Friday, November 3, 2017

A Note on Southern Humor


William Faulkner said much about Southern writing when he called Henry James “the nicest old lady lever met.” He indicated, of course, the sense of humor that the region has always had. And he indicated his disregard for the kind of psychological drama that identifies the target of his joke. If James liked to have a character weep seriously over wall paper, as he did in The Spoils of Poynton, Faulkner was likely to come up with a well-armed Sutpen or Sartoris for some blood and guts violence.

The South has always done it that way. We tend to express our conflicts with dramatic external gestures rather than let them rest on the psychological level. Our literary heritage accepts easily that Oedipus would actually gouge out his eyes when he discovers just how useless they have been. And the terrible violence at the end of Hamlet seems perfect [to us] as it brings to the surface the psychological conflicts that have gone before it.

An agrarian economy probably explains this literal approach best.


  1. Lewis Grizzard... one of the best.
    "I don't know that I'd a' told that one, brother"
    - Charlie