-Resources    Definition

Southern Gothic literature is a genre of Southern writing. The stories often focus on grotesque themes. While it may include supernatural elements, it mainly focuses on damaged, even delusional, characters. 

Genre History

Southern Gothic literature was inspired by early Gothic writing, a genre that was popular in 18th century England. In Gothic literature, the authors wanted to expose the problems they saw in medieval society. The authors wrote fiction, but included supernatural and romance elements. They were often stories of hauntings, death, darkness, and madness. Some of the more well known examples of this genre are Frankenstein and Dracula. 

Southern Gothic literature began in the 19th century, with short stories by Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne. It was again made popular in the 1920s by William Faulkner. However, it reached its height in popularity in the 1940s-1960s. 


Although inspired by Gothic literature, Southern Gothic does not dwell on supernatural and suspense. Rather there is a dark humor in the stories. It follows the idea of exposing the problems of society, but does so by developing complex characters. The authors explored the behaviors of people (usually strange) and the social order of the South. Through their stories, the authors hoped to show that the social order was fragile and the realities behind it were actually disturbing. The authors work to point out truths of Southern culture and its moral shortcomings. The themes of this genre are developed around these goals. 

The stories of Southern Gothic are, of course, set in the South. They may take place on a plantation, old slave quarters, or broken downtowns. There are many Southern elements in the stories, including dialect, habits, and personalities. The history of the South is represented through the settings of the stories. 

The characters are usually complex, and many of them are mentally unstable. Many of the characters are broken in spirit and struggling to find a place in society once again. The morality of characters are often questioned. Through their characters, the authors examine the harm that people can do to each other. There are also many characters that are seen as innocent, such as the mentally handicapped, and there is a struggle for their place in the world. Whether mentally unstable, dark, or innocent, the characters try to make sense of the world around them and the society in which they live. 

The plots of Southern Gothic stories can be disturbing and some do include supernatural elements. They often contain ironic events as a writing style. Many of the events contained in the stories are linked to racism, violence, and poverty. 

Southern Gothic Authors

As mentioned earlier, the early authors of this genre are Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Poe's short stories are much darker than some of the later works and usually focus on death. However, as many other stories in this genre do, Poe tells the tale of death with a dark humor and a desire to expose the complexity of his characters and society. Nathaniel Hawthorne also writes with a sense of mystery, and his characters are very flawed. There are some supernatural elements to his writings and many questions about the society that they represent. 

In the 1920s, Southern Gothic literature was revived through William Faulkner. His novels are set in Mississippi and often take place in older Southern towns and plantations. They contain many Southern archetypes, an example or pattern, including roles in Southern society. The characters often are suffering and show this through Faulkner's stream of consciousness, where an author writes the characters thoughts as they would flow through one's mind. In addition, the stories are often grotesque and involve death and loneliness. For example, in his short story 'A Rose for Emily,' it is discovered that the lonely, old woman who recently died had the corpse of an old lover in her bedroom.

-A film based on story

What you need to do:

  • Essay 1:          How does Flannery O'Connor describe the cultural and physical landscape of the South? What are the characteristics of the literary genre known as "Southern Gothic"?

2 pages, MLA format 

1 Attachment
A Good Man Is Hard To Find The grandmother didn't want to go to Florida. She wanted to visit some of her connections in east Tennes- see and she was seizing at every chance to change Bailey's mind. Bailey was the son she lived with, her only boy. He was sitting on the edge of his chair at the table, bent over the orange sports section of the Journal. "Now look here, Bailey," she said, "see here, read this," and she stood with one hand on her thin hip and the other rattling the newspaper at his bald head. "Here this fellow that calls himself The Misfit is aloose from the Federal Pen and headed toward Florida and you read here what it says he did to these people. Just you read it. I wouldn't take my children in any direction with a criminal like that aloose in it. I couldn't answer to my conscience if I did." Bailey didn't look up from his reading so she wheeled around then and faced the children's mother, a young woman in slacks, whose face was as broad and innocent as a cabbage and was tied around with a green head-kerchief that had two points on the top like rabbit's ears. She was sitting on the sofa, feeding the baby his apricots out of a jar. "The children have been to Florida before," the old lady said. "You all ought to take them somewhere else for a change so they would see different parts of the world and be broad. They never have been to east Tennessee." The children's mother didn't seem to hear her but the eight-year-old boy, John Wesley, a stocky child with glasses, said, "If you don't want to go to Florida, why dontcha stay at home?" He and the little girl, June Star, were reading the funny papers on the floor. "She wouldn't stay at home to be queen for a day," June Star said without raising her yellow head. "Yes and what would you do if this fellow, The Misfit, caught you?" the grandmother asked. "I'd smack his face," John Wesley said. "She wouldn't stay at home for a million bucks," June Star said. "Afraid she'd miss something. She has to go everywhere we go." "All right, Miss," the grandmother said. "Just re- member that the next time you want me to curl your hair." June Star said her hair was naturally curly. The next morning the grandmother was the first one in the car, ready to go. She had her big black valise that looked like the head of a hippopotamus in one corner, and underneath it she was hiding a basket with Pitty Sing, the cat, in it. She didn't intend for the cat to be left alone in the house for three days because he would miss her too much and she was afraid he might brush against one of her gas burners and accidentally asphyxiate himself. Her son, Bailey, didn't like to arrive at a motel with a cat. She sat in the middle of the back seat with John Wesley and June Star on either side of her. Bailey and the children's mother and the baby sat in front and they left Atlanta at eight forty-five with the mileage on the car at 55890. The grandmother wrote this down because she thought it would be interesting to say how many miles they had been when they got back. It took them twenty minutes to reach the outskirts of the city.
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#1.3 A Good Man is Hard to Find.docx