Gothic Fiction: Gothic fiction (sometimes referred to as Gothic horror) is a genre of literature that combines elements of both horror and romance. As a genre, it is generally believed to have been invented by the English author Horace Walpole, with his 1764 novel The Castle of Otranto. (Wikipedia)
Southern Gothic Fiction: Southern Gothic is a subgenre of Gothic fiction unique to American literature that takes place exclusively in the American South.
Books of the Genre
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
As a Southern Gothic novel and a Bildungsroman, 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. (Wikipedia)
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
[The novel] addresses many of the social and intellectual issues facing African-Americans early in the twentieth century, including Black Nationalism, the relationship between black identity and Marxism, and the reformist racial policies of Booker T. Washington, as well as issues of individuality and personal identity. (Wikipedia)
The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
Written in Charlotte, North Carolina in a house on East Blvd, it is about a deaf man named John Singer and the people he encounters in a 1930s mill town in the U.S. state of Georgia. (Wikipedia)
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
The novel narrates main character Janie Crawford’s “ripening from a vibrant, but voiceless, teenage girl into a woman with her finger on the trigger of her own destiny.” [The novel is] set in central and southern Florida in the early 20th century. (Wikipedia)
Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor
The story of Hazel Motes, a twenty-two-year-old caught in an unending struggle against his innate, desperate faith. He falls under the spell of a “blind” street preacher names Asa Hawks and his degenerate fifteen-year-old daughter, Lily Sabbath. In an ironic, malicious gesture of his own non-faith, and to prove himself a greater cynic than Hawks, Hazel Motes founds The Church Without Christ, but is still thwarted in his efforts to lose God. He meets Enoch Emery, a young man with “wise blood,” who leads him to a mummified holy child, and whose crazy maneuvers are a manifestation of Hazel’s existential struggles. (Publisher)
The sections below were taken from this PDF document.
Characteristics of Southern Literature
- A focus on Southern History
- Significance of family
- A sense of community and one’s role within it
- A sense of justice
- Religion and the burdens/rewards religion often brings
- Issues of racial tension
- Land and the promise it brings
- A sense of social class and place
- Southern dialect
- Uses the macabre, supernatural, grotesque, and ironic to examine the values of the South
- Known for its damaged and delusional characters
- First popularized by Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Ambrose Bierce
- Portrays a world in ruins
- Often deals with the plight of those who are ostracized or oppressed by traditional Southern culture
- When southern gothic authors examine the human condition, they see the potential to do harm.
- Morality is in question for many characters.
- A major theme for southern gothic writers hinges on innocence, and the innocent’s place in the world — they are often asked to act as redeemer.
Elements of the Southern Gothic Genre:
In most southern gothic stories, there is a pivotal character or someone close to them who is set apart from the world by a disability or odd way of seeing the world. You won’t meet very many “normal” characters in the writings of William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Truman Capote or Carson McCullers—and this is by design. This fascination with the outsider is in many ways used to show readers not only the individuality of the southern culture, but also to connect each reader to their own unique “freakish” nature.
This is often both literal and figurative. While many southern gothic tales include an incident where a character is sent to jail or locked up, there are also several gothic characters that live in fate’s prison without hope of parole.
Southern gothic writers covered a period in the South’s history when violence was particularly prevalent. After the bloodshed of the Civil War, and the period of reconstruction that followed, racial tension and fear ran high in many small southern towns. This plays its part in many of the stories of this genre.
Sense of Place
It wouldn’t be southern gothic if you didn’t feel like you’d been thrust in the center of a dusty, peach-scented, lonely downtown where porch-bound widows rock gently on creaky rockers, rusty pick-up trucks drive by filled with grimy farmhands, the general store is run by the town drunk, and flies and mosquitoes circle glasses of ice-filled lemonade. The sense of place is strong—awash in calm, pregnant heat, lost dreams and wayward souls.