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date: 21 April 2024

Southern Gothic Literaturefree

Southern Gothic Literaturefree

  • Thomas Ærvold BjerreThomas Ærvold BjerreUniversity of Southern Denmark


Southern Gothic is a mode or genre prevalent in literature from the early 19th century to this day. Characteristics of Southern Gothic include the presence of irrational, horrific, and transgressive thoughts, desires, and impulses; grotesque characters; dark humor, and an overall angst-ridden sense of alienation. While related to both the English and American Gothic tradition, Southern Gothic is uniquely rooted in the South’s tensions and aberrations. During the 20th century, Charles Crow has noted, the South became “the principal region of American Gothic” in literature. The Southern Gothic brings to light the extent to which the idyllic vision of the pastoral, agrarian South rests on massive repressions of the region’s historical realities: slavery, racism, and patriarchy. Southern Gothic texts also mark a Freudian return of the repressed: the region’s historical realities take concrete forms in the shape of ghosts that highlight all that has been unsaid in the official version of southern history. Because of its dark and controversial subject matter, literary scholars and critics initially sought to discredit the gothic on a national level. Edgar Allan Poe (1809–1849) became the first Southern Gothic writer to fully explore the genre’s potential. Many of his best-known poems and short stories, while not placed in a recognizable southern setting, display all the elements that would come to characterize Southern Gothic.

While Poe is a foundational figure in Southern Gothic, William Faulkner (1897–1962) arguably looms the largest. His fictional Yoknapatawpha County was home to the bitter Civil War defeat and the following social, racial, and economic ruptures in the lives of its people. These transformations, and the resulting anxieties felt by Chickasaw Indians, poor whites and blacks, and aristocratic families alike, mark Faulkner’s work as deeply Gothic. On top of this, Faulkner’s complex, modernist, labyrinthine language creates in readers a similarly Gothic sense of uncertainty and alienation. The generation of southern writers after Faulkner continued the exploration of the clashes between Old and New South. Writers like Tennessee Williams (1911–1983), Carson McCullers (1917–1967), and Flannery O’Connor (1925–1964) drew on Gothic elements. O’Connor’s work is particularly steeped in the grotesque, a subgenre of the Gothic. African American writers like Zora Neale Hurston (1891–1960) and Richard Wright have had their own unique perspective on the Southern Gothic and the repressed racial tensions at the heart of the genre. Southern Gothic also frames the bleak and jarringly violent stories by contemporary so-called Rough South writers, such as Cormac McCarthy, Barry Hannah, Dorothy Allison, William Gay, and Ron Rash. A sense of evil lurks in their stories and novels, sometimes taking on the shape of ghosts or living dead, ghouls who haunt the New Casino South and serve as symbolic reminders of the many unresolved issues still burdening the South to this day.


  • North American Literatures
  • Fiction
  • 19th Century (1800-1900)
  • 20th and 21st Century (1900-present)

From the Gothic to American Gothic to Southern Gothic

“Southern Gothic” is the label attached to a particular strain of literature from the American South. The style of writing has evolved from the American Gothic tradition, which again evolved from the English Gothic tradition. Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1765) is considered the first Gothic novel, and Ann Radcliffe is seen as a cofounder of the genre thanks to Gothic romances such as The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) and The Italian (1797). Several scholars have attempted to categorize the Gothic: H. L. Malchow defines it not as a genre but a discourse, “a language of panic, of unreasoning anxiety.”1 David Punter points to the themes of paranoia, the barbaric, and taboo,2 and Allan Lloyd-Smith states that the Gothic is “about the return of the past, of the repressed and denied, the buried secret that subverts and corrodes the present, whatever the culture does not want to know or admit, will not or dare not tell itself.”3 Specific definitions aside, Gothic literature generally challenged Enlightenment principles by giving voice to irrational, horrific, and transgressive thoughts, desires, and impulses, thereby conjuring an angst-ridden world of violence, sex, terror, and death. As Jerrold Hogle notes, since the 18th century, Gothic fiction has enabled readers to “address and disguise some of the most important desires, quandaries, and sources of anxiety, from the most internal and mental to the widely social and cultural.”4

The Gothic finds its footing in the United States in the early 19th century. Charles Brockden Brown, the first professional American author, is credited with inventing the American Gothic novel with Wieland (1798). According to Eric Savoy, what makes Brown’s novel stand out is the way in which it “resituate[s] ‘history’ in a pathologized return of the repressed whereby the present witnesses the unfolding and fulfillment of terrible destinies incipient in the American past.”5 Apart from Brockden Brown, scholars have found it difficult to pinpoint a foundational era or group of authors for the American Gothic. Indeed, Leslie Fiedler has argued that the American Gothic tradition is best understood as “a pathological symptom rather than a proper literary movement,”6 and Teresa Goddu has noted “the difficulty of defining the genre in national terms.”7 Some scholars have listed criteria in order to define the genre. Allan Lloyd Smith sees “four indigenous features” marking the American Gothic as distinct from the European version: “the frontier, the Puritan legacy, race, and political utopianism.”8 Yet others hesitate at using the term “genre” and talk instead of the Gothic as “a discursive field in which a metonymic national ‘self’ is undone by the return of its repressed Otherness.”9 What critics do seem to agree on, however, is the way in which American Gothic texts in general have challenged the American Dream narrative by consistently pointing out limitations and aberrations in the progressive belief in possibility and mobility. Eric Savoy points out the irony of the Gothic’s predominance in American culture. In a nation whose master narrative is grounded in rationalism, progress, and egalitarianism, Savoy points to “the odd centrality of Gothic cultural production in the United States, where the past constantly inhabits the present, where progress generates an almost unbearable anxiety about its costs, and where an insatiable appetite for spectacles of grotesque violence is part of the texture of everyday life.”10

Nowhere in the United States is the Gothic more present than in the South, which Allison Graham describes as a “repository of national repressions … the benighted area ‘down there’ whose exposure to the light is unfailingly horrifying and thrilling.”11 Flannery O’Connor famously declared that the so-called Southern school of literature conjured up “an image of Gothic monstrosities and the idea of a preoccupation with everything deformed and grotesque.”12 Add to this Benjamin Fisher’s definition of the literary Gothic as something that evokes “anxieties, fears, terrors, often in tandem with violence, brutality, rampant sexual impulses, and death,”13 and it becomes clear how the tradition of the Southern Gothic plays into already established ideas about the South as an “ill” region. This notion was established early on, as Charles Reagan Wilson has shown: the “deadly climate that nurtured diseases” and killed off early Jamestown settlers, and later colonists in Lowcountry North Carolina created an image of the South as “a death trap.”14 Centuries later, William Faulkner, arguably the greatest Southern Gothic writer, has one of his characters in As I Lay Dying (1930) echo this view of the South: “That’s the one trouble with this country: everything, weather, all, hangs on too long. Like our rivers, our land: opaque, slow, violent; shaping and creating the life of man in its implacable and brooding image.”15 Another central figure of Southern Gothic, Tennessee Williams, continues in the same vein, when he writes that, “there is something in the region, something in the blood and culture, of the Southern state[s] that has somehow made them the center of this Gothic school of writers.” These writers share “a sense, an intuition, of an underlying dreadfulness in modern experience.”16

While related to both the English and American Gothic tradition, the Southern Gothic is uniquely rooted in the region’s tensions and aberrations. The United States may not have had old castles in which writers could place their Gothic romances, but after the Civil War, the many often ruined or decaying plantations and mansions in the South became uncanny locations for Gothic stories about sins, secrets, and the “haunting history” of the South.17 And while Southern Gothic can be said to fulfill the criteria set out by scholars like Punter and Smith, increasingly, Gothic in an American context has come to connote the American South. During the 20th century, the South became “the principal region of American Gothic” in literature.18 As Charles L. Crow points out, the term “Southern Gothic” “became so common in the modern period that each word came to evoke the other,”19 as southern writers increasingly explored a region burdened with contradictory images. On the one hand, the colonial and antebellum South has been constructed as a pastoral idyll, an agrarian garden free of toil. On the other hand, the South has been seen as a repository for all of America’s shortcomings: a region of sickness and backwardness symbolized by everything from yellow fever and hookworm disease to personal and societal violence.

