Dry September

by

William Faulkner

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Themes and Colors
Vigilante Justice Theme Icon
Rumor, Reputation, and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Racism  Theme Icon
Gender and Class Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Dry September, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Vigilante Justice

“Dry September” is set in the South during the 1920s, when black men were often subjected to violence in retaliation for any perceived offense, often without proof or due process. The story begins with a group of white men discussing the rumored sexual attack or insult of Minnie Cooper, a white woman, by a black man, Will Mayes. The mob of men ignore the protestations of local barber Henry Hawkshaw, who is…

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Rumor, Reputation, and Hypocrisy

Rumor and reputation are powerful elements of life in “Dry September,” as characters are defined by their social status and the stories that others tell about them. As an unmarried middle-aged woman and a black man, respectively, Minnie Cooper and Will Mayes have little control over their public images in the 1920s American South. Accordingly, both are passive bystanders to the action of the story and have little to say for themselves. The white McLendon

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Racism

Racial hatred is the major motivating factor for the violence depicted in “Dry September.” Through Will Mayes’s unjust abduction and likely murder at the hands of a vicious white mob, Faulkner presents a highly critical view of racial relations in the South in the 1920s—where black men’s behavior is criminalized while white men are free to commit violent acts without fear of reprisal. At its core, “Dry September” is thus a story of the consequences…

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Gender and Class

The characters in “Dry September” act within strictly proscribed gender and class boundaries, which Faulkner refers to vaguely as “snobbery male and retaliation female.” These categories dictate the actions of both men and women in Jefferson, robbing individuals of broader opportunity and in, some senses, free will. Such rigid boundaries, the story suggests, ignore the possibility of female agency and force men to perform an authoritative masculinity that, in this story, quickly escalates into violence…

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