Southern Gothic Literature Summary

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Forever I will have the introduction “Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,” (Poe, The Raven) engrained into my mind. Such an iconic writer that introduced a style of writing in which only gained fame upon his death. Edgar Allan Poe writing fiction based; Southern Gothic literature established a path for other writers to expound on. I firmly believe that Edgar Allan Poe should be considered a forerunner in twentieth century literature. Without his depths and delves into the darker side of life or death for the matter and ascension into madness of many characters, other writers such as Faulkner may not have followed and published their own works.

While Gothic writing in its own originated in England, American Gothic finds it’s origins turn of the nineteenth century starting with Poe. Grim and dark visions shroud much of Poe’s short stories. Poe was best known for adhering to the genre’s structure and searched to fill the public’s taste. Unfortunately, at the time, Poe’s writing style was not fully appreciated, but his writing skill were undeniable. Such stories like The Cask of Amontillado display a complexity of characters, even though only two mains are involved. The Pit and the Pendulum, another astounding story lead the narrator to believe they have been condemned to death and locked in a tomb. Trapped against their will and facing sure, slow death and the hands of a swaying scimitar lowering from the hands of Father Time, true dark images that one can imaging the brick and motor surrounding.

Inspired by Gothic Literature, Southern Gothic displays more of a cynical sense of humor within its stories. Most writers in the genre utilize problems within society to explore the strange mannerisms of its characters. Authors such as William Faulkner make great use of this, especially in his short story “A Rose for Emily”. One can question the morality of the characters and leaves the reader to questions could this simply be a Husband and Doctor taking care of an unstable patient. Or rather could Emily be a distraught, mentally unstable individual whom is a delusional patient in an asylum? Mental illness is a comfortable topic, within the Southern Gothic genre and can be further acknowledged in Poe’s works as well. The Tell-Tale Heart makes clear that the narrator is mentally unstable and insistently denies it. “True! – nervous – very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses – not destroyed – not dulled them” (172).

Furthermore, from the 1940’s to the 1960’s Flannery O’Conner wrote pieces that made readers able to picture a truly southern identity in “A Good Man is Hard to Find”. Elements of grim and grotesque elements follow throughout the story with hints at a potential gruesome situation. As the reader follows the family on a seemingly familiar trip that most have gone on themselves, “The Misfit” is described as a dark and foreshadowing end to the family. Being able to envision the trip, the old run-down bar-b-que/mechanic shop along a country roadway marks what would be thought as “Southern” literature. Even though O’Conner’s writing left behind what readers would feel as gothic, just because visions of tall, dark castles of great grey stone are not present it’s the resonance of the macabre that allow to trace its roots. Again, without Poe as an initial flame to the kindling flames of what is known known as “Southern” may have never been and become extinguished before they fully developed.

Not all predecessors were thrilled about falling into the category of “Southern Gothic”. Eudora Welty even said, ‘They better not call me that!’. However, denial or not Welty has found herself in the category she thought little of. “Clytie” takes the reader much like Poe’s “The House of Usher” and Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” from the height of a respectable family to the fall and decay of the family while descending into madness. Utilizing ideals that prominent and established families once ascended to greatness will always be, allows for a picture of an archaic type family. Even Lucifer was once an Angel, whom fell due to his own vanity and decrepitude.

Describing a setting of the family whom prospered from a cotton gin, a truly southern aspect is applied. Having a family that “acts” as thought they should twist their own ideals of reality and leaves the reader with vision of Clytie reflecting into a barrel of water. Through the reflection, she is unable to recognize herself from the imposed ideals if her sister, when the face morphs to her own Clytie understands that she has been plagued and tainted. Much like the grey hair on the pillow next to the construction foreman’s corpse in “A Rose for Emily” the reader is left with a vision of Clytie’s stocking clad feet up in the air as she forces her own head under the water into the barrel.

While Poe passed away in 1849 and did not gain true popularity until after his untimely death, Faulkner honed the Southern Gothic style in the 1920’s. Though there is a great gap in time one can see the similarity and the roots in which Poe planted, and writer such as Faulkner, Welty, and O’Conner cultivated. Without Poe’s dark, descension into topics not popularly written about, within his lifetime. The foundation of the roadway for Gothic style literature would not have been laden with the bricks building a more refined Southern Gothic. Poe’s determination and dedication should be revered and placed at the head of the master’s table for twentieth century Southern Gothic style writing.


Cite this paper

Southern Gothic Literature Summary. (2021, Jul 21). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/southern-gothic-literature/

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