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Throughout history writing has been a thing that is very prominent and important in the way that society is shaped and how books and stories are written. Writings tell the stories of the past that have not been recorded in the history books, and some of the stories may have even gotten the authors killed during the specific time periods in which they were writing. There are many types of literature that emerged throughout the centuries and probably one of the most disturbing, eerie kinds of writing that emerged were the stories that came from the Southern Gothic genre.
The definition of Southern Gothic literature is, “Southern Gothic is a mode or genre prevalent in literature from the early 19th century to this day” (Bjerre 1). The Southern Gothic genre of writing is characterized by horrific and irrational thoughts and desires, crazy impulses and very dark characters, as well as irony and almost an alienation of the south as a whole. The stories A Rose for Emily, A Good Man is Hard to Find, and Good Country People, are perfect examples of Southern Gothic literature because of the way the setting is portrayed, the dark humor and irony is presented in the narratives and the overall darkness and evil that seems to lurk while reading these eerie stories.
One of the first characteristics that show that they narratives have elements of Southern Gothic literature is the way the setting is portrayed in all of the stories. Southern houses are known as big plantation style house, and most of them have huge front porches, columns and most of the houses are on a lot of land that are used for farming.
The houses are mansions and they are meant to make a big statement and draw attention to them. In William Faulkner’s story A Rose for Emily, the house is a classic southern house, and that is shown when Faulkner writes “It was a big, squarish frame house that had once been white, decorated with cupolas and spires and scrolled balconies in the heavily lightsome style of the seventies, set on what had once been our most select street” (Faulkner 1). The house is the picture-perfect southern mansion, except for the fact that it is run down and outdated, and where this house used to be in the best part of town, it is now in the slums. Having this beautiful house all rundown and in a bad part of town is one of the elements that adds to the darkness of the overall story, and is definitely one of the elements that makes this story part of the Southern Gothic genre. Even the writers of the stories immersed themselves into the same type of environments that they were writing about. William Faulkner literally put himself in his own stories when, “He bought a decrepit antebellum house in Oxford, which plunged him further into debt but in which he would find comfort and pleasure for the rest of his life” (Blotner et al). Faulkner was a classic part of the Southern Gothic genre, and really threw all of himself into his work. Another way that we can see how the setting plays a role in Southern Gothic literature is in A Good Man is Hard to Find. In the articles A Peculiarly Southern Form of Ugliness:Eudora Welty, Carson McCullers,and Flannery O’Connor, the author talks about the setting in A Good Man is Hard to find and how it ultimately leads the family to their death. The article states,” the family set out on their car journey to Florida, the grandmother makes them take a detour, to show them “an old plantation that she had visited in this neighborhood once when she was a young lady. She said the house had six white columns across the front and that there was an avenue of oaks leading up to it” (16). It is on this dirt road, the road to a misleadingly idealized past, that they are so brutally murdered” (Gleeson-White 52-53). The southern style house is made obvious because it states that it is a huge plantation house and that is has columns and that driveway is lined with oak trees. The grandmother making a really big deal out of going to see this big southern style plantation house and ultimately the trip out see the house is what caused their death. If the family would have never been on the road to see the plantation house, they would’ve never had the car accident which led to them having a run in with the misfit that lead to their death. The setting played a big role in the story A Good Man is Hard to Find, as well as playing a big role in A Rose for Emily and is a huge element of the Southern Gothic genre.
Another thing that is very common in the Southern Gothic genre is the dark humor and irony that is presented in almost all narratives from this time period. Irony is one of the key elements that make a Southern Gothic literature what is it. In the story A Good Man is Hard to Find the grandmother plays a huge role and why the story is ironic. The grandmother wanted to been seen as a good lady and that is written very clearly in this ironic sentence, “In case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady” (O’Connor 138). The quote is foreshadowing the fact that the grandmother made a mistake and ultimately her decision led her to be killed on the side road wearing her good clothes. The most ironic part about the whole story is that fact that the grandmother wanted to go to a different state to avoid running into the misfit and in the end her mistake about where the house was. The grandmothers mistake about the location of the house led the family to get in a serious car accident and in the end lead to their death at the hands of the misfit. Another sense of irony is the fact that she preaches about being good and finding a good man, but in the end, she ends up being just as bad as the misfit. The element of irony is also prevalent in the story Good Country People, especially when it comes to the bible salesman, Mr. Manley Pointer. Mrs. Hopewell calls Mr. Manley Pointer a good country person when in reality Mr. Pointer is a con man and intends to seduce and rob Hulga. Hopewell believes that he is a good person because he sells bibles, but in reality, the good of selling bibles is a cover up for all the bad of being a con man. In the story the audience can see the irony of his being a good man and that is stated in this quote, “He took one of these out and opened the cover of it. It was hollow and contained a pocket flask of whiskey, a pack of cards, and a small blue box with printing on it” (O’Connor 17). In the end, the bibles were just a cover up for his whiskey, cards, pack of condoms and the good person persona that he had been putting on for everyone. These are clear examples of the element of irony in the Southern Gothic genre of literature.
Although there are many elements that are seen in the Southern Gothic genre, it is obvious that one of the biggest elements seen is the evil and darkness that lurks over the entirety of the stories. The majority of the stories just have an unsettling feeling that sticks throughout the whole thing and most of the time the ending keeps the reader wondering. In the story A Rose for Emily, there is a sense of darkness for the beginning when it is found out Emily is a shut in and hasn’t come out of her home in years. Then the reader finds out that she had a boyfriend that no one had seen for years, and most of the towns people thought he had just left and went back to the north. In this quote from the article A Romance to Kill for: Homicidal Complicity in Faulkner’s ‘A Rose for Emily, the author writes, “During their visit, she bought arsenic and a suit, nightshirt, and toilet set for her lover. Killing him and keeping his body in her bed was, she imagined, a way of placating her family and its broad social extension – which objected to continuing fornication- without relinquishing him and her relationship with him” (Dilworth 255). There was a bad feeling from the beginning when Emily buys the arsenic and then her boyfriend disappears and in the ending the suspicion is confirmed that she not only killed her boyfriend but that she had been sleeping in the same bed with him since she killed him. Also, in the story A Good Man is Hard to Find, the grandmother plays a huge role in trying to cover up all the evil, but in the end, it gets her killed. In the article Flannery O’Connor’s Misfit and the Mystery of Evil, the author states, “The label “good” she tries to pin one the Misfit is, of course, a shallow-minded social concept that reduces the virtue of goodness to distinctions of class, breeding, and manners” (Desmond 150). The author is trying to say that the grandmother is try to pin this label on the misfit even though the label is very biased. Throughout the whole story the grandmother is saying that people can only be good based on their class, their manners and where they come from, and then in the end the she tries the say that the Misfit is good to save her own life. From the beginning of the story, it is obvious that the way the grandmother views people might have very bad consequences in the end, and it gives a gloomy feel to the entire story. The way the authors foreshadow some of the things that are going to happen in the end of story, ultimately leave a darkness and sense of evil over the whole story.
In conclusion, the stories A Rose for Emily, A Good Man is Hard to Find, and Good Country People have a lot of elements that make them part of the Southern Gothic genre of literature. All of these stories have the southern setting, dark humor and irony as well as having a sense of evil and darkness over them. These defining characteristics are what makes these stories part of the Southern Gothic genre.
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