A Recurrent Note of Doubt in Dry September

A recurrent note of doubt interrupts the narrative of “Dry September”. It not only introduces an element of suspicion regarding the nature and validity of the accusation, but also makes one think about the fairness of the mob violence as incited by McLendon. In addition, it also betrays an anxiety on part of the white men to make a point about the kind of racial and sexual power they can wield over the blacks.

The refusal to go for a judicial process of trial and to insist on the truth of the case in the face of an absolute lack of concrete evidence just made it easier for them to sacrifice Will Mayes at the altar of racial and gender insecurities. They could thereby reassure themselves of the relevance of their existence but more importantly of their physical body that is both a site for erotic fantasies as well as a source of immense anxiety in the light of its disuse or abandonment. A sense of Minnie-as-discarded lies in other’s neglect of her who is left to languish in the absence of any male attention, and McLendon’s strong physique suggestive of his warrior like leadership quality, being a commander of troops in the past, again is languishing for it has no value in the post war Jefferson.

What Faulkner thereby also manages to do is to establish the innocence of Will Mayes despite the presence of ambiguity looming large in the story. It is precisely in the lack of any conclusive evidence in the story to confirm the allegation, and yet a stubborn insistence to treat Will Mayes as the culprit that his innocence is hinted at.

Among other reasons why impenetrability vis-à-vis the trope of rumour is deliberately maintained is because what Faulkner is here most concerned with is not in the actuality of the incident but in exploring the making of a mob psyche and the ways in which it seeks to justify its skewed notions of justice through violence. A vicious sense of revenge that informs the mob mentality here is telling on the ways in which it seeks false ruses to display its aggressive masculine self. That Faulkner’s interest here lies in exploring the white anxieties and racism in the American South through an exploration of the mob mentality can be further substantiated in the fact that the lynching/ killing scene is not presented in the story. To insist on that here in this particular scene is to miss the larger perspective on the workings of a racist mindset that Faulkner seems to highlight. And that they succeed in driving home this point is evident when the readers are told ‘“There’s not a Negro on the square. Not one.”’

In the final analysis, it is the ambiguity that makes possible this double take on rumor where disbelief and vicarious enjoyment of it can coexist with manufactured consent through people who were ‘attacked, insulted frightened’ into believing it. It is by maintaining the ambiguity that in the name of defending female honor, the Southern men settle their own ambivalences about their manhood and role in a changing social economy.

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