The Physical Atmosphere in Faulkner?s Dry September

The Physical Atmosphere in Faulkner?s Dry September
An anonymous patron in the barbershop at the beginning of ?Dry September? makes one of the key statements in the short story: ?It?s this durn weather. . . It?s enough to make a man do anything? (170). The patron sees the heat and drought as having possibly driven a black man to attack or offend a white woman. The idea that the weather has an effect on the townspeople is echoed at the end of the story when McLendon?s wife says, ?I couldn?t sleep. . .The heat; something? (182). In both examples, the climactic conditions and external environment are seen as affecting the town dwellers? behavior. The physical atmosphere, however, seems to be more a reflection of the emotional atmosphere of the townspeople than the cause of their agitation, as the barbershop patron would have us believe. In particular, the dust that pervades the story can be seen as a reflection of the dried-up, monotonous, and lonely existence of Minnie Cooper.
She lives with two old women, her sick mother and her ?sallow, unflagging? aunt, and Minnie?s days are typically filled with nothing more than eating, napping, and going to shops in town to meet with other women haggling over prices for the fun of it (173). Minnie does not even have genuine friendships to enliven her ?idle and empty? or dry and dusty days (175). Instead of establishing a female camaraderie between characters, Faulkner portrays relations between women as marked by tension and dissimulation; ?one of those bitter inexplicable (to the man mind) amicable enmities which occur between women? (156, Absalom, Absalom!). As Minnie?s presumed friends during girlhood become women, they take pleasure in the fact that Minnie?s transition to womanhood marks the end of her days as a social butterfly; Faulkner calls it the pleasure of ?retaliation? (174). The neighbors she visits on Christmas, women ?friends? most likely, revel in the opportunity to tell her of how well her former love-interest is doing without her in Memphis, ?watching with bright, secret eyes her haggard bright face? (175). When Minnie is having a fit of uncontrollable laughter at the end, the women she is with act solicitous and kind, smoothing her hair and saying ?poor girl? to her, but this is shown to be dissimulation?they smooth her hair, not to comfort her, but to look for signs of graying, and between the expressions of compassion spoken in Minnie?s hearing, they speculate furtively over the veracity of her claim (182).

The ?lifeless air? and ?parched dust? that engulf the town in ?Dry September? not only affect the characters? behavior, but also stand as a reflection of characters? banal lives. Minnie Cooper, no longer nubile and without refreshing friendships, exemplifies the dried-up and dull existence that the physical atmosphere in the story represents

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