The Greatest Bromances in Southern Literature
by Hunter Murphy
Merriam-Webster defines bromance as “a close, nonsexual friendship between men.” I’ll stick to this definition (as closely as possible) in the following list of what I believe are the best male relationships in Southern literature. I’m rating these based on the strength of the bond, level of respect and sense of loyalty these bros have for each other. Join us on Friday, March 23, for a Twitter chat between 1-2 p.m. CST to discuss these bromances and others using the hashtag #southernlit.
Oftentimes, there’s a deep and abiding communality in a bromance, something that binds the relationship. In this case, it’s the woods and the mythological hunt. Where would we Southerners be without the woods? Place and setting make up a huge part of the criteria that defines Southern literature, and no one understood place more than our American Shakespeare, William Faulkner. Ike McCaslin is a natural woodsman and General Compson is drawn to him because of this ability. He gives Ike McCaslin his compass and his silver hunting horn. These types of gifts represent high bromanticism. The men respect each other for their hunting acumen and their bromance is bound by their experiences in the woods.
10. Jack Burden and Governor Stark
“All the King’s Men” by Robert Penn Warren
In this great Southern novel, the story follows Jack Burden’s personal history and Willie Stark’s political history. Although his friends and family are against it, Burden pursues his bromance with Stark. He’s almost knocked off course at the discovery that his high school girlfriend is having an affair with Willie Stark, but he’s so fascinated by Stark that he continues on with him. Sometimes opposites attract in a bromance. Where Stark is all ambition, Burden seemingly has none. He does stick with Willie through the end, though, which to my mind is bromantic, even if it is complicated.
(A close second in this novel would be the relationship between Burden and Adam Stanton. The two have been friends since childhood and Burden tries to ingratiate his friend toward Stark. However, after learning of his sister’s affair with the governor, Stanton assassinates him. Honestly, a whole book could be written about the dynamic bromances in “All the King’s Men.” I’ll leave that to more capable hands, though.)
9. Tom Wingfield and Jim O’Connor
“The Glass Menagerie” by Tennessee Williams
In Tennessee Williams plays, of course, you have to tread carefully, because sometimes bromance is really romance. Therefore, I believe one of the more suitable relationships for our purpose is the one between Tom Wingfield and Jim O’Connor. Sometimes in a bromance, you do things for one another that you would not normally do. For instance, why does Jim O’Connor come visit Tom’s sister, Laura? Jim’s engaged to be married and Laura’s desperate for a husband. Is this not cruel? How could brother Tom be alright with this? Because of the bromantic idea that sometimes a bro is the solution to a problem. I think that Tom wanted to help his sister. Yes, it was foolish of him to think Jim would fall for her, but the motive behind it is what matters. Even if this is not the most passionate bromance on the list, it’s enough to deserve inclusion.
8. Daniel Ponder and DeYancey Clanahan
“The Ponder Heart” by Eudora Welty
Because Judge Tip Clanahan is a little too old for a realistic bromance with Daniel Ponder, we’ll use the judge’s grandson, DeYancey Clanahan. “The Ponder Heart” is one of my personal favorites, because it is drop dead hilarious. I cannot get enough of Edna Earle’s storytelling. She loves her uncle Daniel Ponder and DeYancey Clanahan does too (Edna Earle even says DeYancey was Daniel Ponder’s “shadow”).
There’s only one major bump in the road in this bromance. When Daniel Ponder is accused of killing his wife, DeYancey (his attorney and bro) will not let him testify. As Edna Earle says, “Uncle Daniel has always considered DeYancey one of his best friends, and was always partial to him until this happened. DeYancey came out and announced that Uncle Daniel wasn’t going to open his mouth at his own trial. Not at all, not a word.”
But let’s not let this slight rift affect our feelings toward their bromance. Much to DeYancey’s disapproval, Ponder finds a way to be heard at the end of the novel during its hilarious climax. However, DeYancey knows that he cannot change his bro. Acceptance of a friend’s shortcomings is a key ingredient to a good bromance.
7. Jem and Dill
“To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee
You may find it odd that out of all the great characters in Harper Lee’s masterpiece, I chose Jem and Dill as the bromance. (Truthfully, you could make a case for the real bromance to be Atticus and Tom Robinson, but I would disagree for the sole reason that Atticus and Tom did not spend enough time together.)
One of the biggest and most important characteristics of a bromance is having your friend’s back. Remember when Jem gets his pants caught in the fence while he and Dill are sneaking to see Boo Radley’s place? The ladies of the neighborhood and Atticus are upset about this, naturally, but Dill comes to Jem’s rescue. In fact, Dill lies for his bro, claiming he won the pants in a game of poker. It gets Jem off the proverbial hook. That’s what I call bromantic.
6. Grant Wiggins and Jefferson
“A Lesson Before Dying” by Ernest J. Gaines
Ernest Gaines has created a loaded bromance in the relationship between Grant Wiggins and Jefferson. The most important elements of Southern literature fill the pages of this brilliant book: race, class, place, religion and social injustice. Gaines may have created the “Romeo and Juliet” of bromances here. Grant and Jefferson have different stations in life, different mental and philosophical abilities and different religious outlooks. What makes this bromance one of the more interesting is its development. Beginning with misunderstanding and mistrust, the men form a deep bond over the course of Grant’s visits to Jefferson’s jail cell. Grant is so disturbed and bereft that he cannot attend Jefferson’s execution, and the reader is left to question which of the men learned the greater lesson before the death. It’s a tragic end to a great bromance.
