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Transcript of Dry September
The client sat up. He looked at the speaker. "Do you claim that anything excuses a nigger attacking a white woman? Do you mean to tell me you are a white man and you'll stand for it? You better go back North where you came from. The South don't want your kind here."
story by William Faulkner
Through the creative use of irony, diction, and imagery in his story “Dry September,” Faulkner criticizes the social customs of the South, especially the practices of racism, sexism, and violence, by exhibiting his characters’ struggles with social expectations.
Amende, Kathaleen. "'A Man with Such an Appearance Was Capable of Anything': Imaginary Rape
and the Violent 'Other' in Faulkner’s 'Dry September' and Oz's 'Nomad and Viper.'" Faulkner Journal 25.2 (2010): 9-22. Print.
Barnwell, Janet. Narrative Patterns of Racism and Resistance in the Work of William Faulkner. Diss.
Louisiana State University, n.d. Print.
Brink, Jean R. "Dry September." Masterplots II: Short Story Series. Ed. Charles E. May. Pasadena:
Salem, 2004. 1-2. Print.
Claviez, Thomas. "The Southern Demiurge at Work: Modernism, Literary Theory and William
Faulkner's 'Dry September.'" Journal of Modern Literature 32.4 (2009): 22-33. Print.
Crane, John K. "But the Days Grow Short: A Reinterpretation of Faulkner's 'Dry September.'"
Twentieth Century Literature 31.4 (1985): 410-421. Print.
Faulkner, William. "Dry September." Collected Stories of William Faulkner. Ed. Erroll McDonald.
New York City: Vintage Books, 1995. 169-183. Print.
Ferguson, James. Faulkner’s Short Fiction. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1991. Print.
Polk, Noel. Faulkner and Welty and the Southern Literary Tradition. Jackson: University Press of
Mississippi, 2008. Print.
Robertson, Alice B. "'Seeing' the Old South: The Roots of Racial Violence in Faulkner's 'Dry
September.'" Eureka Studies in Teaching Short Fiction 10.1 (2011): 24-33. Print.
Rogalus, Paul. "Faulkner's 'Dry September.'" Explicator 48.3 (1990): 211-213. Print.
Sutton, B. "Faulkner's 'Dry September.'" Explicator 49.3 (1991): 175-178. Print.
Tanaka, Hisao. "Structured Violence as a Form of Southern Culture: The Emmett Till Case and
Faulkner's 'Dry September.'" The American Review 40 (n.d.): 39-56. Web.
Attacked, insulted, frightened: none of them, gathered in the barber shop on that Saturday evening where the ceiling fan stirred, without freshening it, the vitiated air, sending back upon them, in recurrent surges of stale pomade and lotion, their own stale breath and odors, knew exactly what had happened.
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.
McLendon whirled on the third speaker. "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?"
"white goddess" ideal
"white goddess" ideal
What are the consequences when a person’s individual choices are in conflict with his/her society?
ln "Dry September" Faulkner describes such bigotry in a Southern small town as revealed in the ex-soldier's effort to maintain "the power structure in which they 'protect' women and terrorize blacks."
She was the last to realize that she was losing ground; that those among whom she had been a little brighter and louder flame than any other were beginning to learn the pleasure of snobbery male and retaliation female.
Against that background Minnie's bright dresses, her idle and empty days, had a quality of furious unreality. She went out in the evenings only with women now, neighbors, to the moving pictures.
That was when her face began to wear that bright, haggard look. She still carried it to parties on shadowy porticoes and summer lawns, like a mask or a flag, with that bafflement of furious repudiation of truth in her eyes.
"Get in!" McLendon said. He struck the Negro. The others expelled their breath in a dry hissing and struck him with random blows and he whirled and cursed them, and swept his manacled hands across their faces and slashed the barber upon the mouth, and the barber struck him also.
"Christ!" a voice said; "let’s get out of here."... "Kill him, kill the son," a voice whispered.
The impetus hurled him crashing through dust-sheathed weeds, into the ditch. Dust puffed about him, and in a thin, vicious crackling of sapless stems he lay choking and retching until the second car passed and died away. Then he rose and limped on until he reached the highroad and turned toward town, brushing at his clothes with his hands. The moon was higher, riding high and clear of the dust at last, and after a while the town began to glare beneath the dust.
‘Is that her? What did they do with the nigger? Did they?’ ‘Sure. He's all right.’ ‘All right, is he?’ ‘Sure. He went on a little trip.’ Then the drug store, where even the young men lounging in the doorway tipped their hats and followed with their eyes the motion of her hips and legs when she passed. They went on, passing the lifted hats of the gentlemen, the suddenly ceased voices, deferent, protective. ‘Do you see?’ the friends said. Their voices sounded like long, hovering sighs of hissing exultation. ‘There's not a Negro on the square. Not one.’
While she was still dressing the friends called for her and sat while she donned her sheerest underthings and stockings and a new voile dress. ‘Do you feel strong enough to go out?’ they said, their eyes bright too, with a dark glitter. ‘When you have had time to get over the shock, you must tell us what happened. What he said and did; everything.’
It was midnight when McLendon drove up to his neat new house. It was trim and fresh as a birdcage and almost as small, with its clean, green-and-white paint. (Faulkner 182)
’Don't, John. I couldn't sleep... The heat; something. Please, John. You're hurting me.’ ‘Didn't I tell you?’ He released her and half struck, half flung her across the chair, and she lay there and watched him quietly as he left the room.
He went on through the house, ripping off his shirt, and on the dark, screened porch at the rear he stood and mopped his head and shoulders with the shirt and flung it away. He took the pistol from his hip and laid it on the table beside the bed, and sat on the bed and removed his shoes, and rose and slipped his trousers off. He was sweating again already, and he stooped and hunted furiously for the shirt.
