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Desiring Brotherhood


A Georgia-born novelist renowned for her sensitive portrayal

of southern people and their spiritual isolation, Carson McCullers,

until recently, was predominantly regarded as a regional author

whose concern with racism and homophobia reflects her daily

witness of violence and injustice in the South.


Critics praise her

use of Gothic symbolism and attribute this tendency to her

southern inheritance; McCullers herself is also aware of her

inheritance of this Gothic school of southern writing. As she wrote

in 1940, the Gothic, a kin of the Russian realists’ tradition of

“moral realism,” equipped southern writers to “transpose the

painful substance of life around them as accurately as possible”

(McCullers, 2005: 258). The surfeit of grotesques, eccentricities,

loners and outcasts in her decadent tales has been interpreted as an

epitome of the southern literary tradition’s penchant for cruelty

and depravity.


However, this emphasis on McCullers’s regional


For instance, McCullers’s biographer, Virginia Spencer Carr, considered to be an

authority on McCullers studies, remarks that critics tend to compare and contrast

McCullers’s work with other southern or regional writers such as Eudora Welty,

Flannery O’Connor, Katherine Anne Porter, William Faulkner, Thomas Wolfe

and Sherwood Anderson. For details, see the first chapter in her


Carson McCullers

(1990). In

Sacred Groves and Ravaged Gardens

(1985), Louise

Westling explores how southern writers such as McCullers, O’Connor, and Welty

reacted to the violent and hypocritical world of patriarchy. Another specialist in

McCullers criticism is Jan Whitt, who analyzes the religious backdrop (i.e.

southern Protestantism) in McCullers’s works in

Allegory and the Modern

Southern Novel

(1994). In this book she engages with Faulkner, McCullers and

O’Connor, pointing out the importance of Christian symbolism in a study of the

literature of the American South. All these critics rely heavily on regionalism to

explore McCullers’s fiction.


Tennessee Williams has linked McCullers’s use of “symbols of the grotesque and

the violent” to her affinity with the Gothic school of southern writing. In defense

of McCullers’s “morbid” taste, he writes: “

Reflections in a Golden Eye

is one of

the purest and most powerful of those works which are conceived in that Sense of

The Awful which is the desperate black root of nearly all significant modern art”

(1986: 15). Virginia Spencer Carr has likewise noted McCullers’s penchant for

grotesques. She interprets the novelist’s preoccupation with freaks and misfits as a

kind of existential angst, a sense of alienation and the profound anguish

experienced by McCullers and her characters in the specifically southern setting