5. Ed, Lewis and Bobby
“Deliverance” by James Dickey
Snicker if you will. I know the scene that immediately crashes to mind at the very mention of this title. However, notwithstanding that, I believe that Ed, Lewis and Bobby have a three-headed bromance in this harrowing novel. I would have included Drew but since he dies, I’m disqualifying him from consideration. In the most famous scene, just before Ed gets violated, Lewis thumps an arrow into the hillbilly assailant. I find this bromantic. I hope one of my bros would do the same for me, given a similar circumstance. What qualifies this three-ringed relationship for our purpose is that all three men stick to their story, even shifting it (as bros do) when the police put pressure on them. They defend each other from the law. It’s not pretty, but not all bromances are.
4. John Singer and Spiros Antonapoulos
“The Heart is A Lonely Hunter” by Carson McCullers
You could argue with me about this choice of bromance, but don’t do it. Singer and Antonapoulos do not have sexual contact, which is the main characteristic of a bromance (although the modern reader cannot avoid being told of the book’s sexual themes). Now listen, if they had played kissy face or Singer had so much as grazed Antonapoulos’ caboose, I would flatly remove them from the list. They didn’t, so I’m keeping them.
They’re bound to each other by their lives together, their loneliness and their physical disabilities. When Antonapoulos dips into madness, Singer stays by his side, visiting him at the asylum and sending letters. This bromance has a tragic ending, as Singer commits suicide after learning about Antonapoulos’ death. However, it’s a good, Southern bromance and it deserves at least 4 stars.
3. Teacake Woods and Sop-de-Bottom
“Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Zora Neale Hurston
This is a mutually-reciprocated (maybe even a requited) bromance. Small wonder that Janie Crawford found her true partner in Tea Cake Woods. He plays the guitar, gambles, laughs, flirts, hunts and fishes. A man as fun as Tea Cake is bound to have good bros. His bestie is a man named Sop-de-Bottom. In our introduction to Sop, Tea Cake tries to remove Sop from a card game before he loses. (A bro never wants to see another lose money.)
Likewise, they talk about their relationship troubles and solutions when Mrs. Turner starts sending her son to woo Janie away from Tea Cake. The buddies devise a way to stop Mrs. Turner, causing an enormous fight in her juke joint, smashing everything that’s smashable. In the midst of the fight, Tea Cake stops a drunken acquaintance from “whoopin'” Sop. This is highly bromantic. And for our final evidence of bromance, after Tea Cake dies (and Janie is tried for the murder), Sop attempts to speak out in court against her. Of course, the reader may not appreciate this, because the reader knows Janie is innocent. However, from a bromantic perspective, his speaking out makes sense. Even Janie understands their bond. Sop loved Tea Cake like only a bro can.
2. Forrest Gump and Bubba Blue
“Forrest Gump” by Winston Groom
The bromance between Forrest Gump and Bubba Blue is tender. In the novel, Bubba and Forrest meet playing football at the university. Bubba gives Forrest a harmonica and teaches him how to play. They serve in Vietnam together and agree to partner in a shrimping company afterward. Sadly, as we’ve seen so far, sometimes bromances end in tragedy, as did this one when Bubba died in the war. A tender scene occurs when Forrest plays the harmonica to Bubba to comfort him before death. However, Forrest honors his buddy by starting the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company. It is, in fact, the legacy of a great bromance.
1. Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer
“The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain
Arguably the greatest bromance in American literature, not to mention Southern Letters, is the one between Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer. This is an endearing relationship that will likely never be forgotten so long as books are read. At various times, Tom and Huck form a band of robbers together, swear a blood oath after witnessing Injun Joe kill a man, become pirates on Jacksons Island, surprise everyone at their own funeral, and engage in all sorts of bromantic escapades. Mark Twain was the finest bromance writer in Southern literature. His works are chock full of great bonds between males. (You could also see a good one in Jim and Huck as well as the King and the Duke.) However, I’m giving 5 stars for the bromance between Tom and Huck.
James Agee and Walker Evans
“Let Us Now Praise Famous Men” by James Agee and Walker Evans
The collaboration of Agee and Evans on this book is astonishing. With Agee’s prose and Evan’s photographs, the men created a work which will survive the ages. They developed a bond through their experience of documenting poor sharecropping families in Alabama. The commonality in this great bromance is the plight of Southern sharecroppers and the book the bros created to bear witness to it.
Eugene Gant and George Graves
“Look Homeward, Angel” by Thomas Wolfe
I included these dudes if for no other reason than the great scene of inebriated merriment that the bros enjoy. Alcohol tends to really enhance a good bromance.
A list of Southern literature would not be complete without Richard Wright. In his autobiographical “Black Boy,” Griggs tries to advise Richard on how to keep a job. Griggs tells his friend he has to submit to the status quo in order to be employed. Griggs obviously has compassion for his buddy, which is a key bromantic ingredient, but Richard cannot abide the racist employment system. This is a side bromance but a good one.
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Photo credits: Eudora Welty image created by Hunter Murphy; “All The King’s Men” photo of Sean Penn as Willie Stark and Jude Law as Jack Burden from IMDB; “To Kill A Mockingbird” tire scene from cnn.com; Grant Wiggins and Jefferson from theaterreview.com; John Singer and Spiros Antonapoulos from allmovie.com; and Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer by Norman Rockwell.
Hunter Murphy is a Southerner, a reader and a writer. You can find him on Twitter @YeahHunter. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama, with his partner of many years, his mother-in-law (a feisty senior citizen who continues to tell him tall tales) and an English bulldog, who is a tough critic.”