Southern Gothic brings to light the extent to which the vision of the idyllic South rests on massive repressions of the region’s historical realities: slavery, racism, and patriarchy. In this way, Southern Gothic texts mark a Freudian return of the repressed: the region’s historical realities take concrete forms in the shape of ghosts or grotesque figures that highlight all that has been unsaid in the official version of southern history. Leslie Fiedler’s claim that the “proper subject for American gothic is the black man, from whose shadow we have not yet emerged”20 helps explain the propensity, the pull of the Gothic in southern literature. Its uncanny and haunted effects echo the old Gothic tradition but serve as a specific comment on southern life and customs.

The Southern Grotesque

A subgenre or additional aspect of Southern Gothic is the grotesque, also called Southern Grotesque. Scholars have long argued about the differences between the two terms, and many simply equate the two and use them interchangeably. As Charles Crow notes, the grotesque, “is a quality that overlaps with the Gothic, but neither is necessary or sufficient for the other.”21 Characters with physical deformities, so-called freaks, feature heavily in the Southern Grotesque. Often, their physical disfigurements—limps, wooden legs, cross-eyes, crippled limbs—serve as markers of a corrupt moral compass and point to the ways in which writers of Southern Gothic engage with the discrepancy between perceived, heteronormative normalcy and the repressed realities beneath that assumption. While deformed characters may be one of the most evident markers of Southern Gothic,22 the grotesque has been credited with invoking everything from “horror and the uncanny” to “sadness, compassion or humour.”23 The apparent breadth of grotesque traits threatens to empty the term of any useful meaning. But what unites the many features of the grotesque as well as its effects is a disturbing juxtaposition of conflicting elements; a site of transgression that serves to challenge the normative status quo, which in the South has been particularly repressive when it comes to race, gender, and sexuality. This links the Southern Grotesque to Mikhail Bakhtin’s notion of the carnivalesque, which, among other things, functions as a strategy of transgression, resistance, and disruption.24 This disruption that the grotesque produces is not of the “aberrant body,” as Melissa Free argues, “but of the social body that silences and condemns deviance.”25 Flannery O’Connor is perhaps the best example of a Southern Gothic writer who relies on the grotesque in her work. In her influential essay “Some Aspects of the Grotesque in Southern Fiction” (1969), O’Connor challenged the reductive generalization of the grotesque as a term and stressed how grotesque literature pointed toward a particular kind of realism:

In these grotesque works … the writer has made alive some experience which we are not accustomed to observe every day, or which the ordinary man may never experience in his ordinary life. We find that connections which we would expect in the customary kind of realism have been ignored, that there are strange skips and gaps which anyone trying to describe manners and customs would certainly not have left. Yet the characters have an inner coherence, if not always a coherence to their social framework. Their fictional qualities lean away from typical social patterns, toward mystery and the unexpected … It’s not necessary to point out that the look of this fiction is going to be wild, that it is almost of necessity going to be violent and comic, because of the discrepancies that it seeks to combine.26

Rather than a sensationalist freak or horror show, grotesque literature cuts through the veil of civility, through decorum and oppressive normative fabrications to expose a harsh, confusing reality of contradictions, violence, and aberrations.

Early Southern Gothic

Early examples of Southern Gothic effects or elements can be found in playwright William Bulloch Maxwell (1787–1814), poets Edward Coote Pinkney (1802–1828) and Richard Henry Wilde (1789–1847), and novelist John Pendleton Kennedy (1795–1870). Kennedy’s best-known novel, Swallow Barn (1835), often credited as a precursor of the plantation novel, features an overall Gothic landscape with a “Goblin Swamp” and a remote country house, which takes the place of the castles and mansions of the British Gothic. More overt Gothic elements are found in Kennedy’s third novel Rob of the Bowl (1838), where a supposedly haunted chapel terrifies the locals with its nightly groans and rumbles.

The Southern Gothic finds more solid form in the works of William Gilmore Simms (1806–1870). Perhaps best known for his frontier-based adventure novels such as The Yemassee (1835) influenced by Sir Walter Scott, several of Simms’s poems and novels rely on supernatural elements in his adaptation of Gothicism to specific southern locales. The aggressive title character of Martin Faber (1833) is a perverse Byronic figure, who confesses to murdering the innocent maiden Emily so he can marry the affluent Constance. Castle Dismal (1844) is a South Carolina ghost story that subverts traditional notions of marriage and domesticity—and features a narrator who spends a night in a haunted chamber of an old mansion. And Woodcraft (1854), the final of Simms’s Revolutionary War novels features devilish British villains, and in the Widow Eveleigh, Simms creates a more sophisticated version of the “persecuted maidens and wives in European Gothics.”27

Edgar Allan Poe (1809–1849) became the first writer to fully explore the potential of the Southern Gothic. Many of Poe’s best-known poems and short stories, while not placed in a recognizable southern setting, display all the elements that would come to characterize Southern Gothic: the decaying house (and the family within); men and women driven half-mad by unexplained anxieties; and transgressive racial and sexual subjects involving identity, incest, and necrophilia. It is hard to overestimate the influence of Poe and “The Fall of the House of Usher” (1839), considered by many “the Ur-text of the Southern Gothic.”28 Featuring a decrepit mansion, characters sick in body and mind, a live burial in a cellar vault, and doppelgängers, the story is saturated by an “insufferable gloom,”29 an overall Gothic mood that has led William Moss to declare that “on the ruins of the house of Usher, Poe lays the foundation of a Southern Gothic.”30

In addition, Poe has been seen as a central figure of the Southern Gothic because of his treatment of race, what Eric Savoy calls his “profound meditation upon the cultural significance of ‘blackness’ in the white American mind.”31 Christopher Walsh attributes “Poe’s value to the development of the Southern Gothic … to his ability to destabilize hierarchies of order and to critique the South’s prevailing mythology and narrative.”32 An example of this is “The Black Cat” (1843), in which the narrator describes his plunge “into excess” when he is overcome by “the spirit of PERVERSENESS.”33 The story draws on classic staples of the Gothic: a perverse and murderous tyrant using atrocious violence against helpless victims, a live burial and a decaying corpse “clotted with gore,”34 as well as the ruins of a burned-down house. But beneath the macabre surface is a more profound examination of the particularly southern sentimentalization of the relationship between master and slave.35

