The Scarlet Ibis

The Scarlet Ibis About Southern Gothic Literature

Due to its setting somewhere in the American South and its dark themes, "The Scarlet Ibis" is often classified as Southern Gothic literature. Author James Hurst was raised in North Carolina himself, so undoubtedly some of his own experience played into his description of this setting.

Southern Gothic first emerged as a collective genre in the early 20th century (which is when this story was written), but there had been traces of it present in a handful of 19th century works, such as those of Henry Clay Lewis and Mark Twain. It contains components of Dark Romanticism, southern humor, and Naturalism, and often sends a strong social message. Some works take place on a plantation or a farm; some include slavery as a theme; and others often incorporate a strong southern dialect in their characters' speech.

The larger umbrella of Gothic literature utilizes macabre and often horrific events—like Doodle's death, for instance—to create suspense in a story. Gothic literature as a whole originated in 18th century England, and was often used to critique medieval society. Southern Gothic uses these tools as well in a form of critique, but more specifically to exemplify and sometimes criticize a particular value of the American South.

Where typical Gothic literature employs large elements of the supernatural, Southern Gothic takes a more nuanced approach, passing along its desired messages through the creation of complex characters, their behaviors, and their struggles. Through these characters, the fragility of the southern social order is put on display.

Some other notable Southern Gothic authors include Edgar Allen Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne, both of whom wrote in the 19th century before Southern Gothic was a solidified genre. Poe's works include short stories and poems that center around themes of death, while Hawthorne sometimes questioned society through supernatural elements. Southern Gothic literature was revived in the 1920s by author William Faulkner, who set his novels in Mississippi and focused heavily on southern archetypes and societal roles in the South.