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Dry September

Dry September

by William Faulkner

Analysis: Writing Style

Streamlined, Minimalist, Evasive, Invasive

For Faulkner, the complex "Dry September" is a short piece, neatly divided into five sections that together create a unity. By streamlined we mean that everything not absolutely necessary is pared-off during editing. Minimalism and evasion are part of the process. Here's an example of how this works:

"Mr. Henry," the Negro said. (3.31)

This is the moment just before Will jumps from McLendon's car. It's only five words, and four punctuation marks long. The narrative evades direct discussion of the relationship between Will and Hawkshaw, but moments like this give us lots of insight. Will knows full well that Hawkshaw is about to abandon him. His two words are a plea. They show that Will believes Hawkshaw has the power to save him. This, coupled with Hawkshaw's previous unabashed championing of Will's innocence, and his presence in the car speaks to some deep bond – a bond irrevocably broken when Henry jumps from the car.

By streamlining, using minimalist techniques, and by evading direct discussion of many issues (i.e., the ultimate fate of Will, and the real story behind the Minnie-Will rumor), Faulkner creates space for another technique, invasion. Critic Brian Sutton writes that "Faulkner deliberately obscures the nature and origin of the accusations […] to emphasize the vigilante mob's irrationality […] (source: "Faulkner's 'Dry September'". Explicator. 49 (3), 1991, p. 211.)

In other words, evasion leaves room for invasion of the character's psychologies. Repeating words like "nigger" and "niggerlover" is a method Faulkner uses for invading or shocking the reader's psyche to drive home the extent of the racism and irrationality in the story. Most of the dialogue makes readers uncomfortable. It gets under our skin. Every time we read about Minnie's skimpy dresses, or her "sheerest underthings and stockings" we are invaded with the sense of her vulnerability, and with a sense that we are invading her privacy (4.1).

In the first paragraph of this section we suggest that this piece has unity, meaning that all of its elements work together to comment on and support the others. Still, most readers find it disconcerting, at least initially, that Section 5 ends with McLendon abusing his wife, with no further direct mention of Will. Yet, it works. The sense of violence present in the other four sections is sustained, and we realize that McLendon's violence probably extends to most areas of his life. McLendon comes to embody much of what is rotten in Jefferson. McLendon's ideas toward women (including his so-called defense of Winnie), toward black people, and toward all the other people in the town (whom he bullies) show how one ruthless figure can wreak havoc and the timid and the meek.

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