Discrediting the Southern Gothic

During the 20th century, the veneration for Poe increased steadily, and scholars recognized his indelible influence on the Southern Gothic. However, in his own time, most 19th-century literary scholars and critics did much to discredit Poe as well as the Gothic genre on a national level and to gloss over traces of the Gothic in works of canonical national writers like Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville. Consensus seemed to be that “Gothic was an inferior genre incapable of high seriousness and appealing only of readers of questionable tastes.”36 Poe was initially exorcized from the national literary canon and relegated to the confines of the nation’s benighted “other”: the South. But scholars and critics of southern literature were not too impressed with the Gothic elements either. In fact, the term “Southern Gothic,” referring to a subgenre or school of writers, was initially coined in 1935 by novelist Ellen Glasgow, who used the term to criticize what she called “the inflamed rabble of impulses in the contemporary Southern novel.”37 Erskine Caldwell, William Faulkner, and other New Southern writers, she asserted, displayed a disturbing tendency of “aimless violence” and “fantastic nightmares.”38 In the same year, in an article titled “The Horrible South,” Gerald Johnson claimed that T. S. Stribling, Thomas Wolfe, William Faulkner, and Erskine Caldwell had established “a certain reputation for Southern writing.” He labeled them “the merchants of death, hell and the grave … the horror-mongers in chief.”39 Likewise, in New Republic’s 1952 review of Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood, Isaac Rosenfeld complained about the author’s focus on degeneracy in “an insane world, peopled by monsters and submen.”40 Attitudes like this made Tennessee Williams scoff at the “disparaging critics … some of the most eminent book critics” as well as “publishers, distributors, not to mention the reading public” whose “major line of attack” is that the Southern Gothic is “dreadful.”41 Indeed, many writers of pulp fiction have relied heavily on the clichéd conception of the South as violent, backwards, and degenerate—and found a large number of readers in the process. But proletarian (and Gothic) writers like Erskine Caldwell and Carson McCullers, whose literary qualities are no longer deemed spurious, were often marginalized by the Agrarians. In the 1930s, the accepted view of poor whites was that they “did not exist; or, if they did, they existed outside of ‘civilization.’ They were irredeemably ‘other,’ marking the outer limits of the culture.” For many of the Agrarians, Richard Gray notes, “to write of the ‘unknown people’ of the Southern countryside was not to write as a Southerner; it was doubtful if it was even to write as an American.”42 It was not only white writers who were excluded from the canon. Michael Kreyling notes how the Agrarians and their “disciples in the 1940s and 1950s” obstructed “the inclusion of black writers,” like Richard Wright.43

William Faulkner

Despite Poe’s status as a foundational figure in Southern Gothic, William Faulkner is widely considered the most important and influential writer working in the vein of the Southern Gothic.

Faulkner’s dense and complex fictional Yoknapatawpha County was home to the bitter Civil War defeat and the following social, racial, and economic ruptures in the lives of its people. These transformations, and the resulting anxieties felt by Chickasaw Indians, poor whites and blacks, and aristocratic families alike, mark Faulkner’s work as deeply Gothic. In fact, his oft-quoted line, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past,”44 which has come to serve as a clichéd definition of Faulkner’s works, is also a definition of the Gothic. The clash between Old South and New South takes on a Gothic hue in which the suppressed sins of slavery, patriarchy, and class strife bubble to the surface in uncanny ways. And all this takes place in a landscape of swamps, deep woods, and decaying plantations. Add to this the complex, modernist, labyrinthine language of Faulkner’s works, which create in readers a similarly Gothic sense of uncertainty and alienation, an impression that, as Fred Botting says, “there is no exit from the darkly illuminating labyrinth of language.”45

Much of Faulkner’s work, novels as well as short stories, belongs in the Southern Gothic category. The often anthologized “A Rose for Emily” (1930) is perhaps the clearest example of Faulkner’s southern Gothicism. The story, narrated from a plural point of view by inhabitants of the small town, tells of the spinster Emily Grierson, who after her father’s death scandalizes the community when she takes up with the northern carpetbagger Homer Barron. When Homer disappears shortly after Emily has purchased arsenic, rumors abound in town. Decades later, after living a reclusive life, Emily dies. When the townspeople break open the door to an upstairs room, they discover a man’s “fleshless” corpse on the bed, the remains of him “rotted beneath what was left of the nightshirt.”46 Next to the corpse is a pillow, with “the indentation of a head” and “a long strand of iron-gray hair.”47 The story’s themes of necrophilia, sin, and secrecy mark it as obviously Gothic, yet Richard Gray argues that it also “offers an unerring insight into repression and the revenge of the repressed.” Emily’s actions should be seen as “a perverse reaction to the pressures of a stiflingly patriarchal society,” the way she has been “reduced, by the gaze of her neighbours and the narrative, to object status, a figure to patronise and pity … The extremity of her actions is,” he argues, “ultimately, a measure of the extremity of her condition, the degree of her imprisonment.”48

Other examples of Faulkner’s southern Gothicism can be found in many of his greatest novels. The Sound and the Fury (1929) traces the downfall of the Compson family, one of Faulkner’s many “failed dynasties of the old ascendancy … all unwitting builders of haunted houses.”49 The novel’s first three sections are narrated by the three Compson sons—the mentally handicapped Benjy, the brooding Quentin, and the malicious and patriarchal Jason—while the fourth and final section has the black maid Dilsey as the central character. This makes for a fragmented and unreliable story in the center of which is the Compson daughter, Caddy—the obsession of all three brothers, “both victim and perpetrator … [a] Gothic heroine” who “escapes her haunted mansion at a terrible price.”50 Quentin is haunted and obsessed with his failure to protect his sister’s virginity. His oppressive sense of guilt eventually drives him to suicide. As I Lay Dying (1930) features variations of the vengeful spirit and live burial themes as well as emotionally unstable characters, all supported by an overall sense of confusion and fragmentation brought on by the rapidly shifting narrators. Sanctuary (1931), Faulkner’s most sensational and scandalous novel, features a controversial rape scene where the debutante Temple Drake is penetrated with a corncob by the sadistic and impotent villain Popeye. Though initially scorned by critics, Sanctuary has more recently been re-examined in light of its mirror structure and also “revalued as symbolic of the rape of southern womanhood by outside forces.”51 Light in August (1932) has been read as “an exemplary of the traditional gothic tale of mystery, horror, and violence in America.”52 It is a novel fueled by a sense of alienation and otherness, and features marginalized characters attempting but failing to make human connections. Joe Christmas, a black man passing as white, is accused of sleeping with and murdering a white woman. After escaping from jail, he is castrated and killed. The novel’s Gothicism is significantly southern in its exploration of religious zeal, sex, and racism, including violent lynchings and the pervasive fear of miscegenation.

Many critics and scholars seem to agree that Absalom, Absalom! (1936) is “one of the great Southern Gothic novels” and, according to Richard Gray, Faulkner’s “greatest and most seamlessly gothic narrative.”53 Several scholars have noted the influence of Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher.” At Harvard, Quentin Compson tries to explain the South to his Canadian roommate, Shreve. He relies on stories told to him, by people who were told by someone else, most circling around the powerful figure of Thomas Sutpen, “a demon, a villain.”54 The resulting story becomes an “interpretive act of the imagination,” and the various chroniclers “exaggerate fact into myth and transform history into legend.”55 Thomas Sutpen emerges as an elusive but tragic figure. As a poor boy he was turned away at the door of a plantation house by a black servant. This made him vow never to be put in that position again. He is determined to build his own plantation, complete with land, slaves, a family, and the hope of a male heir. This is Sutpen’s design, and Absalom, Absalom! patches together his ruthless determination to fulfill it. From Sutpen’s rejection of his mixed race wife and son in the West Indies to his creation of Sutpen’s Hundred and his calculating marriage to Ellen Coldfield, to the return of his rejected son, and the eventual tragedy, the novel is a complex web of race, gender, pride, shame, sin, and the repressive burdens of the past.

