Common themes in Southern Gothic literature include deeply flawed, disturbing or eccentric characters who may be involved in hoodoo, decayed or derelict settings, grotesque situations, and other sinister events relating to or stemming from poverty, alienation, crime, or violence.
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-idealized visions of Mark Twain. The genre came together, however, only in the 20th century, when dark romanticism, Southern humor, and the new literary naturalism merged into a new and powerful form of social critique. The thematic material was largely a result of the culture existing in the South following the collapse of the Confederacy. It left a vacuum in both values and religion that became filled with poverty due to defeat in the Civil war and reconstruction, racism, excessive violence, and hundreds of different denominations resulting from the theological divide that separated the country over the issue of slavery.
The term "Southern Gothic" was originally used as pejorative and dismissive. Ellen Glasgow used the term in this way when she referred to the writings of Erskine Caldwell and William Faulkner. She included the authors in what she called the "Southern Gothic School" in 1935, stating that their work was filled with "aimless violence" and "fantastic nightmares." It was so negatively viewed at first that Eudora Welty said, "They better not call me that!"
The Southern Gothic style employs macabre, ironic events to examine the values of the American South. 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 often 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.
There are many characteristics in Southern Gothic Literature that relate back to its parent genre of American Gothic and even to European Gothic. However, the setting of these works are distinctly Southern. Some of these characteristics are exploring madness, decay and despair, continuing pressures of the past upon the present, particularly with the lost ideals of a dispossessed Southern aristocracy and continued racial hostilities.
Southern Gothic particularly focuses on the South's history of slavery, racism, fear of the outside world, violence, a "fixation with the grotesque, and a tension between realistic and supernatural elements".
Similar to the elements of the Gothic castle, Southern Gothic gives us the decay of the plantation in the post-Civil War South.
Villains who disguise themselves as innocents or victims are often found in Southern Gothic Literature, especially stories by Flannery O'Connor, such as Good Country People and The Life You Save May Be Your Own, giving us a blurred line between victim and villain.
Southern Gothic literature set out to expose the myth of old antebellum South, and its narrative of an idyllic past hidden by social, familial, and racial denials and suppressions.
A resurgence of Southern Gothic themes in contemporary fiction has been identified in the work of figures like Barry Hannah (1942–2010), Joe R. Lansdale (b. 1951) and Cherie Priest (b. 1975).
A number of films and television programs are also described as being part of the Southern Gothic genre. Some prominent examples are:
Southern Gothic (also known as Gothic Americana, or Dark 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.
The images of Great Depression photographer Walker Evans are frequently seen to evoke the visual depiction of the Southern Gothic; Evans claimed: "I can understand why Southerners are haunted by their own landscape".
Another noted Southern Gothic photographer was surrealist, Clarence John Laughlin, who photographed cemeteries, plantations, and other abandoned places throughout the American South (primarily Louisiana) for nearly 40 years.
William Gibson took an ironic 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 says he finds Rydell 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".
Put out by finding 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.'"
As I Lay Dying is a 1930 novel, in the genre of Southern Gothic, by American author William Faulkner. Faulkner said that he wrote the novel from midnight to 4:00 AM over the course of six weeks and that he did not change a word of it. Faulkner wrote it while working at a power plant, published it in 1930, and described it as a "tour de force". Faulkner's fifth novel, it is consistently ranked among the best novels of 20th-century literature. The title derives from Book XI of Homer's Odyssey (William Marris's 1925 translation), wherein Agamemnon tells Odysseus: "As I lay dying, the woman with the dog's eyes would not close my eyes as I descended into Hades."
The novel utilizes stream of consciousness writing technique, multiple narrators, and varying chapter lengths.Cookie's Fortune
Cookie's Fortune is a 1999 criminal comedy film directed by Robert Altman and starring an ensemble cast, including Glenn Close, Julianne Moore, Liv Tyler, Patricia Neal, Charles S. Dutton and Chris O'Donnell.
It portrays small-town Southern life in Holly Springs, Mississippi, where the film was mostly shot. It was entered into the 49th Berlin International Film Festival, held in February 1999.Crimes of the Heart (film)
Crimes of the Heart is a 1986 American southern gothic film directed by Bruce Beresford. The screenplay by Beth Henley is adapted from her Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name.
The film tells the story of the three Magrath sisters, Babe, Lenny, and Meg, who reunite in their family home in Mississippi to regroup and settle their past. Each sister is forced to face the consequences of the "crimes of the heart" she has committed.Deliverance
Deliverance is a 1972 American thriller film produced and directed by John Boorman, and starring Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty and Ronny Cox, with the latter two making their feature film debuts. The film is based on the 1970 novel of the same title by author James Dickey, who has a small role in the film as the sheriff, and who wrote the screenplay (uncredited). The film was a critical success, earning three Oscar nominations and five Golden Globe Award nominations.
