Study Guide

Southern Gothic

Southern Gothic Introduction

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Welcome to the dark side, y'all.

That's right: we're talking about Southern Gothic literature, where we'll find a healthy dose of the grotesque, a hefty dash of violence, and as much disintegration and decay as the gothiest goth could want. This lit is not for the squeamish.

But Southern Gothic literature is full of doom and gloom for a reason: it totally developed in the wake of the Civil War (1861-1865). 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. The Civil War forced Southern writers—many of whom were born in the aftermath of the war—to really think about what it meant to be Southern.

Southern Gothic, the literature that developed as a result of this questioning, raises issues like: Why is violence such a huge part of Southern culture? How did the South's history of slavery and racial oppression warp Southern society? Why did the South have such a hard time picking itself up after its defeat in the war?

The war itself, of course, was a pretty grotesque experience. And the institution of slavery, which was the bedrock of Southern society for hundreds of years before the war, was even more grotesque. So is it any wonder that we'll find lots of grotesqueness and violence in Southern Gothic literature?

Though it had its roots in the 19th century, in the Gothic genre and in the works of writers like Edgar Allan Poe, the Southern Gothic movement developed in the early 20th century and reached its peak toward the middle of the century.

Some of the greatest American writers of all time—big shots like William Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor—are associated with Southern Gothic. Even though these guys and gals came from and wrote about a defeated region, they ultimately found triumph on the literary scene.

What is Southern Gothic About and Why Should I Care?

We would all agree that American literature is pretty important. Though the U.S. is a relatively young country, it has brought us amazing writers like Herman Melville, Nathanial Hawthorne, Walt Whitman, and Mark Twain, to name just a few.

Literary-heads like us surely need to know something about the American literary tradition. And we can't talk about that tradition without talking about Southern Gothic. That's because the Southern Gothic movement represents one of the richest, most fruitful periods in American literature.

It certainly gave us one of the greatest of American writers: William Faulkner. Sure, Faulkner just wrote about the South. But in writing about the South he wrote about all of American culture and society. So, if we want to delve deep into American identity, there's no better place to start than Southern Gothic.

Southern Gothic Resources

Southern Spaces
This website is a great introduction to Southern literature in general, and Southern Gothic in particular.

Southern Literary Trail
A super helpful website that gives us a glimpse into the places in the South that influenced Southern writers like Faulkner and McCullers.