HomeArts & Lit5 Books That Perfectly Capture Southern Life

5 Books That Perfectly Capture Southern Life

Southern life is a patchwork of dialects, families and friends. It takes incredible insight into Southern culture to create a work that accurately reflects it, but these five Southern authors prove that it’s possible. If you’re looking for a perfect snapshot of Southern life, these books will transport you no matter where you read them.


The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

The South has many unique and varied dialects that reflect the different people who live there. In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain uses his ear for dialects to flawlessly reproduce several Southern ones. Of all the dialects in the novel, Huck’s “Pike County,” as Twain calls it in the novel’s Explanatory, is the easiest to understand.

From there, the dialects become more colorful and more difficult to grasp. The townspeople that Huck and Jim run into speak a backwoods Southwestern dialect. They lounge on their porches, drawling to each other, “‘Gimme a chaw ‘v tobacker, Hank.’ ‘Cain’t; I hain’t got but one chaw left.’”

The most difficult-to-understand dialect in the novel is Jim’s Missouri negro dialect. It usually takes readers a few chapters to adjust to Jim’s unique way of speaking: “Well, I wuz dah all night. Dey wuz somebody roun’ all de time.” Though the dialects may take some getting used to, they help Twain create a more realistic picture of the South.



Delta Wedding

There are few things more important to Southerners than family and storytelling, so combining the two makes for an extremely quaint experience. That’s just what Eudora Welty did in Delta Wedding. The novel illustrates the confusing extent of a Southern family, as the preparations for Dabney’s wedding commence and aunts, great-aunts, cousins and in-laws all start to arrive. To make things worse, some of the characters are named after a long-dead relative.

Just knowing how everyone is related is a feat in itself, but somehow the characters are able to navigate the branches of their family tree. The children even know the names of late family members they’ve never met, thanks to the Fairchilds’ love of storytelling. The adults spin colorful, slightly embellished yarns that recall the great acts or tragedies of the previous generation, and the payoff of their stories is evident. It helps connect them to their now-deceased relatives, and it reminds the children of their roots.



Absalom, Absalom!

One of the most admirable and sometimes problematic characteristics of Southerners is their determination and reluctance to accept change. William Faulkner used this double-edged sword to show the South one of the negative results of its stubbornness in Absalom, Absalom!

The novel’s main character, Thomas Sutpen, desperately wants to build a grand plantation and establish his lineage through a proper male heir. Unfortunately, his plans go awry. Three different times Sutpen attempts to create a grand legacy for himself, but each time he does, his efforts end in disaster.

His last attempt is the most disastrous of all, claiming his life. The determination Sutpen displays throughout the novel is impressive, but its consequences are deadly. Southerners have the stubbornness to accomplish great things. When they decide to achieve their goals, they more than likely will. However, as Faulkner notes, it’s important to know when to quit.



To Kill A Mockingbird

When Harper Lee created Atticus Finch, she placed in him a strong sense of duty and a clear code of morals. Atticus agrees to defend Tom Robinson in court even though the townspeople threaten him and his children. He does an excellent job of defending Tom and does his best to ensure that the accused has as fair a trial as possible.

Though Atticus has a feeling that he is fighting a losing battle, he fights with everything he’s got. When Southerners combine their inherent stubbornness with their sense of duty, they have the potential to leave a positive mark on society.



A Lesson Before Dying

Southerners are a friendly bunch, and they can befriend very different people in the unlikeliest of places. Ernest Gaines’ A Lesson Before Dying follows the relationship between schoolteacher Grant Wiggins and inmate Jefferson. The men have nothing in common except the color of their skin, but as they spend more time together, they begin to form a friendship that looks past their social class and education.

It seems that Southerners know the true value of friendship, viewed as a two-way street that helps enhance everyone’s lives. Though social and economic factors may appear as barriers in the beginning, most Southerners have the ability to look past them.

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Mississippi Literary
  • Jendela / April 23, 2015

    Prince of Tides was mistakenly left off the list. Pat Conroy writes convincingly and lovingly about the South. Almost every book he writes is a love-hate affair with the South, but mostly a love affair. Ditto Fannie Flagg. What could be better than Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe?

    • Erin Z. Bass / April 23, 2015

      You’re right. Those are both excellent depictions of Southern life!

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