The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Southern Gothic

Southern Gothic is a sub-genre of the Gothic writing style, unique to American literature. Like its parent genre, it relies on supernatural, ironic or unusual events to guide the plot. Unlike its predecessor, it uses these tools not for the sake of suspense, but to explore social issues and reveal the cultural inequities of the South.

The Southern Gothic author usually avoids perpetuating the antebellum stereotypes the dominant culture would prefer to see, such as the contented slave, the demure Southern belle, the chivalrous gentleman and the righteous Christian preacher. Instead, the writer takes classic Gothic archetypes, such as the damsel in distress or the heroic knight, and portrays them in a modern and realistic manner, transforming them into a spiteful, reclusive spinster or a white-suited, fan-brandishing lawyer with ulterior motives.

One of the most notable features of the Southern Gothic is the grotesque, a stock character who possesses some cringe-inducing qualities, typically bigotry and self-righteousness, but enough good traits that the reader finds himself empathizing in spite of himself. Deeply flawed characters, while often disturbing to read about, provide the author with greater narrative range and more opportunities to highlight the unpleasant aspects of Southern culture without resorting to open moralizing.

This genre of writing is seen in the work of such famous Southern writers as William Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor, Erskine Caldwell, Eudora Welty, and Tennessee Williams. Tennessee Williams described Southern Gothic as a style that captured "an intuition, of an underlying dreadfulness in modern experience."

See also: southern literature

Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04