of different denominations resulting from the theological divide that separated the country over the issue of slavery.

The term "Southern Gothic" was originally used as pejorative and dismissive. Ellen Glasgow used the term in this way when she referred to the writings of Erskine Caldwell and William Faulkner. She included the authors in what she called the "Southern Gothic School" in 1935, stating that their work was filled with "aimless violence" and "fantastic nightmares." It was so negatively viewed at first that Eudora Welty said, "They better not call me that!"[4]


The Southern Gothic style employs macabre, ironic events to examine the values of the American South.[5] Thus unlike its parent genre, it uses the Gothic tools not solely for the sake of suspense, but to explore social issues and reveal the cultural character of the American South – Gothic elements often taking place in a magic realist context rather than a strictly fantastical one.[citation needed]

Warped rural communities replaced the sinister plantations of an earlier age; and in the works of leading figures such as William Faulkner, Carson McCullers and Flannery O'Connor, the representation of the South blossomed into an absurdist critique of modernity as a whole.[3]

There are many characteristics in Southern Gothic Literature that relate back to its parent genre of American Gothic and even to European Gothic. However, the setting of these works are distinctly Southern. Some of these characteristics are exploring madness, decay and despair, continuing pressures of the past upon the present, particularly with the lost ideals of a dispossessed Southern aristocracy and continued racial hostilities.[4]

Southern Gothic particularly focuses on the South's history of slavery, racism, fear of the outside world, violence, a "fixation with the grotesque, and a tension between realistic and supernatural elements".[4]

Similar to the elements of the Gothic castle, Southern Gothic gives us the decay of the plantation in the post-Civil War South.[4]

Villains who disguise themselves as innocents or victims are often found in Southern Gothic Literature, especially stories by Flannery O'Connor, such as Good Country People and The Life You Save May Be Your Own, giving us a blurred line between victim and villain.[4]

Southern Gothic literature set out to expose the myth of old antebellum South, and its narrative of an idyllic past hidden by social, familial, and racial denials and suppressions.[6]


Some have included Eudora Welty in the category, but apparently she disagreed: "They better not call me that!", she abruptly told Alice Walker in an interview.[8]

A resurgence of Southern Gothic themes in contemporary fiction has been identified in the work of figures like Barry Hannah (1942–2010),[9] Joe R. Lansdale (b. 1951)[10] and Cherie Priest (b. 1975).[10]

Film and television

A number of films and television programs are also described as being part of the Southern Gothic genre. Some prominent examples are:


Television series


Southern Gothic (also known as Gothic Americana, or Dark Country) is a genre of music characterized by a fusion of alternative rock and classic country/folk. The genre shares thematic connections with the Southern Gothic genre of literature, and indeed the parameters of what makes something Gothic Americana appears to have more in common with literary genres than traditional musical ones. Songs often examine poverty, criminal behavior, religious imagery, death, ghosts, family, lost love, alcohol, murder, the devil and betrayal.[20]


Photographic representation

The images of Great Depression photographer Walker Evans are frequently seen to evoke the visual depiction of the Southern Gothic; Evans claimed: "I can understand why Southerners are haunted by their own landscape".[27]

Another noted Southern Gothic photographer was surrealist, Clarence John Laughlin, who photographed cemeteries, plantations, and other abandoned places throughout the American South (primarily Louisiana) for nearly 40 years.

Postmodern pastiche

William Gibson took an ironic look at the cult of "Southernness" in his novel Virtual Light. Rydell, the stolid, southern antihero, is looking for a job at an LA shop called Nightmare Folk Art—Southern Gothic. The (northern) owner says he finds Rydell unsuitable: "What we offer people here is a certain vision, Mr. Rydell. A certain darkness as well. A Gothic quality....The Mind of the South. A fever dream of sensuality".[28]

Put out by finding himself not southern enough for this New Englander, "'Lady,' Rydell said carefully, 'I think you're crazier than a sack full of assholes.' Her eyebrows shot up. 'There,' she said. 'There what?' 'Color, Mr. Rydell. Fire. The brooding verbal polychromes of an almost unthinkably advanced decay.'"[28]

See also


  1. ^ Merkel, Julia (2008). Writing against the Odds. pp. 25–27.
  2. ^ Bloom, Harold (2009). The Ballad of the Sad Cafe – Carson McCullers. pp. 95–97.
  3. ^ a b c Flora, Joseph M.; Mackethan, Lucinda Hardwick, eds. (2002). The Companion to Southern Literature. pp. 313–16. ISBN 978-0807126929.
  4. ^ a b c d e Marshall, Bridget (2013). Defining Southern Gothic. Critical Insights: Southern Gothic Literature: Salem Press. pp. 3–18. ISBN 978-1-4298-3823-8.
  5. ^ "Genre: The Southern Gothic".
  6. ^ Walsh, Christopher (2013). ""Dark Legacy": Gothic Ruptures in Southern Literature". Critical Insights: Southern Gothic Literature. Salem Press. pp. 19–33. ISBN 978-1-4298-3823-8.
  7. ^ Smith, Allan Lloyd (2004). American Gothic Fiction: An Introduction.
  8. ^ Donaldson, Susan V. (September 22, 1997). "Making a Spectacle: Welty, Faulkner, and Southern Gothic". The Mississippi Quarterly.
  9. ^ Merkel, Julia (2008). Writing against the Odds. p. 31.
  10. ^ a b Don D'Ammassa: The New Southern Gothic: Cherie Priest’s Four and Twenty Blackbirds, Wings to the Kingdom, and Not Flesh Nor Feathers. In: Danel Olson (ed.):21st-Century Gothic : Great Gothic Novels Since 2000. Scarecrow, 2010, ISBN 9780810877283, p. 171.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Wigley, Samuel (January 20, 2014). "10 great Southern Gothic films". British Film Institute. Retrieved March 13, 2014.
  12. ^ Gibron, Bill. "More than Just Gore The Macabre: Moral Compass of Lucio Fulci". PopMatters. Retrieved 26 July 2015.
  13. ^ Gibron, Bill. "Lucio Fulci's The Beyond (1981)". PopMatters. Retrieved 26 July 2015.
  14. ^ "20 Best Southern Gothic Movies". Taste of Cinema.
  15. ^ "20 Best Southern Gothic Movies". A Taste of Cinema.
  16. ^ "Tom Ford mines Texan roots for Southern Gothic styling of Nocturnal Animals". Sydney Morning Herald.
  17. ^ "Building a Southern Gothic". The Wall Street Journal. April 24, 2013. Retrieved May 6, 2014.
  18. ^ "A Supernatural Southern Gothic Superhero Show". UrbanDaddy.
  19. ^ "Review: Outcast Premiere". EW.
  20. ^ "Gothic Americana tag". Retrieved March 10, 2014.
  21. ^ "16 Horsepower Artist Biography".
  22. ^ "Did Rick Rubin Turn Johnny Cash Into A Cheesy Goth?".
  23. ^ "'Johnny Cash And The Paradox Of American Identity' by Leigh H. Edwards".
  24. ^ "Slim Cessna's Auto Club Brings Its Gothic Americana To Beachland Ballroom".
  25. ^ "Featured Artist Julie Mintz: The Haunting, Otherworldly Side Of Folk". LA Music Blog.
  26. ^ "Interviews: Adam Turla (Murder By Death)".
  27. ^ Merkel, Julia (2008). Writing against the Odds. p. 57.
  28. ^ a b Gibson, William (1993). Virtual Light. pp. 53–4.

External links

This page was last edited on 6 April 2019, at 15:24
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