Dry September

Dry September Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on William Faulkner's Dry September. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of William Faulkner

Born in New Albany, Mississippi in 1897, William Faulkner grew up in nearby Oxford. Though he was a bright child and had already learned to read before starting school, Faulkner did not graduate from high school and, after enrolling in the University of Mississippi in 1919, dropped out of college in 1920. Inspired by the history of Mississippi and the stories his family told him, Faulkner began writing poetry and fiction. He was particularly influenced by his mother, grandmother, and longtime African American nanny, the experiences of whom informed his writing’s frequent dissection of sexuality and race. By 1925, he had moved to New Orleans, Louisiana, where he wrote and published his first novel, Soldiers’ Pay. Faulkner married Estelle Oldham, whom he had dated as a young man in Oxford, in 1929. He was able to buy them a house in Oxford, which he named Rowan Oak. During the 1920s, he published a number of novels and stories, but struggled to make a living as a writer; in 1932, he and Oldham moved to Culver City, California, where Faulkner had a successful career as a Hollywood screenwriter until the late 1950s. A two-time Pulitzer Prize winner for his novels A Fable and The Reivers, Faulkner also won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1949 but was distinctly unhappy with the fame winning entailed; Faulkner used some of his prize money to establish what would eventually become the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, which exists to this day as a prestigious award for living American writers. William Faulkner died of a heart attack in 1962, at the age of 64, having published 13 novels and numerous short stories. 
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Historical Context of Dry September

The first half of the twentieth century was a time of slow economic development and rapid social change in the American South. Slowly rebuilding from the destruction of the Civil War, the southern economy still relied heavily on the labor of African Americans, who only decades before had achieved freedom from slavery and were still considered second-class citizens by the majority white population. Unable to vote, often subject to extreme violence, and denied access quality education, many black men and women moved north in what was known as the Great Migration. The southern economy further suffered during the Great Depression, which was compounded by drought conditions that lasted from 1934 to 1939, leaving hundreds of thousands of Americans without jobs throughout this primarily agricultural region.

Other Books Related to Dry September

In addition to being thematically similar to “Dry September,” many of the short stories in Faulkner’s 1931 collection These 13 are set in Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi—a fictional setting that closely resembles the area where the author grew up and which suffers the racial and cultural division that plagued much of the American South in the first half of the twentieth century. Some of Faulkner’s most famous novels, including The Sound and the Fury (1929) and Light in August (1932), are also set in Mississippi. The character Henry Hawkshaw—a voice of conscious in “Dry September”—is the protagonist of another Faulkner short story, titled “Hair.” In “Hair” readers learn that the barber’s real name is Henry Stribling, but he is given the name Hackshaw, slang for “detective,” due to his mysterious nature. Not unlike “Dry September,” “Hair” unravels a mystery about its protagonist through hearsay and rumor, leading readers to wonder what can really be known about others’ private lives. The Southern Renaissance period in American literature, of which “Dry September is a part, encompassed a number of notable short story collections, such as A Good Man is Hard to Find and Everything That Rises Must Converge by Flannery O'Connor and A Curtain of Green and The Wide Net and Other Stories by Eudora Welty.
Key Facts about Dry September
  • Full Title: Dry September
  • When Written: 1931
  • Where Written: Oxford, MS
  • When Published: Published in Scribner’s magazine and in short story collection These 13, both in 1931
  • Literary Period: Modernism, Southern Renaissance
  • Genre: Modernism and Southern Renaissance literature
  • Setting: Jefferson, Mississippi
  • Climax: The angry mob takes Will Mayes to the kilns to murder him
  • Antagonist: John McLendon
  • Point of View: Third person

Extra Credit for Dry September

Faulkner’s 2(2) Cents. In 1987, William Faulkner was honored with his likeness on a 22-cent postage stamp, presumably due in part to his service as Postmaster at the University of Mississippi. Faulkner did not enjoy his position in the postal service, however, and resigned in 1923, noting, “I will be damned if I propose to be at the beck and all of every itinerant scoundrel who has two cents to invest in a postage stamp.”