Southern Gothic

Maybe it was the proximity of Halloween that revived my interest in the genre of Southern Gothic literature. We are just entering Vol. E of our Norton Anthology for American Literature in ENG 206, and I began with a study of two stories by Flannery O’Connor. I mentioned “A Rose for Emily” by Faulkner and a few other stories as examples of this genre, and the students seemed to immediately sense the ideas behind it. I also illustrated it with movies I consider to be in the Southern Gothic tradition such as Deliverance, Cape Fear, Sling Blade, Angel Heart, Black Snake Moan, The Green Mile, Skeleton Key, and others.

Here is a list of the characteristics of Southern Gothic that I garnered from several sources:

1. Though in some ways it may be built upon the Gothic tradition, Southern Gothic is a distinctly American genre.

2. Characters often are deeply flawed; damaged; disturbing;disturbed, deranged, delusional or diseased mentally; dangerous; and/or deformed in some way. A deep, inner life is usually lacking and they may be broken in body or soul.

3. Plots are built around or at least using the macabre, bizarre, the unusual, the grotesque–things that make us cringe.

4. The humor is a dark humor. Sometimes a mocking humor that attacks our cliches and habits of life.

5. Southern Gothic explores social issues and reveals aspects of Southern culture.

I truly enjoy teaching this genre. If I teach ENG 206 in the future, I’m likely to give Southern Gothic more emphasis.