How Does A 3 Year Old Boy See His Dad Southern Gothic Writing in "A Rose For Emily" and "To Kill a Mockingbird"

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Southern Gothic Writing in "A Rose For Emily" and "To Kill a Mockingbird"

Southern Gothic is an American subgenre of the Gothic style, probably most familiar to you from the Brontë sisters of Victorian England. (No, we’re not talking hot topic here.) Like its European forefather, the Southern Gothic style leans heavily on the supernatural—only with less “Oh, Heathcliffe!” and more “Oh no, racism!” (Unlike Gothic novels, Southern Gothic novels are more interested in exposing social crimes and injustices than in bleakness for bleakness’s sake.) Elements of the grotesque are also common to both genres, but may take the form of actual bodily gore or just extremely flawed characters who are somehow bearable enough to remain interesting. (See also: “Oh, Heathcliffe!”)

William Faulkner is known to have been particularly good with the Southern Gothic style, and many American children read his chilling and revolting “A Rose for Emily” in junior high school. This short story, which begins with a funeral and ends with the discovery of a decades-old corpse, recalls the life of Miss Emily Grierson, a recently deceased town spinster. It turns out her father was a bit overbearing, and while we don’t know if there was any abuse, let’s just say she didn’t manage to break her curfew until she was 35. When the old man finally meets his maker, Emily refuses to admit he’s dead or leave the house for three days—which wouldn’t be so creepy if his decomposing body wasn’t still inside.

However, the even creepier part is that this is not the same corpse that appears in Emily’s house at the end of the book; that one belonged to her former and short-lived boyfriend, who wined her, dined her, and tried to bail her out a few years after her dad died. Man, did he pick the wrong woman. Although Emily is clearly demented, her father’s mistreatment and consequent psychological damage still make her a likable character. So nice, in fact, that the townspeople help cover up the murder by sprinkling lime on her house when it starts to stink. (WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR!) So, we summarize how “A Rose for Emily” stacks up as a Southern Gothic novel. Death? Check. Injustice? Check. Grotesque? Double check. A terrifyingly closed place with a mysterious past in a seemingly haunted house? Matte.

Now that we have a sense of what genre it is, let’s do a little comparison. One of the most widely read and beloved Southern Gothic novels in America is To Kill a Mockingbird, which describes Scout and Jem Finch’s fearful childhood interactions with the local social outcast, Bo Radley. This book might not strike you as particularly gothic, especially if you grew up wanting to be friends with Jem and Scout (and maybe even Boo) or have Atticus as a father, but technically speaking, it fits. Let’s look at those criteria again.

  1. Supernatural. Okay, so Mockingbird isn’t exactly supernatural, but told through the eyes of a terrified six-year-old, it might as well be. Scary guy locked in his house for decades because he probably stabbed his dad in the leg with a pair of scissors? It’s not natural, that’s for sure. The only thing stopping Boo from becoming the real Emily Grierson is the fact that he’s not hiding any bodies – that we know of.
  2. Injustice. Hi boy! Almost every character in the novel is at least somewhat racist, including our sympathetic narrator from time to time. The plot revolves around the trial of Tom Robinson, a black man wrongly accused – and ultimately convicted – of raping a white woman – who invented the story to hide his crush on Tom from his abusive father. When Tom tries to escape from prison, he is shot seventeen times. You know, just in case.
  3. Grotesque. Although To Kill a Mockingbird isn’t gory, some of its characters can be downright nasty. Mrs. Dubose is an excellent example of a grotesque character; she’s a humorless old bigot with an unnecessarily possessive attitude towards her camellias, but since we later find out she’s trying to kick a nasty morphine addiction, we end up feeling kind of bad for her. Sometimes a drug addiction or an overbearing father is enough.

So while these two stories may seem very different at first glance, they share a special combination of gothic elements that allow them to unglamorously explore the social and cultural issues of the South – whether it’s racism and bigotry or simply the outdated “Southern Belle” approach to dating. . You decide which is scarier.

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