Study Guide

John McLendon in Dry September

By William Faulkner

John McLendon

McLendon is a vigilante, and the story's most obvious villain. His gun, hat, handcuffs, and experience as a military commander give him a general air of authority. As we discuss in Will's "Character Analysis," McLendon pulls off an extralegal operation, or a mock trial and sentencing. It's also reenactment of war. Commander McLendon recruits his troops in the barbershop and then proceeds to wage war on Will, for the honor of white women in Jefferson. McLendon is, most likely, a murderer, and Will was probably not his first victim. McLendon seems practiced and systematic in carrying out his plan. He is chilling to the extreme, unwilling to listen to reason, and bent on keeping the black citizens of Jefferson in a state of fear.

If that's not enough, he abuses his wife, as we see in the final scene. There is absolutely nothing likeable about him, nothing to distract us from his dangerousness.

Yet, the final imagery of our villain "panting" "with his body pressed against the dusty screen" somehow humanizes him (5.7). He's a bully, a lonely broken man in a broken world, a man who hurts the people with whom he comes into contact. We have no sympathy for his crimes, or his perspective, but it seems that he too is a victim of his circumstances, that he too is trapped in roles he can't or won't escape. He's also a good example of how not to be.