Lynching in Dry September

Within the intertwined criticism of the politics of race and gender, is also embedded a critique of lynching in the racist America. It would be worthwhile to remember that lynching in America was a spectacle; a carnival like event which had people flocking to the site to witness the drama of lynching. A quick glance at the photographic archive of images and photographs of the time document the terrible drama that would unfold in a manner of public event. That the hanging lynched black bodies had people jeering and kind-of-celebrating the white supremacy is telling not only of the white brutality of it but the spiritual, moral and ethical emptiness of the white folk. It is a terrible fact that racism continued long into the twentieth century despite the constitutional abolition of slavery. The disregard for the freedom guaranteed under the law, and the concomitant Jim Crow laws that enforced a ‘racialized code of behaviour’ along with racial segregation in public places speaks volumes about the position of the blacks and the African American or mixed race people in the America. It is reflective of the various forms in which violence and racial hatred would manifest itself in both obvious and insidious ways.

In the story “Dry September”, the act of lynching has a two pronged effect. One, it helps them reassert and ‘activate’ their white masculinity that links sex and violence with power. Two it also works effectively to remind the black community of its position as an outcaste, and hence the need to keep themselves away from common spaces of interracial contacts. This in turn will allow for a re-activation of interest in and from the other sex of their own race. Both sexual and racial atrophy is thereby sought to be contained thus.

The urgency with which McLendon appoints himself as the vigilante leader is in itself a telling commentary on the subtext of lynching and racial hatred. It is in the act of lynching that the thus sanitized space will allow for a shaken white masculinity and an obsolescent female sexuality to make a comeback. It is in this space purged of any black presence that white desirability is reactivated. Experiencing a renewal of self, Minnie arouses the interest of the town such that ‘even the young men lounging in the doorway tipped their hats and followed with their eyes the motion of her hips and legs when she passed’ reminiscent of her earlier days when she ‘(rode) upon the crest of the town’s social contemporaries.’ Her delight in the excitement that she now sends rippling through the crowd is prolonged in the notice that other gentleman too take note of when they marvel, “Do you see?”

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