Southern Gothic is a literary tradition that arose in the early twentieth century. As an offset to the Gothic style, this specific genre of writing is a tool many Southern writers used to express their qualms with southern life and ideology.
Published February 16, Overview This essay considers southern literature in terms of generic forms that are, if not uniquely southern, substantially recognizable as contingent upon southern identifiers: Map by Amy Jones. In defining a text's " southernness ," the matter of its genre might not seem a touchstone of much value.
To some, genres are universal categories that describe formal literary conventions, not geo-social preoccupations.
Yet, the South can be said to have its own literary genres — its particular sets of forms or organizing motifs — as much as it has a history and manners. An overview of southern literature based on a selection of key genres departs substantially from the program of traditional literary histories, which rely upon relatively static, periodic, historical reference points to arrange and provide nomenclatures for southern literature.
This tradition is not without irony, given the other directive that has long governed southern literary study: Anthologies and critical surveys usually gather works into groupings that emphasize specific time and history bound periods: The present essay stresses the organizational forms, motifs, and stylistic conventions that can delineate the shape and presentation of a text the text's genre, in other words but also understands these matters as inevitably representing and promoting specific versions of culture.
The claim to order that is presented here highlights selected genres indelibly associated with the South: Southern literature is substantially recognizable as contingent upon certain identifiers: For instance, to group southern literature under the headings " antebellum " and "postbellum" makes the Civil War the great rationale of literary production.
However, if we look at nineteenth century southern literature under the headings of thematic or stylistic or plot-oriented genres that authors chose during the time, what we see is that the South's race-based institution of slavery was the driving force behind literary production.
A southern slavocracy, sectionalist and ultimately nationalist, is what called into being the first, and in many ways most distinctively southern genres. Slavery and the racial divisions it enforced by law and custom resulted in a multitude of literary forms of response, engagement, and argument: To claim that there are "southern" genres of literature might seem to divorce the South's writing from some larger concept of value, and indeed southern writers have chafed under the sectional or regional label, regardless of how the term "southern" was being applied to their productions.
In delineating generic headings, the overview that follows is not a "historical coverage" model. Any arrangement that a literary historian might choose results in inclusions and exclusions based on both literary and political ideologies that privilege certain values—and certain literary forms or discourses—over others.
The preference that an overview of southern literature by genre asserts is that of forms, motifs, and conventions, but this preference also reflects the current theoretical argument that genres are codes constructed from, as well as speaking to, historical contingency.
The rubric "southern" has meant different things to differently identified groups at different times. The literary label "southern" asserts its various meanings in part through the distinctive sets of works we can find that practice similar modes of expression, organization, and motive—in other words, genres.
Edited and published by Thomas W. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Images are in the public domain. We might begin to address definitional questions by noting that southern literature is itself a genre: The first southern literatures and indeed the first critical pronouncements about southern literature appeared at a time when the South, as a section of the United States, was beginning to understand itself in terms of cultural and political difference—in terms of what its way of life was not, and what it was positioned against.
In the s, the North argued for this sense of difference from without, through abolitionist societies and popular writing that began to flood media outlets.
One of the earliest statements of what southern literature needed to be and to do was announced in one of the section's first literary journals, the Southern Literary Messenger.
Its inaugural issue called for southerners to support a distinctly southern, i. Byin much more strident tones, the Messenger was dictating "The Duty of Southern Authors" in an editorial. Then and now, insiders and outsiders involved in the dynamics of writing about place have both shaped and relied upon types, themes, and conventions that come to define particular places as well as modes of expression.
The ideological as well as artistic processes that identified the first southern genres continued to do so throughout the twentieth century, from the Southern Agrarians' revolt against a national urban-industrial complex in the s, embodied in pastoral forms, to the anti-establishment, anti-"Southern Living" agendas of self-identified Poor South writers of recent times, embodied in what we have come to call "Grit Lit.
From The Southern Literary Messenger to The Companion to Southern Literaturescholars and readers have looked for ways to differentiate southern literature from that of other places including American literature, itself conceivably a sectional genre by identifying these features.
If we go back fifty years, we find in Robert Heilman's essay, entitled " The Southern Temper ," a seminal exercise in genre making it was first published in in Louis Rubin and Robert Jacobs, Southern Renascence, and was reprinted in in Rubin and Jacobs', South: Modern Southern Literature in its Cultural Setting.
Heilman identified five features of the southern literary mind that made for distinctively "southern" texts based on analysis of what he considered to be the important fiction of the modern period, and these qualities directed the reading of southern literature for a generation.
Reynold's political map of the United Statesca. Map created by William C. The quest to classify the literature has continued unabated for the last half-century, although critics have disagreed vigorously over where to look for the distinguishing conventions that allow the assignment of genre identification to texts.
In today's critical climate we understand that, as Thomas Beebee in The Ideology of Genre tells us, all genres are ideological.
William Gilmore Simmswhen he wanted to attack Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, wrote scathingly not of her abolitionist argument but of how she had transgressed against the limits of the historical romance.The setting of Emily's old Southern home reminiscent of the antebellum South is a key element of Southern Gothic literature just as the mysterious castle is for traditional Gothic works.
But Southern Gothic literature is full of doom and gloom for a reason: it totally developed in the wake of the Civil War (). The Civil War, which brought an end to slavery in the South, left behind it a society that was devastated, economically and .
“A Rose for Emily” participates in the Southern Gothic genre, which applies the conventions of Gothic fiction—such as gloomy and eerie settings, eccentric and grotesque characters, as well as a sense of dreadful mystery and ghostly hauntedness—to the American South after the Civil War.
Death and Decay of the Southern Ideal In William Faulkner's short story "A Rose for Emily" the reader is introduced to the small, post-civil war town, of Jefferson, Mississippi.
Jefferson, while fictional, embodies the erosion of Southern ideals and beliefs dating back to pre-civil war Mississippi.
But Southern Gothic literature is full of doom and gloom for a reason: it totally developed in the wake of the Civil War (). The Civil War, which brought an end to slavery in the South, left behind it a society that was devastated, economically and socially, by defeat. Miss Emily is so disconnected from the present that she ignores and evades these attempts, though (which also suggests how certain aspects of pre-Civil War Southern culture resisted change in .