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Literary Workshops

Before You Read






Yoknapatawpha County

Faulkner grew up and spent much of his life in Oxford, Mississippi in Lafayette County. The county and town—which Faulkner famously referred to as “my own little postage stamp of native soil”—served as a model for the fictional Yoknapatawpha County and the town of Jefferson, where Faulkner set fourteen novels and dozens of short stories. “A Rose for Emily” is set in Jefferson. The portrait of the town, which becomes especially vivid through the first-person plural narrative voice, will be familiar to readers who know some of Faulkner’s other works.

Yoknapatawpha County served Faulkner as a kind of microcosm of the South, and he populated it with interconnected families and individuals from a diverse array of backgrounds: poor whites, black slaves and their freed but persecuted descendents, farmers, merchants, the old aristocratic “planter class” and their increasingly impoverished heirs, transplanted northerners, and Chickasaw Indians. Over the course of his fiction, Faulkner traced life in Yoknapatawpha from the beginning of the nineteenth century to his own time, surveying the broad effects of the social transformations brought on by the Civil War and Reconstruction as well as the enduring legacies of slavery and discrimination. He was always interested in the way the events and social structures of southern history haunted the present. As he once put it, “the past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

Southern Gothic

Southern gothic has been described as literature focused on “disturbed people doing disturbing things.” As a genre or a topical focus of some southern writing, southern gothic is characterized by its casts of strange characters, its interest in bizarre or macabre occurrences, and the way it uses these “grotesqueries” to explore social issues unique to the American South. Narratives in the southern gothic tradition tend to examine social and behavioral codes by depicting people who are engaged in acts ranging from the out of the ordinary to the eccentric to the taboo. Incest, murder, suicide, lynching, rape, castration, and insanity are not unusual topics within southern gothic literature.