"Dry September" is a short story by one of America's most notable and influential authors, William Faulkner. Faulkner is best known for his novels The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying, and the short story "A Rose for Emily." Considered one of Faulkner's finest short pieces, "Dry September" was first published in 1931, in Scribner's Magazine in January, and then again in the collection These Thirteen in September. (These Thirteen is worth big bucks. So if you run across a copy, hold onto it.)
Faulkner was an award magnet. On his trophy shelf we find two National Book Awards for fiction, a Nobel Prize literature, and two Pulitzer Prizes, just to name a few of the big ones. That doesn't mean, of course, that you have to like his work, though we hope you do.
"Dry September" is the story of a rumor that Will Mayes, a black man, raped a white woman, Minnie Cooper. The tale explores the tragic effects of this rumor on some of the residents of Jefferson, Mississippi, the fictional town in which the story takes place. The trick here is to steer clear of the trap that many of the characters fall into – drawing hasty conclusions based on insufficient or non-existent evidence. It's sometimes OK to say, "We don't know; there isn't enough information" when it comes to drawing a conclusion. In this story, that stance will come in handy.
Rumors infuse themselves into our lives at every level of society. Schools, families, workplaces, and other groups are breeding grounds for rumors of every shape, size, and flavor. The media, so much a part of our lives, can also serve as a gigantic, rumor factory – from celebrity gossip, to so-called "hard news" and everything in between, it's hard to ferret out the truth of any given situation. William Faulkner's "Dry September" is helpful in stretching our truth-sorting muscles.
It's been a long, hot summer in the small town of Jefferson, Mississippi. Rumors have been flying. Passions are high. Tempers are hot. One Saturday a particularly inflammatory rumor pops up. So, by the time Saturday night rolls around, the rumor is a time-bomb that explodes before the night is through.
Because "Dry September" leaves us with so much uncertainty, each moment of the story offers a challenge. Will we make assumptions and draw conclusions based on insufficient evidence, or will we look carefully for truth from the facts we do have?