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What is Southern Grotesque? When we talk about Southern Gothic literature, the word “gothic” pops out as describing something dark and dreary. In fact, in most stories written in Southern Gothic, there are usually characters who have dark agendas, or even to the point where they are even physically deformed. There are stories including, “A Rose for Emily,” “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” and “Good Country People” that show the Southern Gothic aspect but in different ways. This type of literature can branch out in so many ways depending on where the author decides to take their stories. Southern Gothic literature has many defining characteristics. One characteristic is the freakishness in the stories. A character is set into the story as the “freak” to show that their outlook on life is negative, therefore creating that Southern Gothic idea to the story. Another characteristic is violence. Violence is used in stories to help tense things up and the violence is usually brought up upon by racial slurs, disagreements, equality, and many other topics that would cause tension or violence between the characters. Sense of place is also a major factor in Southern Gothic literature. Since it is “Southern” literature, there is a need to describe the setting in stories to where the readers feel and view the places as if they are in the South. These three defining characteristics of southern gothic literature help incline the stories that the authors are trying to portray to the readers.
Flannery O’Connor is known heavily for her work in Southern Grotesque. One of her famous novels is “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” In this short story, a family is on their way to Florida, and during the drive, they have an incident where their car crashes. A group of men then jumps out of another car and that’s when the trouble starts. Every one of the family members in the car is taken into the woods and is executed except for the grandmother. The grandmother decides to be selfish and beg for her life, but the Misfit believes that there are no good men left in the world. The ending point in the story for the grandmother was when she says, “Why you’re one of my babies. You’re one of my own children!” (O’Connor 132). This is when the Misfit breaks and he shoots the grandmother three times in the chest. The Misfit in this case is grotesque. He believes that people are not good enough to be in this world, therefore he doesn’t realize what he’s doing is not moral.
O’Connor also wrote the story, “Good Country People.” This story is about an older woman who is greeted by a Bible salesman at her door. This story has a unique way of showing the Southern Grotesque. The Bible salesman, named Manley Pointer, is portrayed as this heavy Christian man. Hulga does not have the same beliefs as Manley yet she still decides to go out with this man, and she tries to learn more about what he believes in them in hopes that she will be able to believe in something other than nothing. They have sexual tension throughout the story until it comes to the end. This is when Manley reveals his true character by taking Hulga’s wooden leg. He then says towards the end, “I hope you don’t think that I believe in that crap! I may sell Bibles, but I know which end is up and I wasn’t born yesterday, and I know where I’m going!” (O’Connor 18). Manley tries to hide the fact that he’s a con man and truly believes that there is nothing to look forward to, so why be an honest Christian man? This story qualifies as Southern Gothic literature because Manley has a dark agenda that negatively impacts the story to cause calamity to the point where the readers realize what his real intentions were. Manley tells Hulga that this wasn’t the first time that he had scammed someone. This gives more of an outlook on what kind of person Manley is and how it revolves around Southern Gothic literature.
William Faulkner is one of the most influential writers of Southern Grotesque of all time. He wrote a short story named, “A Rose for Emily” in 1929. Just like all the other stories I have mentioned, this story portrays something that can happen in the modern world today, yet it is still so gruesome that people would believe that it could not happen today. In “A Rose for Emily,” Emily experiences her father’s death. For a while, she doesn’t want to give up his body and does not accept the fact that he is deceased. She eventually decides to give the body up for burial. Her aunt was mental, so the people of the town were thinking she got that seed from her aunt, but Emily stayed quiet until she met Homer, who she is thinking of marrying. Emily goes into town to buy poison and says it’s for rats, but the townsfolk believe that she is to use it on herself. Later, during the story, Emily and Homer are never to be seen outside of their home again. Emily decides that the only true way of being able to have and control someone forever is if they are dead. Faulkner said in the story, “Then we noticed that in the second pillow was the indentation of ahead. One of us lifted something from it, and leaving forward, that faint and invisible dust dry and acrid in the nostrils, we saw a long strand of iron-gray hair.” (Faulkner 10). Even though this is at the end of the story, we realize that Emily had necrophilia. Thus, this short story does qualify as Southern Gothic literature because Emily is a “freak” in some way from suffering from necrophilia. For the most part, it’s believed that her father, who died at the beginning of the story, made Emily the way she is because he was controlling over her and she then felt like she needed to control Homer.