Written by Tanya Ives


Southern Gothic Fiction in the United States


   Southern literature, also known as Literature of the American South, consists of works about the Southern States or works by writers from the region. The South can be divided into two parts: the Deep South (South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana) or the extended South which contains the border states (Kentucky, North Carolina, Virginia, and Arkansas, as well as the peripheral southern states of Florida and Texas). However, many well-known Southern authors moved up north at a young age, so while geography is an important factor of Southern writing, it is not its defining factor. This genre usually focuses on Southern history, family, community and one’s role in it, as well as issues of religion, racial tension, social classes and the use of the Southern dialect.


   The gothic novel became popular towards the end of the 18th century in England. The stories are like mysteries, often involving the supernatural, and full of prominent features of horror, terror, doom, death, decay, madness, etc. Atmosphere is very important in this kind of novel as it sets the mood, which is why so many gothic stories are set against dark backgrounds.


   Southern Gothic is a sub-genre of Gothic writing that is unique to American literature. Its main features are also based on supernatural or strange events, but instead of using such features for suspense like in normal Gothic writings, it uses them to explore social issues and to reveal the culture of the South (themes of Southern Literature). This type of literature uses Gothic archetypes like the damsel in distress and the heroic knight and portrays them in a more modern manner so that they fit within the society of today. It doesn’t use the more popular archetypes of Southern literature such as the Southern Belle, the slave, the well-mannered men and the Christian preacher. An important feature of Southern Gothic is the grotesque – a stock character with many imperfections and often a bad personality – but whom the reader still manages to like and empathize with. Southern Gothic authors use extremely flawed characters in order to highlight the negative aspects of the southern culture.

    Some famous Southern writers include William Faulkner (who wrote A Rose for Emily), Flannery O'Connor, and Tennessee Williams. Tennessee Williams described Southern Gothic as a style that captured “an intuition, of an underlying dreadfulness in modern experience.”


    The story begins with death and Miss Emily’s house is described as smelling of dust and disuse”, which suggests neglect and decay. All three of these are themes of Gothic stories. Furthermore, Miss Emily is described as a cold woman with “cold, haughty black eyes”, and although she has many bad points, we, the readers, still sympathize with her. The narrative voice suggests the gossipy nature of a Southern town where everyone knows and judges everyone else. All the neighbors seem to know Miss Emily’s affairs or have some sort of comment about her. The use of “we” shows the way they gang up against her (theme of tension in Southern communities). This story represents the changes in the South during the period; the clash between the old and the new generations and between communities and classes.

   Southern Gothic writers use themes of Southern literature, such as the history of the South, family, community, religion, racial and social tension, and use gothic features (such as the supernatural, strange events, death, decay and madness) to tell their story. Faulkner uses gothic elements to describe tensions in the South.