What are the elements of Southern Gothic?

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rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Southern Gothic tends to focus on death, the macabre, and interpersonal relationships, especially family. Like other forms of Gothic literature, Southern Gothic is deeply informed by an imagined, somewhat Romantic past. The antebellum South is everywhere in Southern Gothic literature, in the form of ruined or declining plantation houses, or once-prominent families trying to cling to their exalted past. There is a deep ambivalence in Southern Gothic writing. On the one hand, there is a sense of place that is, some authors have suggested, deeply Southern, and, as mentioned above, often backward-looking. On the other hand, many Southern Gothic authors have, as one literary critic observes, "filled their stories" with such horrors as "rape and incest, murder and suicide, lynching...idiocy and insanity." The travails of the Compson family in Faulkner's novels reflect many of these frightening themes, and many of these were not historical but rather reflective of the authors' disillusionment with the developing modern South. This is also true in different ways of the alienation and loneliness experienced by characters in the work of Tennessee Williams and Walker Percy, to name just two, as well as the numerous African-American writers whose works display many characteristics of Southern Gothic.

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