Racial Violence in William Faulkner’s Dry September and Harper Lee’s to Kill a Mockingbird

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With its history of slavery and racial conflict, war and defeat, segregation and lynching, the South is defined by violence and aggression on a personal and community level. This experience defined Southern identity and shaped its literature to mirror the sense of frustration, guilt and shame bursting from the heart of seemingly peaceful, ordered and decent communities. Though some authors tend to see violence as a necessary transgression that will, eventually, through painful sacrifice, lay the foundation of a renewed world, others regard it as a trap or a vicious circle which does not allow the South to grow out of the illusion of a glorious past and accept present changes. William Faulkner’ short story Dry September and Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird deal with an alleged accusation of rape, the victim being a white woman, and the culprit, a black man. Focusing more on the white community’s attitude and telling the story from limited perspectives, the two texts investigate less the black man’s tragedy, dwelling more on the white people’s reaction and the manner in which white Southern identity and white supremacy are constructed on a foundation of violence and intolerance.

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