Widely acclaimed as a landmark picture, the film is noted for a music scene near the beginning, with one of the city men playing "Dueling Banjos" on guitar with a banjo-strumming country boy, and for its visceral and notorious rape scene. In 2008, Deliverance was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."Fables of the Reconstruction
Fables of the Reconstruction, also known as Reconstruction of the Fables, is the third studio album by American alternative rock band R.E.M., released on I.R.S. Records in 1985. The Joe Boyd-produced album was the first recorded by the group outside the United States. It is a concept album with Southern Gothic themes and characters.Hilarie Burton
Hilarie Ros Burton is an American actress and producer. A former host of MTV's Total Request Live, she portrayed Peyton Sawyer on The WB/CW drama One Tree Hill for six seasons (2003–09). Burton gained wider recognition with leading roles in the films Our Very Own, Solstice, and The List. She starred as Sara Ellis on the USA crime drama White Collar (2010–13); and, in 2013, she had a recurring role as Dr. Lauren Boswell on the ABC medical drama Grey's Anatomy. In 2014, she appeared in the short-lived ABC drama series Forever as Molly Dawes, and a recurring role in the short-lived CBS sci-fi drama series Extant as Anna Schaefer in 2015. From 2016 until 2017, Burton recurred as DEA Agent Karen Palmer on the Fox television series Lethal Weapon.Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is a non-fiction work by John Berendt. The book, Berendt's first, was published in 1994. It became a New York Times Best-Seller for 216 weeks following its debut and remains the longest-standing New York Times Best-Seller.The book was subsequently made into Clint Eastwood's 1997 film adaptation.Suddenly, Last Summer (film)
Suddenly, Last Summer is a 1959 American Southern Gothic mystery film based on the play of the same name by Tennessee Williams. The film was directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and produced by Sam Spiegel from a screenplay by Gore Vidal and Williams with cinematography by Jack Hildyard and production design by Oliver Messel. The musical score was composed by Buxton Orr, using themes by Malcolm Arnold.
The plot centers on a young woman who, at the insistence of her wealthy aunt, is being evaluated by a psychiatric doctor to receive a lobotomy after witnessing the death of her cousin Sebastian Venable while travelling with him in Spain the previous summer.
The film stars Elizabeth Taylor, Katharine Hepburn, and Montgomery Clift with Albert Dekker, Mercedes McCambridge, and Gary Raymond.Summer and Smoke (film)
Summer and Smoke is a 1961 American drama film directed by Peter Glenville, and starring Laurence Harvey and Geraldine Page, with Rita Moreno, Una Merkel, John McIntire, Thomas Gomez, Pamela Tiffin, Malcolm Atterbury, Lee Patrick, and Earl Holliman. Based on the Tennessee Williams play of the same name, it was adapted by James Poe and Meade Roberts. The story follows a young reserved girl who meets a doctor who lives on the wild side. They become friends, but the beliefs they hold create difficulties for the relationship.Swamp Water
Swamp Water is a 1941 film directed by Jean Renoir and starring Walter Brennan and Walter Huston. Based on the novel by Vereen Bell, it was produced at 20th Century Fox. The film was shot on location at Okefenokee Swamp, Waycross, Georgia, USA. It was Renoir's first American film. The film was remade in 1952 as Lure of the Wilderness, directed by Jean Negulesco.The Beguiled (1971 film)
The Beguiled is a 1971 American Southern Gothic film directed by Don Siegel, starring Clint Eastwood and Geraldine Page. The script was written by Albert Maltz and is based on the 1966 novel written by Thomas P. Cullinan, originally titled A Painted Devil. The film marks the third of five collaborations between Siegel and Eastwood, following Coogan's Bluff (1968) and Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970), and continuing with Dirty Harry (1971) and Escape from Alcatraz (1979).The Gift (2000 film)
The Gift is a 2000 American supernatural thriller film directed by Sam Raimi, written by Billy Bob Thornton and Tom Epperson, and based on the alleged psychic experiences of Thornton's mother.The film centers on Annie (Cate Blanchett) becoming involved in a murder case as a result of acquiring knowledge about the crime through extrasensory perception. The cast also includes Keanu Reeves, Giovanni Ribisi, Hilary Swank, Katie Holmes, and Greg Kinnear.The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter
The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1940) is the debut novel by the American author Carson McCullers; she was 23 at the time of publication. It is about a deaf man named John Singer and the people he encounters in a 1930s mill town in the US state of Georgia.The Muppet Musicians of Bremen
The Muppet Musicians of Bremen (released on home video as Tales from MuppetLand: The Muppet Musicians of Bremen) is a 1972 television special that is an adaptation of Town Musicians of Bremen, featuring The Muppets. It is directed and produced by The Muppet's creator Jim Henson. Kermit the Frog hosts the special.The Optimist's Daughter
