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ENG 3XX - Living Traditions: Southern Gothic Literature

This guide supplements ENG 3XX Living Traditions course, which looks at six different authors over six semesters.

What is Southern Gothic Literature?

Southern Gothic is a subgenre of Gothic fiction in American literature that takes place in the American South.

Common themes in Southern Gothic literature include deeply flawed, disturbing or eccentric characters who may or may not dabble in hoodoo, ambivalent gender roles, decayed or derelict settings, grotesque situations, and other sinister events relating to or stemming from poverty, alienation, crime, or violence.

The Southern Gothic style is one that employs the use of 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...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. ~ from Wikipedia 

Southern Gothic Writers

  • Dorothy Allison (b. 1949)
  • Erskine Caldwell (1903–1987)
  • Truman Capote (1924–1984, early works)
  • Brainard Cheney (1900–1990)
  • Harry Crews (1935–2012), who has been called "the Hieronymus Bosch of Southern Gothic"
  • William Faulkner (1897–1962)
  • Tom Franklin (b. 1962)
  • William Goyen (1915–1983)
  • Davis Grubb (1919–1980)
  • Cormac McCarthy (b. 1933)
  • Carson McCullers (1917–1967)
  • Michael McDowell (1950–1999)
  • Joyce Carol Oates (b. 1938)
  • Flannery O'Connor (1925–1964)
  • Walker Percy (1916–1990)
  • Anne Rice (b. 1941), particularly The Feast of All Saints and The Witching Hour
  • Eudora Welty (1909–2001)
  • Tennessee Williams (1911–1983)


Library Materials