What is Southern Gothic Literature? Analysis Lesson Plan for Southern Gothic Short Stories

Back in the day when I was on the easy side of the desk, I thought teachers knew everything. Then I became one and realized how foolish those notions were. I did make it a pursuit of mine, however, to learn as much as I could–even if it meant the day before I taught something. So if you’re looking to teach Southern Gothic literature elements or Southern Gothic short stories, but need a little refresher, I got you covered.

Southern Gothic Literature Lesson Plan

But first I’m gonna give you a Southern Gothic literature lesson plan. That’s probably why you’re here anyway: Elements of Southern Gothic Literature Lesson Plan. It’s part of the “A Rose for Emily” unit plan.

What is Southern Gothic Literature?

According to the Oxford Dictionary online, “characteristics of Southern Gothic include the presence of irrational, horrific, and transgressive thoughts, desires, and impulses; grotesque characters; dark humor, and an overall angst-ridden sense of alienation.”

That’s an academic way of saying Southern Gothic characters and events are extremely weird. That’s the Gothic part, at least. The Southern part, needless to say, refers to the setting.

Here’s more academic words from out good friends at the Oxford Dictionary:

“While related to both the English and American Gothic tradition, the Southern Gothic is uniquely rooted in the region’s tensions and aberrations. The United States may not have had old castles in which writers could place their Gothic romances, but after the Civil War, the many often ruined or decaying plantations and mansions in the South became uncanny locations for Gothic stories about sins, secrets, and the “haunting history” of the South.”

Elements of Southern Gothic Literature 

Awesome Southern Gothic Lesson Plan

Ever feel like locking your lesson plans up in a room and letting them rot? Well, you won’t feel that way about these “A Rose for Emily” Lesson PlansThe unit contains lesson plans, graphic organizer handouts with answer keys, essay rubrics, a summary and analysis of the story, discussion ideas, a quiz, a copy of the story, and more.
Lessons focus on setting and mood, imagery, Southern Gothic, foreshadowing, plot, setting, theme, literary analysis, and more.

Southern Gothic literature was inspired by early Gothic writing, a genre that was popular in 18th-century England. In Gothic literature, the authors wanted to expose problems they saw in society. The authors wrote fiction and included supernatural and romantic elements. There were often stories of hauntings, death, darkness and madness.

Southern Gothic literature is a genre of Southern writing. The stories often focus on grotesque themes. While it may include supernatural elements, it mainly focuses on alienated, damaged, even delusional, characters.

Southern Gothic Elements

Southern Gothic writers leverage details from the American South—lonely plantations, aging Southern belles, dusty downtowns, dilapidated slave quarters, Spanish moss, and Southern charm—to bring the South’s dark history to light. 19th-century short story writers, such as Edgar Allan Poe, Ambrose Bierce, and Nathaniel Hawthorne popularized the genre with stories steeped in folklore, oral history, suspense and local color. In the 1920s and 30s, William Faulkner’s heart-breaking tales of life in fictional Yoknapatawpha County made Southern Gothic popular again.

Other popular writers of Southern Gothic stories include Tenessee Williams, Truman Capote, Flannery O’Connor, and Carson McCullers.

Common Elements of Southern Gothic Literature

  • One of the defining features of Southern Gothic is the cast of off-kilter characters, many of whom are “not right in the head.” The genre is riddled with many broken bodies, and even more broken souls. When Southern Gothic authors examine the human condition, they see the potential to do harm. The main characters of Southern Gothic are often strangers in strange places, small towns in Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana or Georgia
  • In most Southern Gothic stories, there is a pivotal character or someone close to them who is set apart from the world by a disability or odd way of seeing the world. This fascination with the outsider is in many ways used to show readers not only the individuality of the southern culture, but also to connect each reader to their own unique “freakish” nature.
  • A common theme in Southern Gothic is imprisonment. This is often both literal and figurative. While many Southern Gothic tales include an incident where a character is sent to jail or locked up, there are also several gothic characters that live in fate’s prison without hope of parole.
  • Southern gothic writers covered a period in the South’s history when violence was particularly prevalent. After the bloodshed of the Civil War, and the period of reconstruction that followed, racial tension and fear ran high in many small southern towns. This plays its part in many of the stories of this genre.
  • It wouldn’t be Southern Gothic if you didn’t feel like you’d been thrust in the center of a dusty, peach-scented, lonely downtown where porch-bound widows rock gently on creaky rockers, rusty pick-up trucks drive by filled with grimy farmhands, the general store is run by the town drunk, and flies and mosquitoes circle glasses of ice-filled lemonade.

Southern Gothic Short Stories

What is Southern Gothic?Here’s a list of a few Southern Gothic short stories you might come across in a literature anthology.

  • “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner – That house holds a secret and the town can’t wait to find out, although I suspect they already know it.
  • “The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe – Although written before Southern Gothic became a thing, this tale of dysfunction checks all the Southern Gothic boxes.
  • “A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Conner – Family trips in a Southern Gothic short story usually don’t end up at Disney Land. This one is no exception.
  • “A Worn Path” by Eudora Welty – Phoenix Jackson encounters quite a few obstacles on her way to town through a Mississippi forest.




*Bjerre, Thomas Ærvold. “Southern Gothic Literature.” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Literature, 20 June 2017.*

“GENRE: Southern Gothic.” Oprah.com, www.oprah.com/oprahsbookclub/southern-gothic-distinguising-features/all.

Surber, Katie. “Southern Gothic Literature: Definition, Characteristics & Authors.” Study.com, Study.com, study.com/academy/lesson/southern-gothic-literature-definition-characteristics-authors.html.


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