Southern Gothic after Faulkner

Even though Eudora Welty (1909–2001) herself rejected being labeled a Gothic writer, she is nevertheless considered a transitional figure in the Southern Gothic from Faulkner to more contemporary writers. Some scholars, such as Ruth D. Weston, have argued that Welty should not be placed in the Southern Gothic category. In her study Gothic Traditions and Narrative Techniques in the Fiction of Eudora Welty (1994), Weston distinguishes between the traditional (English) “upper case” Gothic, which she characterizes as “‘escape’ fiction,” and then a “core of gothic (lower case) materials—plots, settings, characters, image patterns, and vocabulary.” 56 It is this latter patchwork that Welty draws on, according to Weston. She claims that Welty’s “earliest and most basic use of gothic convention is in her landscapes,”57 especially the history-haunted Natchez Trace, which is an ideal setting for Gothic themes of enclosure and escape. More recently, however, scholars have challenged Weston’s reluctance to place Welty firmly in the Southern Gothic tradition and have relied on feminist theory to elucidate how Welty employed Gothic settings and characters to stress the ways in which mythic southern narratives have silenced and repressed Others. In A Curtain of Green (1941), Susan V. Donaldson argues, Welty writes forth “a full-fledged carnival of gothic and grotesque heroines running amok, resistant to placement in traditional plots and roles.”58

Where Eudora Welty did much to distance herself from being called a Gothic writer, Flannery O’Connor (1925–1964) is perhaps the best-known practitioner of the Southern Grotesque. Her many stories and her two novels are packed with an abundance of Gothic motifs, summarized by Chad Rohman as “monstrous misfits, devils and demonic figures, perpetrators and victims, doubles and doppelgängers, freaks and the deformed, madness and mad acts, ghosts and kindly spirits, and physical and spiritual isolation.”59 Marked by “an aesthetic of extremes”60 characteristic of the grotesque, O’Connor’s world is infused with a sense of “mystery and the unexpected,” as she notes in her essay on the grotesque.61 Grounded in her Catholic faith, her view of life as “essentially mysterious” results in her belief that in order to capture that life as realistically as possible, her fiction is necessarily “going to be wild … violent and comic, because of the discrepancies it seeks to combine.”62

Good examples of both the Gothic and grotesque features of O’Connor’s work are found in two of her most canonized short stories. In “Good Country People” (1955), the nihilistic and pseudo-intellectual Hulga still lives at home at the age of thirty-two. She has a “weak heart,” a wooden leg, and a doctoral degree in philosophy. When a “sincere and genuine” nineteen-year-old Bible salesman turns up at the house, Hulga decides to demonstrate her superiority by seducing him. But he turns out to be a conman who seduces her, only to steal her wooden leg and leave her stranded in a barn loft. “You ain’t so smart,” he tells her before leaving, “I been believing in nothing ever since I was born!”63 And in “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” (1955), a family road trip takes a shocking, violent turn when the characters come upon the escaped convict The Misfit. When the grandmother announces his identity, The Misfit orders the family killed. After killing the grandmother himself, he observes that, “She would of been a good woman … if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.”64 Both stories feature shocking endings meant to jar readers. As O’Connor noted of her own writing, to make stories work, “what is needed is an action that is totally unexpected, yet totally believable, and … for me, this is always an action which indicates that grace has been offered. And frequently it is an action in which the devil has been the unwilling instrument of grace.”65 It is in the climax of her stories and novels that the characters—and readers—get a brief glimpse of the mystery O’Connor alludes to, of the possibility of redemption or salvation. But as the stories show, redemption often comes at a terrible price. Hulga is stripped of her superciliousness and forced to face reality by a larcenous Bible salesman, but one who is described with Christ-like imagery on the last page: a “blue figure struggling successfully over the green speckled lake.”66 In a more extreme version, the grandmother in “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” is also a character who sees herself as morally superior. Yet faced with annihilation, she tells her killer, “Why you’re one of my babies. You’re one of my own children!”67

O’Connor’s two novels are both explorations of religious fundamentalism in the Deep South. In Wise Blood (1952), World War II veteran Hazel Motes returns to his Tennessee home to find it decaying and decrepit. Having lost his faith during the war, he takes to the city of Taulkinham, intent on spreading his atheist doctrine in his Church Without Christ. Yet he feels haunted by Christ and by gothic nightmares of being buried alive. Spiraling ever downwards, Motes ends up killing his competitor and doppelganger Solace Layfield, before a final act of self-degradation—and possible salvation—in which he blinds himself, puts shards of glass in his shoes, and wraps barbed wire around his torso. The Violent Bear It Away (1960) is a dark tale of fourteen-year-old Francis Tarwater, who has been raised to be a prophet by his great-uncle, the self-declared backwoods prophet Mason Tarwater. When Mason dies, Francis moves to the city to find his secular uncle Rayber and his mentally deficient son Bishop. Francis was brought up believing his mission was to baptize Bishop. In the ensuing struggle, O’Connor exposes both religious fundamentalism and a world based on supercilious facts as inherently faulty.

Like O’Connor, the stories and novels of Carson McCullers (born Lula Carson Smith, 1917–1967) are steeped in the grotesque. An abundance of “freaks” fill the pages: dwarfs, giants, cross-dressers, homosexuals, and deaf-mutes. In The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1940), the life of adolescent tomboy Mick clashes with the deaf-mute John Singer, an isolated and alienated misfit, whom the other characters nonetheless confide in, perhaps—as Melissa Free notes—because “he recognizes and affirms their own differences, which they feel but cannot name as queer.”68 Much like McCullers herself, Mick rejects established gender roles, and her rejection makes her an outsider in the small, isolated Georgia town and propels the narrative toward themes of sex, gender fluidity, and alienation. The Ballad of the Sad Café (1951), also set in an isolated Georgia community, features the hunchback Lymon, who shows up on Miss Amelia’s doorstep, claiming to be her cousin. Amid the community’s increasing rumors of scandal, Miss Amelia settles down with Lymon and opens a café. But the return of her ex-husband brings violence and eventual isolation and alienation. Both novels are also grotesque in the way the so-called outsiders demand readers’ sympathy, and McCullers points to the failures at the heart of the society that seeks to repress its Others. This is also the case in McCullers’ other novels, such as The Member of the Wedding (1946) and Clock Without Hands (1961).

American theater of the 1940s and 1950s was infused with a heavy dose of Southern Gothic sensibility thanks to the plays of Tennessee Williams (1911–1983). Characters with varying degrees of illness populate his works, and his own sexual orientation, socially unacceptable at the time, found its way into plays such as Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955), in which Brick, who is gay, struggles with his unhappy marriage and with his dying but domineering father, Big Daddy. In other plays, such as The Glass Menagerie (1944), A Streetcar Named Desire (1947), and Sweet Bird of Youth (1959), Williams created Gothic spaces of boundary crossings as well as other familiar tropes of the Southern Gothic, such as disintegrating southern families, alienation, loneliness, alcoholism, and physical and psychological violence. Rather than a mere freakshow, Williams uses the characters in his plays to question the notion of normalcy and to explore the discrepancies between private and public selves. His plays, as Stephen Matterson argues, point to the performative aspects of all our lives, but perhaps especially those lived in the South, a region that in Williams’s plays is presented as an incongruous site of Romantic myth and urban, modern reality.69 The struggle of his characters to come to terms with the discrepancy comes off as essentially heroic, embodied best, perhaps, in Blanche DuBois from A Streetcar Named Desire (1947): the southern belle trapped in the modern world.