Southern white men uphold a prevailing cultural ideology by evoking fear in and inflicting violence on inferior members of society who supposedly threaten their dominance.
Hawkshaw must reconcile his own beliefs about justice with a social order that promotes injustice and subordination of blacks, making him an outcast.
McLendon seeks to lead his community in upholding traditional values by violence to protect the women from blacks.
Society, with its flawed values, imposes its ideals upon all of its people, forcing the weaker members to conform to its accepted principles without having a choice.
As the outliers in society start to recognize the ridiculous measures that they must go through in order to satisfy the majority, they then see the irony of their situations.
Minnie is considered worthless in a society that defines women by their attractiveness to men. She seeks to make herself meaningful. Her conflict is distinctly man v. society, as she struggles for acceptance.
Like so many murders of black men in the South during the segregation era, the full truth about the murderous act by McLendon and the others disappears first in the “dust” of the present time, then in the symbolic "eternal dust" of forgotten history. (Barnwell 64)
Hawkshaw must choose between mob pressure and justice because he has no power to stop the murder of Will Mayes.
McLendon has to contend with a society in which violence is impersonal and nobody wants to acknowledge it.
When a person's individual choices are in direct
conflict with his/her society, what are the consequences?
How does an individual's POV affect the way they deal with conflict?
How does conflict influence an individual's decisions and actions?
What is community and what are the individual's responsibility to the community as well as the community's responsibility to the individual?
How do the decisions and actions of characters reveal their personalities?
How do decisions, actions, and consequences vary depending on the different perspectives of the people involved?
What is social justice?
What is oppression and what are the root causes?
How do we know what is right?
Both Hawkshaw and McLendon struggle with man v. society for being confronted with reality.
Minnie laughs at society that was hostile to her because she had the last laugh over them in their ignorance and bigotry.
She tricked them with her lie and laughs at their foolishness.
McLendon seeks to deal with the "common enemy" in town through violence but does not understand society's passive-aggressive ways, thus he magnifies everything beyond it's significance.
How do compelling words influence Southern men and their actions towards the inferior?
"white goddess" ideal
How do the South’s flawed values affect members in society? How are the South’s expectations of its people unrealistic and dehumanized?
Faulkner criticizes the flawed Southern values on class, beauty, and power, isolating those who don't meet its standards and forcing them to struggle to gain acceptance.
How does the lack of individual responsibility and courage provoke unjust acts of violence in the South?
What happens to an individual who seeks social acceptance but despite massive efforts is still disappointed for not being accepted into society?
What pressures do men and women receive that help establish their public and private roles?
Those who have already been accepted into society face the constant, ongoing struggle of fulfilling society’s expectations while searching for their own identity.
In the leafed darkness, as they walked toward the square, she began to breathe deeply, something like a swimmer preparing to dive, until she ceased trembling, the four of them walking slowly because of the terrible heat and out of solicitude for her.
"But the Days Grow Short: A Reinterpretation of Faulkner's 'Dry September'"
September is both late summer and early autumn, but a dry one indicates both little growth and poor harvest. Among people who work the land, it is a season of frustration and despair, in the normal life cycle it is a sense of lost youth and a resultantly empty middle age which will, because fruitless, blend into old age without notice (Crane 412).
Though when younger she [Minnie] had a reasonably appealing body that "had enabled her for a time to ride upon the crest of the town's social life", now she watches younger girls paired with younger men while "the sitting and lounging men did not even follow her with their eyes anymore". All the details here portray a deadening cyclic repetition which alters only Minnie's age and appeal (Crane 412).
There is only one such reference [of heat and dryness] in the two sections--two and four--which center on Minnie. It is, then rather an internal heat and dry middle age which motivate her accusation of Will Mayes, with the latter definitely the stronger motive (Crane 413).
The title of "Dry September," then is a purposely ambiguous clue to the motivation of the story's two main characters--each is entering the core of his or her own middle years with one supreme achievement behind him or her and none in front. Each tries briefly to relive his or her own particular glory--one sexual and the other military--and winds up terrified by the sheer impossibility of it (Crane 415).
Both [McLendon and Minnie] see white womanhood as the last quality worth preserving in their small-town Southern existences, though with McLendon it ironically can be desecrated only by black men, not by his own marital violence (Crane 415).
Faulkner deliberately obscures the nature and origin of the accusations [against Will Mayes] in order to emphasize the vigilante mob’s irrationality in killing Mayes; a mob that acts “in subconscious defense of an unstated, outmoded, but overwhelming myth (Claviez 25).
"The Southern Demiurge at Work: Modernism, Literary Theory and William Faulkner's 'Dry September'"
The brilliant first paragraph of the story sets the tone. The all-pervading and oppressive heat, the staleness of the air and the breath mixed with scents of pomade and lotion depict a small Southern town suffocating in its retrograde frame of mind, a frame of mind heated up by “the rumor, the story, whatever it was” (Claviez 25)
He (Hawkshaw) is acquainted with both Will Mayes and Minnie Cooper and, especially knowing that the latter “aint married,” he “don’t believe” the rumors about the alleged rape. But this island of “common sense” is drowned by the majority of persons who not only do not care to wait for the facts to be collected (Claviez 26).
The moment we judge the acts of Minnie Cooper and McLendon as acts either distorting (Minnie) or ignoring (McLendon) the facts out of racist/sexist motivations, we fall into it, acting/making judgments on the same basis as they do, since we, too, are lacking all necessary information to judge them (Claviez 30-31).
The ambiguity and complexity of such modernist texts might also serve to reflect and thus remind us of the very ambiguity and complexity of questions of race, class and gender that still so strongly dominate the contemporary debate. (Claviez 32)