Essay on southern gothic

Submitted By jboltin
Words: 1871
Pages: 8

Reflecting the political and social apprehensions of society, gothic literature, appearing in the eighteenth century, provided a springboard for writers to explore the mysterious, abnormal and unspeakable atrocities considered too close to home. Through the prism of gothic conventions, twentieth century southern gothic continues to present a vision of life blending realism with the forbidden, grotesque with violence and a sense of individual isolation and community alienation or senselessness. Applying Freudian principles of frightful and dreadful as a means in provoking recognition of contemporary challenges which plague our society, “it is true that the writer creates a kind of uncertainty in us in the beginning by not letting us know, no doubt purposely, whether he is taking us into the real world or into a purely fantastic one of his own creation uncanny (Freud).” Three writers utilizing the gothic tradition in an intent to mirror racial and social disparities and expose the apprehensions and anxieties of their audience are William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! (1936), Carson McCullers’s “The Ballad of the Sad Café” (1951), and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird (1960). Amalgamating the gothic, the grotesque and naturalism, these unique writers create in their fiction recognizable warped rural communities while questioning small town fears and mentality and of the modern South. A grotesque character in each of these works reveals the failure of the southern honor code, the distorted family relations against the obligations of community expectations and pressures of conformity.
The earliest work, Absalom, appeared during a time described as post-memory trauma; through living witnesses, the narration of the past connects and claims characters of the present. The past weighs heavily on the present and no one can escape the horrors and cruelty of Thomas Sutpen, the unknown patriarch around whom the novel is centered.

The notion of the past is tied up with the crises that the various characters experienced. The past bears down very strongly on the present, and no one can escape Sutpen's influence. In the decades following the rise of the New South from the ruins of Civil War, Faulkner illustrates the absurdity of prior magnificence in Sutpen’s desire for a grand family legacy. The only surviving heir to his contrived empire is Jim Bond, the mentally challenged grandson of Charles Bon. As the United States continued to find its identity the pre-world war two decades, the publication of Absalom illustrates the irony and absurdity of once great wealthy Southern families; pretenses of family lineage and past grandeur have expose the reality racial indifferences in the South of Faulkner’s time. The idiocy of Jim Bond as only surviving Sutpen represents the senselessness of the South’s inability to engage in the modern world. Jim Bond fulfills the role of grounds caretaker of Supten’s Hundred when Quentin visits in 1909. Dislocation and homelessness haunt the reader as Jim Bond wails of the fire which finally destroys the Sutpen plantation. “Jim Bond, the scion, the last of his race, seeing it too now and howling with human reason now since now even he could have known what he was howling about (p. 300).” His cry, however, develops from more than just the loss of a house; this mulatto descent of Thomas Sutpen reverberates the agony of annihilation of coherent ideals of home, family and nation.
Composed of white and black lineage Jim Bond reveals the diverse cultural and historical terrains between West Virginia, Africa, Haiti, New Orleans, Africa and mythical Yoknapatawpha County of Mississippi. With no identity, Jim Bond diverts attention to twentieth century American politics in which the boundaries of race, nation and identify are blurred and can quickly crumble. As the novel closes, the reader is left with the images of a devastating fire and nightmarish wails of Jim Bond described as ghostlike and insubstantial with…