While he worked in many genres, Truman Capote (1924–1984) is often placed in the school of Southern Gothic writers. Other Voices, Other Rooms (1948) relies on obvious elements of Southern Gothic, from its secluded, decaying mansion at Skull’s Landing to scenes of pedophilia and violence, as well as characters drawn from the grotesque vein of Southern Gothic: a crossdresser, a mute quadriplegic, and a dwarf. Capote’s childhood friend Harper Lee (1926–2016) wrote perhaps the most widely read and most-loved Southern Gothic of the 20th century. The Pulitzer Prize-winning To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) is told by the tomboy Scout and draws on Gothic traits to examine boundaries of race, class, and gender in the 1930s South. Gothic elements include the children’s fear of the mysterious neighbor Boo Radley, as well as a rabid dog, and a Halloween night in which fear of the supernatural pales in the face of the violent, alcoholic, and racist Bob Ewell, who attacks Scout and her brother Jem with a knife.

Southern Gothic and African Americans

African Americans have long had their own unique perspective on Southern Gothic and the repressed racial tensions at the heart of the genre. In Playing in the Dark (1992), Toni Morrison examines the ways in which early white writers of the American Gothic used the black slave body as a site onto which was projected the various shortcomings, failures, and repressed desires of the white American psyche. This resulted in the construction of what Morrison calls “an American Africanism—a fabricated brew of darkness, otherness, alarm, and desire that is uniquely American.”70 In other words, blacks became monstrous Others who haunted the Southern Gothic and American culture at large. It is this otherness that African American writers have challenged. Richard Wright eerily sums up the very real Gothic aura of the African American experience in 12 Million Black Voices (1941): “We black men and women in America today, as we look back upon scenes of rapine, sacrifice, and death, seem to be children of a devilish aberration, descendants of an interval of nightmare in history, fledglings of a period of amnesia on the part of men who once dreamed a great dream and forgot.”71 Certainly, if Southern Gothic, as Maisha Wester contends, “can be understood as a genre that is aware of the impossibility of escaping racial haunting,”72 then slave narratives, such as Charles Ball’s Fifty Years in Chains (1859), William Craft’s Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom (1860), and Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861) in essence initiated a unique and often overlooked African American variation on the Southern Gothic.

Modern African American writers also adopted the Gothic conventions, in the process exchanging the genre’s more supernatural aspects with more realistic features “founded on actual lives often lived in the Gothic manner, that is indeed terrifying.”73 The starkest example of this is Richard Wright, whose texts confront the horrors of white racism head-on with an unflinching eye. Wright’s work marks a reversal of Gothic tropes, one in which whiteness takes on uncanny and horrific hues. In his essay “The Ethics of Living Jim Crow,” Wright describes lying in bed as a young boy, delirious, and fearful of the “monstrous white faces … leering” at him above his bed.74

The notion of “double consciousness” presented by W. E. B. Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk (1903) runs through much of African American Gothic. An early example of this is Jean Toomer’s Cane (1923), in which the theme of miscegenation and the figure of the mulatto take on Gothic hues. Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man (1952) opens with a nod to both Du Bois and the Gothic: “I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe … When [people] approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination—indeed, everything and anything except me.”75 The novel moves from the small-town South to New York, but in each location the horrors and monsters inherent in the Gothic turn out to be too real and too human for the novel’s black protagonist, who feels increasingly entrapped and imprisoned. Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) stays on southern ground, in Florida, and is ripe with Gothic scenes and imagery: Janie, the protagonist, is forced to shoot and kill her rabies-infected husband after he tries to shoot her. And the hurricane that sweeps over the Everglades and turns Lake Okeechobee into a “monstropolous beast”76 is a recurrent Gothic trope. The African American version of (Southern) Gothic has found its zenith in Toni Morrison. While not a southerner, Morrison still employs Southern Gothic in her seminal novel Beloved (1987), a text that takes place mostly in Ohio but is haunted by traumatic events that occurred in the South. Beloved is a novel ripe for “sophisticated psychoanalytical and postmodernist or poststructuralist readings which focus on the treatment of fragmented subjectivities and how language strains to record (and is perhaps incapable) of documenting the horrors at the heart of the [Gothic] novel.”77 Continuing in the vein of Morrison, in A Visitation of Spirits (1989) Randall Kenan’s strategy is to treat as uncanny not the ghosts from the past and all the repressed markers of racism and slavery that they bring to the surface but rather the white institutions that constructed blacks as others.78

Contemporary Southern Gothic

Cormac McCarthy is arguably the most critically acclaimed contemporary practitioner of the Southern Gothic. McCarthy began his literary career with four dark and deeply violent novels set in Appalachian Tennessee: The Orchard Keeper (1965), Outer Dark (1968), Child of God (1973), and Suttree (1979). All four novels owe a debt to the tradition of the Southern Gothic especially that of William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor. But Robert Brinkmeyer also sees McCarthy’s “gothic imagination” as “haunted by a frightening vision of destruction and waste” that is “simultaneously pre- and post-human.”79 At the same time, as Lydia Cooper asserts, McCarthy’s “horror-drenched and heavily allegorical aesthetic style” is combined “with historically rooted commentary on social ills, such as issues of race, class, urbanization, and industrialization, to bring into focus repressed social anxieties.”80Child of God shows perhaps the strongest influence of O’Connor’s grotesque take on the Southern Gothic. The necrophiliac mass-murderer Lester Ballard is “an extreme contemporary rendering of the gothic villain.”81 The story follows Ballard’s exiled subterranean existence and his downward spiral into murderer and necrophiliac and finally to a primal, animal-like state. McCarthy’s initial description of Ballard as “a child of God much like yourself perhaps”82 invites an unnerving sense of identification with this “reduced, grotesque, and monstrous aberration of humanity.”83

After decades of western-themed novels, McCarthy returned to the Southern Gothic with The Road (2006). The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is a post-apocalyptic story set in an unspecified southern location. A father and his son traverse a barren wasteland of corpses and marauding bands of cannibals to reach the ocean. Both shockingly violent and contemplative, Jay Ellis reads The Road as “haunted both by Old Southern slavery guilt, and by anxiety over New Southern consumption.”84

