Ambiguity in Dry September

‘Dry September’ opens in a salon with a discussion about ‘the rumor, the story, whatever it was’. The ambivalence with which the narrative starts becomes one of the most defining conditions of their existence as well as a trope that Faulkner employs in his narrative of racism in the American South. Even when the rumor is spelt out a little later by McLendon as ‘a black son rap(ing) a white woman on the streets of Jefferson’, the air of ambiguity that surrounds the allegation is never lifted off. Rather, the narrative abounds with textual moments that suggest that townsmen believe in the rumor in spite of themselves. For instance, when a third man in the salon asks, “Did it really happen?” McLendon pounces on him to ask, “Happen? What the hell difference does it make? Are you going to let the black sons get away with it until one really does it?”’

The story resounds with similar sentiments of disbelief interlaced with relishing of the salacious gossip that echoes till the end. Minnie’s friends ask each other ‘“Do you suppose anything really happened?”, their eyes darkly aglitter, secret and passionate.’ In the gap that lies between the rumor and any certainty of it is what produces the thrill and pleasure and use value (of the rumor) for each member of the white race.

The air of un-believability that surrounds the rumor does nothing to demolish it or to even imagine a possibility for a fair trial which could have established the veracity of the matter. Even though Henry Hawkshaw, a white barber who is the voice of reason in the story constantly maintains his firm conviction in the innocence of Will Mayes who has been accused of raping the white woman Minnie Cooper, insists – “I don’t believe Will Mayes did it… I know Will Mayes”, there is nothing that can stop the white men gathered in his shop from forming a gang that would go on to lynch Will Mayes. For them, there is absolutely no difference between fact and fiction, and the ambiguity allows them to set their own narrative to it and use it to justify their own purposes.

The ambiguity and a willful refusal to give any benefit of doubt to Will is further underscored in the closing remarks of two white men who are left behind after McLendon and others leave to get hold of Will Mayes:

“Jee Christ, Jee Christ,” the second whispered.

“You reckon he really done it to her?” the first said.

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