Southern Gothic

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - View original article

Jump to: navigation, search

Southern Gothic is a subgenre of Gothic fiction unique to American literature that takes place exclusively in the American South.

Common themes in Southern Gothic literature include deeply flawed, disturbing or eccentric characters who may or may not dabble in hoodoo,[1] ambivalent gender roles and decayed or derelict settings,[2] grotesque situations, and other sinister events relating to or coming from poverty, alienation, crime and violence. While the tales in literature can be set among various classes, the decay of the southern aristocracy and the setting of the plantation are the usual settings for southern gothic tales in the popular mind.


Elements of a gothic treatment of the South were apparent in the 19th century, ante- and post-bellum, in the grotesques of Henry Clay Lewis and the de-idealised visions of Mark Twain.[3] The genre came together, however, only in the 20th century, when Dark Romanticism, Southern humour, and the new Naturalism merged into a new and powerful form of social critique.[4]


The southern gothic style is one that employs the use of macabre, ironic events to examine the values of the American South.[5] Thus unlike its parent genre, it uses the gothic tools not solely for the sake of suspense, but to explore social issues and reveal the cultural character of the American South - Gothic elements taking place in a magic realist context rather than a strictly fantastical one.

Warped rural communities replaced the sinister plantations of an earlier age; and in the works of leading figures such as William Faulkner, Carson McCullers and Flannery O'Connor, the representation of the South blossomed into an absurdist critique of modernity as a whole.[6]

Authors and music[edit]

Other key authors[edit]

(Some have included Eudora Welty in the category but apparently she disagreed: '"They better not call me that!" she abruptly told Alice Walker in an interview.') [8]

A resurgence of southern gothic themes in contemporary fiction has been identified in the work of figures like Cherie Priest, Joe Lansdale,[9] and Barry Hannah.[10]

Southern Gothic in music[edit]

Southern Gothic (also known as Gothic Americana, or Death Country) is a genre of music characterized by a fusion of alternative rock and classic country/folk. The genre shares thematic connections with the Southern Gothic genre of literature, and indeed the parameters of what makes something Gothic Americana appears to have more in common with literary genres than traditional musical ones. Songs often examine poverty, criminal behavior, religious imagery, death, ghosts, family, lost love, alcohol, murder, the devil, and betrayal.[11]



Photographic representation[edit]

The images of Great Depression photographer Walker Evans are frequently seen to evoke the visual depiction of the southern gothic, Evans claiming that "I can understand why Southerners are haunted by their own landscape".[12]

Another noted Southern Gothic photographer was Surrealist, Clarence John Laughlin, who photographed plantations, cemeteries, and other abandoned places throughout the South (primarily Louisiana) for nearly 40 years.

Film and television[edit]

A number of films and television programmes are also described as being part of the Southern Gothic genre. Some prominent examples are:[13]

Postmodern pastiche[edit]

William Gibson took an ironical look at the cult of 'Southernness' in his novel Virtual Light. Rydell, the stolid, southern antihero, is looking for a job at an LA shop called Nightmare Folk Art - Southern Gothic. The (northern) owner finds him unsuitable. "'What we offer people here is a certain vision, Mr. Rydell. A certain darkness as well. A Gothic quality....The Mind of the South. A fever dream of sensuality'".[15]

Put out to find himself not southern enough for this New Englander, "'Lady,' Rydell said carefully, 'I think you're crazier than a sack full of assholes.' Her eyebrows shot up. 'There,' she said. 'There what?' 'Color, Mr. Rydell. Fire. The brooding verbal polychromes of an almost unthinkably advanced decay.'"[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Julia Merkel, Writing against the Odds (2008) p. 25-7
  2. ^ Harold Bloom, The Ballad of the Sad Cafe – Carson McCullers (2009) p. 95-7
  3. ^ J. M. Flora et al eds., The Companion to Southern Literature (2002) p. 313-4
  4. ^ J. M. Flora et al eds., The Companion to Southern Literature (2002) p. 315
  5. ^, "Genre: The Southern Gothic."
  6. ^ J. M. Flora et al eds., The Companion to Southern Literature (2002) p. 315-6
  7. ^ Smith, Allan Lloyd (2004) American Gothic Fiction: An Introduction
  8. ^ The Mississippi Quarterly, September 22, 1997 | Donaldson, Susan V.
  9. ^ Daniel Olson, 21st-century Gothic (2011) p. 171
  10. ^ Julia Merkel, Writing against the Odds (2008) p. 31
  11. ^ "Gothic Americana Tag". Retrieved 10 March 2014. 
  12. ^ Julia Merkel, Writing against the Odds (2008) p. 57
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Wigley, Samuel (20 January 2014). "10 great Southern Gothic films". British Film Institute. Retrieved 13 March 2014. 
  14. ^ "Building a Southern Gothic". The Wall Street Journal. April 24, 2013. Retrieved May 6, 2014. 
  15. ^ William Gibson, Virtual Light (1993) p. 53
  16. ^ William Gibson, Virtual Light (1993) p. 54

External links[edit]