Cormac McCarthy has been linked to a so-called Rough South tradition, also referred to as “Grit Lit.” The writers placed under these headings all borrow various elements of Southern Gothic to support their bleak portrayals of the American South in which violence plays a crucial part. While the group of writers is predominantly white and male, a few women like Dorothy Allison have also been placed in the Rough South category. Allison’s Bastard out of Carolina (1992) certainly draws on Gothic elements to expose the ways in which patriarchy has repressed women’s voices that challenged the mythic southern narrative. In many of the stories and novels by male Rough South writers, such as Barry Hannah, Larry Brown, William Gay, Tom Franklin, and Ron Rash, the antagonists are violent men of seemingly pure evil, men driven by incredible bloodthirst who will stop at nothing to satisfy their deadly desires. Invoking the Gothic tradition, these villains may take on the shape of ghosts, witches, or living dead, as in Gay’s The Long Home (1999) or Rash’s One Foot in Eden (2002), but apart from the obvious sensationalism provided by these killers, the writers use the villains symbolically in order to point out inherent problems in today’s (post-)South. Hannah’s Yonder Stands Your Orphan (2001) takes place in the contemporary Mississippi Delta, which is depicted as a rotten and degenerate place, a landscape in physical and moral decay, where casino musicians, “although mistaken for the living by their audiences, were actually dead. Ghouls howling for egress from their tombs,”85 and where zombies wait behind the counters of the countless pawnshops, “quite obviously dead and led by someone beyond.”86 In this rotten South, the land is also a catalogue of past horrors. The Confederate and Union dead resting in the ground have been joined by other victims of horrible crimes:

Scores of corpses rested below the lakes, oxbows, river ways and bayous of these parts, not counting the skeletons of Grant’s infantry. The country was built to hide those dead by foul deed, it sucked at them. Back to the flood of 1927, lynchings, gun and knife duels were common stories here. Muddy water made a fine lost tomb.87

The resurfacing of two dead bodies buried in the bayou unleashes a violent rampage perpetrated by the novel’s villain. In true Gothic fashion, the return of the repressed past brings forth guilt, responsibility, and a grotesque display of violence.88

Hannah’s zombies are part of a larger tradition in Southern Gothic. As the editors of Undead Souths point out, the South has been—and continues to be—home to a “pervading presence of diverse forms of undeadness—racial, ethnic, political, economic, historical.”89 Using Robert Kirkman’s comic book series The Walking Dead (2003–) as an endpoint, Jay Ellis traces the “zombie narrative” of southern culture from its beginnings in 1929 and sees it as “a reemergent memory of slavery” and an “expression of wider xenophobic fears of the other” as well as an expression of gender fears.90 But he also points to zombies as “global citizens,” made southern by way of Haiti, of slavery and Jim Crow laws,91 thereby making the zombie a prominent figure in New Southern studies.

The Southern Gothic remains undead, its territory broader and more inclusive than ever before. While few southern writers are content to work solely in the Southern Gothic vein, many nonetheless tap into the sharp divisions that make up their region, the beautiful pastoral Arcadia and the grotesque deformities that rise to the surface both literally and figuratively. The attempt to come to terms with this chasm—or to expose its cracks and fissures—remains a potent and relevant vehicle driving a substantial body of southern literature today.

Discussion of the Literature

Scholarship on the Southern Gothic has seen a dramatic rise in the 21st century, both in volume, scope, and acceptance. Yet there is still a sparsity of monographs covering the full spectrum of Southern Gothic. Instead, various chapters and articles about specific writers of Southern Gothic are spread out over monographs and anthologies dedicated to American literature, Gothic literature, American Gothic literature, Southern literature, or specific southern writers. Therefore, the history of Southern Gothic scholarship begins with more general works and slowly becomes more specific.

Leslie Fiedler is widely recognized as “the first critic to discuss the American gothic’s peculiarity and to recognize its social impulse.”92 He did so in his influential Love and Death in the American Novel (1960), where he acknowledged that the Gothic has “continued to seem vulgar and contrived” but argues that “it is the gothic form that has been most fruitful in the hands of our best writers.”93 American fiction, he insists, is “a gothic fiction … a literature of darkness and the grotesque in a land of light and affirmation.”94 Among the southern writers discussed at length by Fiedler are Simms, Poe, and Faulkner, and Fiedler ends his study by pointing to Elizabeth Spencer, Flannery O’Connor, and “such talented female fictionists as Katherine Anne Porter, Eudora Welty, and Carson McCullers” as writers who expand Faulkner’s “vision of the South as a world of gothic terror disguised as historical fact” into a “living tradition.”95 While Fiedler paved the way for a scholarly interest in the Gothic, that interest was made possible by a “renewed interest in psychoanalysis and Marxism, theoretical modes that have since been used extensively and effectively in interpretations of the Gothic in many forms.”96 Thus, Irving Malin’s New American Gothic (1962) examined contemporary writers, including such central figures of the Southern Gothic as Flannery O’Connor, Truman Capote, and Carson McCullers.

The renewed academic interest in the American Gothic spilled over into southern studies and led to monographs focusing on Gothic elements in specific southern writers. But scholars still struggled with the legitimacy of the genre. So while G. R. Thompson in Poe’s Fiction: Romantic Irony in the Gothic Tales (1973) sets out to rehabilitate Poe “by equally New Critical and History of Ideas standards,” ultimately, he asserts, “the Gothic is a set of devalued ingredients, not really essential to American writing at Poe’s time.”97 And Elizabeth M. Kerr, who relies heavily on Fiedler’s work in her William Faulkner’s Gothic Domain (1979), begins her study by almost apologizing for writing on a topic “scorned by critics as subliterary, sentimental ‘formula’ fiction” that has “pejorative connotations.”98 However, concurrently with literature’s turn toward postmodernism and, increasingly, poststructuralism, Southern Gothic became increasingly fertile ground for scholars imbued with theoretical tools from Julia Kristeva, Jacques Lacan, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Judith Butler, and others. Patricia Yaeger’s Dirt and Desire: Reconstructing Southern Women’s Writing, 1930–1990 (2000) is a prime example of this new movement, as is Tara McPherson’s Reconstructing Dixie: Race, Gender, and Nostalgia in the Imagined South (2003). Both monographs, while not specific studies of the Southern Gothic, nevertheless focus on the instability of some of the central categories that have been used to build narratives and counter-narratives of the South: race and gender. And they draw on postmodern and poststructuralist theory to revisit and, indeed, reconstruct given assumptions about the South and canonical works of southern literature.

Fiedler pointed to the link between the Gothic and America’s troubled racial history, and in The Heroic Ideal in American Literature (1971), Theodore L. Gross argued that modern African American writers used elements of Southern Gothic in more realistic ways to point to the horrors of racism. Maisha L. Wester and other 21st-century scholars have examined slave narratives as the inception of African American Gothic and shown how, to late 20th-century African American writers, the Gothic is “a tool capable of expressing the complexity of black experience in America.”99 Wester is but one of many contemporary scholars who are re-examining and re-evaluating aspects of Southern Gothic in canonical writers, but also drastically expanding the canon in ways that correlate with the so-called New Southern studies. Houston Baker and Dana Nelson defined New Southern studies as a school that “welcomes the complication of old borders and terrains, wishes to construct and survey a new scholarly map of ‘The South.’”100 As the title of the anthology Look Away: The US South in New World Studies suggests, the editors envision a “liminal south, one that troubles essentialist narratives both of global-southern decline and of global-northern national or regional unity, of American or Southern exceptionalism.”101

