How do William Faulkner's works show the significant differences between the old South and the new South in "Dry September"?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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William Faulkner once remarked, "I love the South; I hate the South." This Nobel Prize winner who rarely strayed far from his home of Oxford, Mississippi, depicted the South with honesty and candor, but always there is a certain poignancy to his tales. In his works, Faulkner documents the ability to endure and illuminates social issues with honesty, sparing no level of Southern society. The Old South that has become decadent is depicted in the Compsons of The Sound and the Fury; the poor whites, "buckra," are portrayed in As I Lay Dying. Yet there is in both these novels a discussion of the existential metaphysics of everyday life. 

In his short story "Dry September," Faulkner unapologetically portrays the "good ol'boy" of his beloved South, a type character of the white male who dominated by any means necessary. The narrative revolves around making the innocent Willie Mayes the scapegoat for the questionable behavior of one of the white ladies of the town. Whether Mayes is innocent or not is ignored in the overriding passion to make an example of any black male so that others will not be tempted to cross racial lines. (Miscegenation was against the law.) When the barber tries to convince the old soldier McLendon that Willie Mayes would never commit rape--"I know Willie Mayes"--and that the incident probably never happened because Miss Minnie has "a bit of an imagination," he is contradicted:

Happen? What the hell difference does it make? Are you going to let the black sons---- get away with it until one really does it?

As the barber continues to try to reason with the men who have now taken on the mentality of the vigilante, he is told,

"Sure, sure," the soldier said. "We're just going to talk to him a little; that's all." 
"Talk hell!" Butch said. "When we're through with the..." 
"Shut up, for God's sake!" the soldier said. "Do you want everybody in town...."

They load into cars and speed off to grab Willie Mayes, who is a night watchman at a plant. Willie pleads with them that he is innocent, but to no avail. When McLendon returns home, he flings his wife brutally out of the way, takes off his shirt and wipes his sweating body after laying his pistol on the bed. There is no authorial comment until the last subtle line, "The dark world seemed to lie stricken beneath the cold moon and the lidless stars." 

The South of the early twentieth century was very cruel to African-Americans (it is noted that McLendon served in World War I). It was ruled by Jim Crow Laws after wealthy investors of the North, eager for the South to recover its economy as profits could be gleaned from the shipping of tobacco and cotton, helped to pass laws to undo many of the post-Civil War rights afforded African-Americans because Southerners argued that they needed to control this large population. Unfortunately, the acts of McClendon and the others who inflict such deadly cruelty upon a man are exemplary of means used to subject and control others.

But after 1950 and the Little Rock Nine, schools in the South became integrated as did other facilities. The turbulent 60s brought about the most important transformation, however, and it was in this decade that Faulkner died. After the legislation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the South was forced to change, and there is nothing uncommon about couples of differing races or children of mixed race in Southern towns.

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