Southern Gothic Fiction

Published: 2021-07-30 17:00:08
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Category: God, Novel, Jesus, Gothic Literature

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Sean Tinsley Eng 151C-33 3/08/2013 Southern Gothic Fiction is a genre of literature unique to the American south. Major influences of the genre itself were the culture, religion, and economic standing of the south at the beginning of the 20th century. Many who read southern gothic are transported into a grotesque fantasy world where ideas of death, good versus bad, and god are all prevalent. Many American authors were greatly influenced by the ideas of southern gothic literature such as “Harper Lee, Flannery O’Connor…William Faulkner, Truman Capote, and to a lesser extent, Eudora Welty. (jenksps. org) The culture of the south is riddled with strong beliefs in different sects of Christianity; mainly Presbyterians and Baptists with a passionate group of Evangelicals as well. Because God plays a large role in most southern gothic literature, the idea of morality is also of huge importance. Many protagonists will be juxtaposed by a moral less antagonist; usually the epitome of evil. Along with that comes the idea of a crumbling landscape; desolate almost. I believe this represents how the south was struggling economically at the time due to the crumbling of the antebellum era. jenksps. org) For this essay, I chose to analyze “This Is the Only Time I’ll Tell It” by Doris Betts. This story hits all the main topics of southern gothic literature; the idea of death or the grotesque, the concept of good versus bad, and God as well. The concept of good versus evil drives the overall moral of the short story “This Is the Only Time I’ll Tell It”. In fact, this theme provides the first instance of conflict. The narrator, a man by the last name of Coney, describes to the reader a woman, Zelene, who noticed a disturbance at the Jamison household.
Upon further investigation she noticed Tom Jamison trying to drown his nine month old baby girl. Fortunately, she saved the baby and “when she had brought back breath and screams, Zelene opened her clothes and fixed that naked baby flat against her naked breasts and…ran yelling into my store. ”(Christ Haunted Landscape, 232) Shortly thereafter, Zelene grabs one of Mr. Coley’s axes of his shelf and simply states, “I’m going back and kill him[Tom Jamison]. ”(Christ Haunted Landscape, 233) Mr.
Coley made no objection to her claim, and when she didn’t find him, he noted the other 20 townspeople who “had been heard to declare it was a shame Zelene had not drove home her ax. ”(Christ Haunted Landscape, 233) The interesting take on good versus evil shows itself in the characters’ response to unspeakable crime. All the townspeople were upset Tom Jamison hadn’t been brutally murdered. The attitude of the characters towards him, including Mr. Coley, fester inside them throughout the remainder of the story ultimately culminating in Mr.



Coley killing Tom Jamison with an ax upon his return to the store; the irony being that it was inside the store when Zelene first said she would kill him. Because the justice for the unspeakable crime of attempted murder on a baby was carried out by a normal citizen, this speaks highly for the overall theme. Although other elements of southern gothic fiction are prevalent in “This Is the Only Time I’ll Tell It”, good versus evil, and, more importantly, how evil should be treated, is the engine that drives this story. God, the uniting or divisive factor in the south, also plays a huge role in the story.
More importantly, the difference between what is deemed moral in God’s eyes, and what the characters perceive as justifiable sin. Mr. Coley mentions the town’s resistance to telling the truth about the next of kin. “But we had 37 lifetime Presbyterian mouths gone flat against their teeth until judgment day…”(Christ Haunted Landscape, 233). The way a person believes in God is also important in this short story. For Mr. Coley, Baptists are a bit weaker than his people, Presbyterians. “My wife’s people, Baptists, are a lot more soft-headed; one of them would have read his Commandments wrong and weakened someday. (Christ Haunted Landscape, 233). There were many grotesque and macabre aspects of this short story as well. For example, the first point of conflict deals with the attempted murder of a nine month old baby. Secondly, the way Tom Jamison was murdered, brutally by ax, would churn most people’s stomachs. Also, a valid point could be made that Zelene is grotesque. She is described as “pitiable herself. She was 38, and built like a salt block. ” (The Christ Haunted Landscape, 233). She was not entirely attractive, by any means, and she lived in relative squalor compared to the rest of the townspeople. This is The Only Time I’ll Tell It” is a perfect example of southern gothic literature. First of all, the overall theme of the story was good versus evil, and what should be done about it. Secondly, the aspect of what should be done with evil is related directly to the characters’ views on God, and the morals they’ve received from Him. Last but not least, it was overall creepy. To imagine a man trying to kill his nine month baby is enough to put fear into anyone’s heart. Although there are frightening parts to it, the story does a good job of making the reader ask themselves what they would do in Mr.
Coley’s position. The answer to that problem also relates directly to the audience’s religious views. Whatever God they may believe in, good versus evil is always prevalent, and that is why this story connects with many people. So, what would you do? Would you strike a man down for a crime that happened over 16 years earlier? Could you? These questions create intrigue in the reader, which is why this short story is so popular today. http://www. jenksps. org/pages/uploaded_files/CAMPsouthern%20gothic%20elements. pdf The Christ Haunted Landscape

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