Scholars working in this vein have embraced a postcolonial and transnational approach in the rethinking of the South and its literature. In fact, the 21st century has been a tumultuous era of change and re-examination within southern studies. Traditional and monolithic themes such as race, place, and past are being re-examined, challenged, revised, and injected with newer approaches and topics such as trauma theory and queer studies. This has opened up previously overlooked, repressed, and neglected spaces, peoples, and subjects, so that today, scholars are exploring the presence or absence of Southern Gothic’s relation to indigenous groups, queers, the Caribbean and Latin America, and vampires, to name a few. Southern Gothic Literature (2013), edited by Jay Ellis, includes a chapter on “Southern Gothic poetry,” a genre much overlooked in traditional studies of the Southern Gothic. But where Ellis’s anthology focuses on well-established writers, Toni Morrison being the newest, a good example of the sprawling richness of current scholarship in the Southern Gothic is presented in the anthology Undead Souths: The Gothic and Beyond in Southern Literature and Culture (2015). Among the many topics covered are “Haitian zombie mythology in Herman Melville’s depiction of chattel and wage slaveries” as well as “diasporic transplantations in the surreal fiction of the Irish-born, Trinidadian author Shani Mootoo.”102 As these examples make clear, and as the editors of Undead Souths note, the most recent scholarship on the Southern Gothic is a far cry from “the now-threadbare tropes of ‘the Southern Gothic’—singular and capitalized—as if both the region (‘Southern’) and the genre (‘Gothic’) are readily identifiable, monolithic entities.”103 And judging from the recent outpour of scholarship and academic conferences dedicated to the Southern Gothic, the discussion about this particular genre does not seem to be waning anytime soon.

Further Reading

  • Anderson, Eric Gary, Taylor Hagood, and Daniel Cross Turner, eds. Undead Souths: The Gothic and Beyond in Southern Literature and Culture. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2015.
  • Castillo Street, Susan, and Charles L. Crow, eds. The Palgrave Handbook of the Southern Gothic. New York: Palgrave, 2016.
  • Crow, Charles L. History of the Gothic: American Gothic. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2009.
  • Crow, Charles L. A Companion to American Gothic. Edited by Charles L. Crow. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013.
  • Ellis, Jay, ed. Critical Insights: Southern Gothic Literature. Ipswich, MA: Salem, 2013.
  • Fiedler, Leslie. Love and Death in the American Novel. 1960; repr. Normal, IL: Dalkey Archive Press, 1997.
  • Frank, Frederick S. Through the Pale Door: A Guide to and through the American Gothic. New York: Greenwood Press, 1990.
  • Frye, Steven. Understanding Cormac McCarthy. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2009.
  • Goddu, Teresa. Gothic America: Narrative, History, and Nation. New York: Columbia University Pres, 1997.
  • Gray, Richard. Southern Aberrations: Writers of the American South and the Problems of Regionalism. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2000.
  • Hogle, Jerrold E., ed. The Cambridge Companion to the Modern Gothic. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2014.
  • Kerr, Elizabeth M. William Faulkner’s Gothic Domain. Port Washington, NY: Kennikat, 1979.
  • Lloyd-Smith, Allan. “Nineteenth-Century American Gothic.” In A New Companion to the Gothic. Edited by David Punter, 163–175. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012.
  • Lloyd-Smith, Alan. American Gothic Fiction: An Introduction. New York: Continuum, 2004.
  • Martin, Robert K., and Eric Savoy, eds. American Gothic: New Interventions in a National Narrative. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1998.
  • Wester, Maisha L. African American Gothic: Screams from Shadowed Places. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.
  • Weston, Ruth D. Gothic Traditions and Narrative Techniques in the Fiction of Eudora Welty. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1994.


  • 1. H. L. Malchow, Gothic Images of Race in Nineteenth-Century Britain (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1996), 4.

  • 2. David Punter, The Literature of Terror: Volume 1, The Gothic Tradition, 2d ed. (New York: Routledge, 1996).

  • 3. Alan Lloyd-Smith, American Gothic Fiction: An Introduction (New York: Continuum, 2004), 1.

  • 4. Jerrold E. Hogle “Introduction,” in The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction, ed. Jerrold E. Hogle (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 4.

  • 5. Eric Savoy, “The Rise of the American Gothic,” in The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction, ed. Jerrold E. Hogle (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 174.

  • 6. Leslie Fiedler, Love and Death in the American Novel (Normal, IL: Dalkey Archive Press, 1997), 135.

  • 7. Teresa Goddu, Gothic America: Narrative, History, and Nation (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), 3.

  • 8. Allan Lloyd-Smith, “Nineteenth-Century American Gothic,” in A New Companion to the Gothic, ed. David Punter (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), 163.

  • 9. Robert K. Martin and Eric Savoy, “Introduction,” in American Gothic: New Interventions in a National Narrative, ed. Robert K. Martin and Eric Savoy (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1998), vii.

  • 10. Savoy, “The Rise,” 167.

  • 11. Allison Graham, “The South in Popular Culture,” in A Companion to the Literature and Culture of the American South, ed. Richard Gray and Owen Robinson (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2007), 349.

  • 12. Flannery O’Connor, “The Fiction Writer and His Country,” in Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose, ed. Sally and Robert Fitzgerald (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2000), 28.

  • 13. Benjamin F. Fisher IV, “Southern Gothic,” in The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, vol. 9: Literature, ed. M. Thomas Inge (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008), 145.

  • 14. Charles Reagan Wilson, “Myth, Manners, and Memory,” in The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, vol. 4: Myth, Manners, and Memory, ed. Charles Reagan Wilson (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006), 1.

  • 15. William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying (1930; repr., New York: Vintage, 1990), 45.

  • 16. Tennessee Williams, Where I Live: Selected Essays, ed. Christine R. Day and Bob Woods (New York: New Directions, 1978), 42.

  • 17. William Moss, “Fall of the House, from Poe to Percy: The Evolution of an Enduring Gothic Convention,” in A Companion to American Gothic, ed. Charles L. Crow (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013), 179.

  • 18. Charles L. Crow, History of the Gothic: American Gothic (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2009), 124.

  • 19. Ibid., 134.

  • 20. Fiedler, Love, 397.

  • 21. Crow, History of the Gothic, 129.

  • 22. Bridget M. Marshall, “Defining Southern Gothic,” in Critical Insights: Southern Gothic Literature, ed. Jay Ellis (Ipswich, MA: Salem, 2013), 13.

  • 23. Crow, History of the Gothic, 129.

  • 24. Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World (1968; repr., Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984).

  • 25. Melissa Free, “Relegation and Rebellion: The Queer, the Grotesque, and the Silent in the Fiction of Carson McCullers,” Studies in the Novel 40.4 (Winter 2008): 429.

  • 26. Flannery O’Connor, “Some Aspects of the Grotesque in Southern Fiction,” in Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose, ed. Sally Fitzgerald and Robert Fitzgerald (1969; repr., New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000), 40–43.

  • 27. Fisher IV, “Southern Gothic,” 148

  • 28. Castillo Street and Crow, “Introduction,” 3.

  • 29. Edgar Allan Poe, “The Fall of the House of Usher,” in The Fall of the House of Usher and Other Writings, ed. David Galloway (New York: Penguin Classics, 1986), 138.

  • 30. Moss, “Fall of the House,” 179.

  • 31. Savoy, “The Rise,” 182.

  • 32. Christopher J. Walsh, “‘Dark Legacy’: Gothic Ruptures in Southern Literature,” in Critical Insights: Southern Gothic Literature, ed. Jay Ellis (Ipswich, MA: Salem, 2013), 25.

  • 33. Edgar Allan Poe, “The Black Cat,” in The Fall of the House of Usher and Other Writings, ed. David Galloway (New York: Penguin Classics, 1986), 322.

