We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

What is the Southern Gothic Movement in Literature?

Niki Acker
Updated: May 23, 2024

The Southern Gothic movement in literature brings the atmosphere and sensibilities of the Gothic, a genre originating in late 18th century England, to the American South. As early Gothic writers used the genre in part to criticize what they saw as the moral blindness of the medieval era, so Southern Gothic writers deal with their own past through Gothic tropes. This genre is unusual as a genre in that it is significantly limited to a certain geographical space. Many of the most notable American authors of the 20th century wrote in this tradition, and the genre can be seen in music and film as well.

Southern Gothic literature builds on the traditions of the larger Gothic genre, typically including supernatural elements, mental disease, and the grotesque. Much literature in this genre, however, eschews the supernatural and deals instead with disturbed personalities. It is known for its damaged and delusional characters, such as the heroines of Tennessee Williams' plays. Instead of perpetuating romanticized stereotypes of the Antebellum South, Southern Gothic literature often brings the stock characters of melodrama and Gothic novels to a Southern context in order to make a point about Southern mores.

Southern Gothic literature often deals with the plight of those who are ostracized or oppressed by traditional Southern culture - blacks, women, and gays, for example. Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) deals with a clearly innocent black man who is convicted of rape and murdered simply because of his race. Tennessee William's A Streetcar Named Desire (1948) reinvents the Southern belle as a pretentious, mentally unstable woman, and his Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955) portrays the favorite son of a Southern dynasty as a repressed homosexual whose alcoholism threatens his marriage. William Faulkner's frequently anthologized "A Rose for Emily" (1930) brings the recurrent Gothic theme of unrequited love leading to madness to a Southern town in which the disapproving residents narrate in a single voice. Other notable writers in the tradition include Flannery O'Connor, Carson McCullers, Eudora Welty, and Truman Capote.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Niki Acker
By Niki Acker
"In addition to her role as a Language & Humanities editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide range of interesting and unusual topics to gather ideas for her own articles. A graduate of UCLA with a double major in Linguistics and Anthropology, Niki's diverse academic background and curiosity make her well-suited to create engaging content for WiseGeekreaders. "
Discussion Comments
By zazex — On Nov 12, 2013

This article is very informative. Thank you! I will refer this site on my paper that I'm doing.

By anon347727 — On Sep 09, 2013

I'm doing a class project on this and its coming along fine. The Southern Gothic genre seems like it's going to be an interesting subject to learn about and read.

By anon266835 — On May 08, 2012

Does the novel Jane Eyre fall into this sphere of literature? I know it's a bit early compared to the rest of the movement, but could you classify it as something that perhaps might have inspired it?

By anon164505 — On Apr 01, 2011

Actually, I have to amend that, and strongly. "First" was way off the mark.

"Gone with the Wind" was the most phenomenally popular Southern novel of its generation, the generation that gave rise to Southern Gothic. It wasn't the first such novel to contain Gothicesque social commentary by a long shot. That would probably have been 1884's "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn." Mea culpa.

By anon164497 — On Apr 01, 2011

@anon66788: That's a more accurate description of the movie than the book. It's not about one woman's love life. It's about one woman's life.

In fact, it expounds at length about the oppressive societal expectations of women, and the legendary character Rhett Butler explains to Scarlett, point blank, that she's been forced into a widowhood that he considers a worse fate than the Hindu tradition of suttee (a widow's suicide on her husband's funeral pyre).

Remember, Southern Gothic doesn't deal only with oppression of black people. Mitchell, in fact, shined a harsh light on many Southern traditions and used her great romantic hero to underscore them every chance she got, even as her heroine chaffed.

That said, it makes little (though some) other social commentary, and depicts many slaves as content and many slave owners as heroic. Mitchell allowed her readers to draw their own conclusions on most moral issues, which is about as counter to Southern Gothic as it gets, even if it does contain some of the primary prerequisites for the sub-genre.

Bear in mind that it was published the year (1936) after the phrase "Southern Gothic" was coined by Ellen Glasgow and before it truly caught on as an entity unto itself. Had it been written later, Mitchel might have been stronger in her criticisms of Southern culture.

At the very least, it was the first wildly popular novel that contained strong elements of Southern Gothic, even if the term does not strictly apply.

By anon116297 — On Oct 06, 2010

Mores refer to a society's norms, values and virtues. Therefore, southern mores are the norms, value and virtues of southern society.

By anon72204 — On Mar 22, 2010

What are Southern mores?

By anon66788 — On Feb 21, 2010

To Motherteresa - Nope because the novel avoids looking at the harsh realities of slavery and only focuses on one woman's love life. If it had been in true Southern Gothic fashion, it would have pointed out the slavery issue in some form.

By motherteresa — On Aug 06, 2009

Would Margaret Mitchel's Gone With the Wind fall in the same category?

Niki Acker
Niki Acker
"In addition to her role as a Language & Humanities editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide...
Learn more
Language & Humanities, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

Language & Humanities, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.