The Optimist's Daughter is a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction-winning short novel by Eudora Welty. It was first published as a long story in the New Yorker in March 1969 and was subsequently revised and published in book form in 1972. It concerns a woman named Laurel, who travels to New Orleans to take care of her father, Judge McKelva, after he has surgery for a detached retina. Judge McKelva fails to recover from this surgery and as he dies slowly in the hospital, Laurel visits and reads to him from Dickens. Her father's second wife, Fay, who is younger than Laurel, is a shrewish outsider from Texas. Her shrill response to the Judge's illness appears to accelerate his demise. Laurel and Fay are thrown together when they return the Judge to his home town of Mount Salus, Mississippi, where he will be buried. There, Laurel is immersed in the good neighborliness of the friends and family she knew before marrying and moving away to Chicago. Fay, though, has always been unwelcome and leaves for a long weekend, leaving Laurel in the big house full of memories. Laurel encounters her mother's memory, her father's life after he lost his first wife, and the complex emotions surrounding her loss, and the wave of memories in which she swims. She comes to a place of understanding that Fay can never share, and she leaves small town Mississippi with the memories she can carry with her.To Kill a Mockingbird
To Kill a Mockingbird is a novel by Harper Lee published in 1960. Instantly successful, widely read in high schools and middle schools in the United States, it has become a classic of modern American literature, winning the Pulitzer Prize. The plot and characters are loosely based on Lee's observations of her family, her neighbors and an event that occurred near her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, in 1936, when she was 10 years old.
The novel is renowned for its warmth and humor, despite dealing with the serious issues of rape and racial inequality. The narrator's father, Atticus Finch, has served as a moral hero for many readers and as a model of integrity for lawyers. Historian, J. Crespino explains, "In the twentieth century, To Kill a Mockingbird is probably the most widely read book dealing with race in America, and its main character, Atticus Finch, the most enduring fictional image of racial heroism."As a Southern Gothic and Bildungsroman novel, the primary themes of To Kill a Mockingbird involve racial injustice and the destruction of innocence. Scholars have noted that Lee also addresses issues of class, courage, compassion, and gender roles in the American Deep South. The book is widely taught in schools in the United States with lessons that emphasize tolerance and decry prejudice. Despite its themes, To Kill a Mockingbird has been subject to campaigns for removal from public classrooms, often challenged for its use of racial epithets.
Reaction to the novel varied widely upon publication. Despite the number of copies sold and its widespread use in education, literary analysis of it is sparse. Author Mary McDonough Murphy, who collected individual impressions of To Kill a Mockingbird by several authors and public figures, calls the book "an astonishing phenomenon". In 2006, British librarians ranked the book ahead of the Bible as one "every adult should read before they die". It was adapted into an Academy Award-winning film in 1962 by director Robert Mulligan, with a screenplay by Horton Foote. Since 1990, a play based on the novel has been performed annually in Harper Lee's hometown.
To Kill a Mockingbird was Lee's only published book until Go Set a Watchman, an earlier draft of To Kill a Mockingbird, was published on July 14, 2015. Lee continued to respond to her work's impact until her death in February 2016, although she had refused any personal publicity for herself or the novel since 1964.Tobacco Road (film)
Tobacco Road is a 1941 film directed by John Ford and starring Charley Grapewin, Marjorie Rambeau, Gene Tierney, William Tracy Dana Andrews and Ward Bond. It was based on the novel of the same name by Erskine Caldwell, but the plot was rewritten for the film.Winter's Bone
Winter's Bone is a 2010 American mystery drama film directed by Debra Granik. It was adapted by Granik and Anne Rosellini from the 2006 novel of the same name by Daniel Woodrell. The film stars Jennifer Lawrence as a teenage girl in the rural Ozarks of Missouri who, to protect her family from eviction, must locate her missing father. The film explores the interrelated themes of close and distant family ties, the power and speed of gossip, self-sufficiency, and poverty as they are changed by the pervasive underworld of illegal meth labs.
The film won several awards, including the Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic Film at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. It also received 4 Academy Award nominations: Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actress for Lawrence and Best Supporting Actor for John Hawkes.Written on the Wind
Written on the Wind is a 1956 American Technicolor melodrama film directed by Douglas Sirk and starring Rock Hudson, Lauren Bacall, Robert Stack and Dorothy Malone.
The screenplay by George Zuckerman was based on Robert Wilder's 1945 novel of the same name, a thinly disguised account of the real-life scandal involving torch singer Libby Holman and her husband, tobacco heir Zachary Smith Reynolds. Zuckerman shifted the locale from North Carolina to Texas, made the source of the family wealth oil rather than tobacco, and changed all the characters' names.
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