Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The images contained in the first sentence of “Dry September” establish the story’s scheme of imagery: “Through the bloody September twilight, aftermath of sixty-two rainless days, it had gone like a fire in dry grass—the rumor, the story, whatever it was.” The equally important image of a “bloody September twilight” foreshadows the violence that will erupt.

Faulkner intensifies the horror of the murder by using images that evoke a sense of impending violence and death. As the barber hurries up the street after McLendon and the others, the streetlights glare “in rigid and violent suspension in the lifeless air.” The “bloody September twilight” has passed into evening: “The day had died in a pall of dust; above the darkened square, shrouded by the spent dust, the sky was as clear as the inside of a brass bell.” As the car moves along the road, its motion is like that of “an extinct furnace blast: cooler, but utterly dead.” The imagery and diction of violence and death intensify the impact of the story. Later, as the “brass bell” begins to toll the death of Will Mayes, “the wan hemorrhage of the moon” increases.

The violence of the “bloody September twilight” has burned itself out; only the red dust remains. Hawkshaw could not prevent the murder of an innocent black man, but he lives and can limp home. The “eternal dust” absorbs the “glare and the sound” of McLendon and the others. Hawkshaw’s race of humane and rational men may fail to control the violence and inhumanity of McLendon’s race, but the dust of the land and of all men absorbs them: “They went on; the dust swallowed them; the glare and the sound died away. The dust of them hung for a while, but soon the eternal dust absorbed it again.” Faulkner suspends one violent moment in a southern town, but the eternal cycle of life and death, of timeless motion, can absorb even the moments of violence.