Both William Faulkner’s short story “A Rose for Emily” and Flannery O’Connor’s short story “A Good Man is Hard to Find” can be categorized as Southern Gothic literature. Gothic literature is that which includes strong elements of darkness—possibly horror and perhaps a little of the macabre. “Southern Gothic” literature is that which includes such elements but also has its origins in the American South of the early half of the twentieth century. Faulkner was a product of Mississippi, and O’Connor of Georgia—both states of the Deep South. Their respective bodies of work reflect their strong Southern backgrounds as well as their tendencies toward cynicism.
“A Rose for Emily” is the story of a woman (the titular figure) who is raised by an over-protective father and, after his death, remains somewhat reclusive and a figure of some mystery and speculation among the citizens of her small town. The story’s climax involves the discovery that the now-deceased Emily had kept prisoner a young construction foreman; she even kept his corpse in her bed.
“A Good Man is Hard to Find” is similarly macabre and involves death—this time of an innocent family at the hands of an escaped convict called “the Misfit” and his cronies.
Both stories revolve around eccentric personalities—Emily and “the grandmother”—and both take place in the American South, the region native to the stories’ respective authors. Both narratives evoke the feel of the American South, with Faulkner’s narrator describing a setting that includes cotton gins, African American servants at the beck and call of once-prominent whites, and the reference to Miss Emily’s final resting place among the “ranked and anonymous graves of Union and Confederate soldiers who fell at the battle of Jefferson.” As with Miss Emily, O’Connor’s protagonist, the grandmother, represents genteel antebellum Southern refinement badly tattered by a more modern legacy of poverty and changing values. Note in the following passage the author’s description of the way her main character prepares for a road trip through the South:
The old lady settled herself comfortably, removing her white cotton gloves and putting them up with her purse on the shelf in front of the back window. The children’s mother still had on slacks and still had her head tied up in a green kerchief, but the grandmother had on a navy blue straw sailor hat with a bunch of white violets on the brim and a navy blue dress with a small white dot in the print. Her collars and cuffs were white organdy trimmed with lace and at her neckline she had pinned a purple spray of cloth violets containing a sachet. In case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady.
That this “lady” should take actions that precipitate the murder of herself and her family definitely lends O’Connor’s story a Gothic element, on par with Faulkner’s aging spinster laying down every night near the decomposed body of her would-be lover. If these two stories do not qualify as “Southern Gothic,” nothing does. Irrational thought processes, legacies of eras gone by, violence, and atmospheres deeply steeped in the American South are all present in both narratives.