  • 34. Ibid., 329.

  • 35. Lesley Ginsberg, “Slavery and the Gothic Horror of Poe’s ‘The Black Cat,’” in American Gothic: New Interventions in a National Narrative, ed. Robert K. Martin and Eric Savoy (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1998), 99.

  • 36. Frederick S. Frank, Through the Pale Door: A Guide to and through the American Gothic (New York: Greenwood Press, 1990), x.

  • 37. Ellen Glasgow, “Heroes and Monsters,” The Saturday Review, May 4, 1953, 3.

  • 38. Ibid.

  • 39. Gerald Johnson, “The Horrible South,” The Virginia Quarterly Review 11.2 (April 1935): 44.

  • 40. Isaac Rosenfeld, “To Win by Default,” New Republic, July 7, 1952, 19.

  • 41. Williams, Where I Live, 41–42, 42.

  • 42. Richard Gray, Southern Aberrations: Writers of the American South and the Problems of Regionalism (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2000), 160, 161.

  • 43. Michael Kreyling, Inventing Southern Literature (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1998), 78.

  • 44. William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun (1951; repr., New York: Vintage, 2011), 73.

  • 45. Fred Botting, Gothic (London: Routledge, 1995), 9.

  • 46. William Faulkner, “A Rose for Emily,” Collected Stories (1950; repr., New York: Vintage International, 1995), 130.

  • 47. Ibid.

  • 48. Richard Gray, “Inside the Dark House: William Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom! and Southern Gothic,” in The Palgrave Handbook of the Southern Gothic, ed. Susan Castillo Street and Charles L. Crow (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), 23.

  • 49. Crow, History of the Gothic, 124.

  • 50. Ibid., 126.

  • 51. Fisher IV, “Southern Gothic,” 149.

  • 52. David R. Jarraway, “The Gothic Import of Faulkner’s ‘Black Son’ in Light in August,” in American Gothic: New Interventions in a National Narrative, ed. Robert K. Martin and Eric Savoy (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1998), 57.

  • 53. Gray, “Inside the Dark House,” 21, 22.

  • 54. William Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom! (1936; repr., London: Vintage, 1995), 169.

  • 55. Lynn Gartrell Levins, Faulkner’s Heroic Design: The Yoknapatawpha Novels (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1976), 7–8.

  • 56. Ruth D. Weston, Gothic Traditions and Narrative Techniques in the Fiction of Eudora Welty (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1994), 1–2.

  • 57. Ibid., 3.

  • 58. Suzanne V. Donaldson, “Making a Spectacle: Welty, Faulkner, and Southern Gothic,” Mississippi Quarterly 50.4 (Fall 1997): 583.

  • 59. Chad Rohman, “Awful Mystery: Flannery O’Connor as Gothic Artist,” in A Companion to American Gothic, ed. Charles L. Crow (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013), 280.

  • 60. Susan Castillo, “Flannery O’Connor,” in A Companion to The Literature and Culture of the American South, ed. Richard Gray and Owen Robinson (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2007), 488.

  • 61. O’Connor, “Some Aspects of the Grotesque,” 40.

  • 62. Ibid., 41, 43.

  • 63. Flannery O’Connor, “Good Country People,” in The Complete Stories (1971; repr., New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1997), 276, 282, 291.

  • 64. Flannery O’Connor, “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” in The Complete Stories (1971; repr., New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1997), 133.

  • 65. Flannery O’Connor, “On Her Own Work,” in Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose, ed. Sally and Robert Fitzgerald (1969; repr., New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000), 118.

  • 66. O’Connor, “Good Country People,” 291.

  • 67. O’Connor, “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” 132.

  • 68. Free, “Relegation and Rebellion,” 426.

  • 69. Stephen Matterson, “‘The Room Must Evoke Some Ghosts’: Tennessee Williams,” in The Palgrave Handbook of the Southern Gothic, ed. Susan Castillo Street and Charles L. Crow (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), 382–383.

  • 70. Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (New York: Vintage, 1992), 38.

  • 71. Richard Wright, 12 Million Black Voices (1941; repr., New York: Basic Books, 2008), 35.

  • 72. Maisha L. Wester, African American Gothic: Screams from Shadowed Places (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 25.

  • 73. Theodore L. Gross, The Heroic Ideal in American Literature (New York: Free Press, 1971), 184.

  • 74. Richard Wright, “The Ethics of Living Jim Crow,” in Uncle Tom’s Children (1940; repr., New York: Harper Perennial, 2008), 3.

  • 75. Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952; repr., New York: Vintage, 1995), 3.

  • 76. Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937; repr., New York: Perennial Classics, 1997), 161.

  • 77. Walsh, “Dark Legacy,” 23.

  • 78. Wester, African American Gothic, 29.

  • 79. Robert H. Brinkmeyer Jr., “A Long View of History: Cormac McCarthy’s Gothic Vision,” in The Palgrave Handbook of the Southern Gothic, ed. Susan Castillo Street and Charles L. Crow (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), 175.

  • 80. Lydia R. Cooper, “McCarthy, Tennessee, and the Southern Gothic,” in The Cambridge Companion to Cormac McCarthy, ed. Steven Frye (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 41.

  • 81. Frye, Understanding, 44.

  • 82. Cormac McCarthy, Child of God (1973; repr., New York: Vintage International, 1993), 4.

  • 83. Frye, Understanding, 39

  • 84. Jay Ellis, “The Road beyond Zombies of the New South,” in Critical Insights: Southern Gothic Literature, ed. Jay Ellis (Ipswich, MA: Salem, 2013), 50.

  • 85. Barry Hannah, Yonder Stands Your Orphan (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2001), 37–38.

  • 86. Ibid., 175.

  • 87. Ibid., 20–21.

  • 88. Thomas Ærvold Bjerre, “Southern Evil, Southern Violence: Gothic Residues in the Works of William Gay, Barry Hannah, and Cormac McCarthy,” in The Scourges of the South: Essays on the Sickly South in History, Literature, and Popular Culture, ed. Thomas Ærvold Bjerre and Beata Zawadka (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars, 2014), 84.

  • 89. Eric Gary Anderson et al., “Introduction,” Undead Souths: The Gothic and Beyond in Southern Literature and Culture (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2015), 1.

  • 90. Jay Ellis, “On Southern Gothic Literature,” in Critical Insights: Southern Gothic Literature, ed. Jay Ellis (Ipswich, MA: Salem, 2013), xxi.

  • 91. Ibid., xviii.

  • 92. Goddu, Gothic America, 9.

  • 93. Fiedler, Love, 28.

  • 94. Ibid., 29.

  • 95. Ibid., 475.

  • 96. Jerrold E. Hogle, “The Progress of Theory and the Study of the American Gothic,” in A Companion to American Gothic, ed. Charles L. Crow (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013), 5.

  • 97. Ibid.

  • 98. Kerr, William Faulkner’s, 3.

  • 99. Wester, African American Gothic, 257.

  • 100. Houston Baker and Dana Nelson, “Preface: Violence, The Body, and ‘The South,’” American Literature 73.2 (June 2001): 243.

  • 101. Jon Smith and Deborah Cohn, “Introduction: Uncanny Hybridities,” Look Away!: The U.S. South in New World Studies, ed. Jon Smith and Deborah Cohn (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004), 13.

  • 102. Anderson et al., “Introduction,” 2.

  • 103. Ibid., 7.