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Publisher Description

One of William Faulkner's most frequently anthologized short stories, the 1931 "Dry September," is also one of his most universally relevant works. Although the story is definitively set in a small town in the early-twentieth-century American South, its themes of polarization, community unrest, and a kind of postcolonial "othering" help it to transcend its regional and national constructs. "Dry September," more specifically, explores the repercussions of a white woman's false allegations against a black man in a small, economically suffering Mississippi town. The story opens in medias res with a staggering 62 days of rainless weather contributing, at least in some small way, to the easily fanned frustrations and tempers of the townspeople. An unintelligible "something" has occurred, according to rumor, to a local spinster, Miss Minnie, and, even worse, it apparently has occurred at the hands of a black man. While most readers will be driven by what Peter Brooks calls "narrative desire" to discover the answers to the questions the narrative opens, the characters in the story, with the exception of Hawkshaw the barber, are ultimately uninterested in what really happened--they only want to do something about the perceived attack, whether the attack happened or not (37). (1) "Dry September"--the story of the white woman who speaks and the black man who dies as a result--is one that has been told time and again in part because of its grounding in historical fact. While it is obviously similar to the fictional narrative in which Mayella Ewell accuses Tom Robinson of attacking her in To Kill a Mockingbird, "Dry September" also follows the pattern of the historical account of Rosewood, an entire black town that was destroyed because of one false allegation by a white woman. (2) Faulkner's story is, moreover, the story of Emmett Till, a black child who was killed in a small Mississippi town in 1955 because of claims that he whistled at a white woman. (3) And the narrative is seen again in the fictional Bigger Thomas, the protagonist of Richard Wright's Native Son, who knows that the sentence for his crime of murder will only be made worse if, as he is told by his girlfriend, he is also accused of raping the white Mary (214). Whatever the basis, however, it is too simple to dismiss the literary versions of this narrative pattern as simply a by-product of the racial hysteria of the historical South. (4) There is something about the situation in Faulkner's "Dry September" that reaches beyond that area south of the Mason-Dixon line and into the heart of humanity as a whole, showing up in texts as varied as the book of Genesis, wherein Potiphar's wife accuses Joseph of raping her after he rejects her sexual advances, and E. M. Forster's A Passage to India, in which the English girl Adela Quested accuses the Native Aziz of attacking her in the Malabar Caves.

Professional & Technical
March 22
The Faulkner Journal

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