DRY SEPTEMBER ESSAY
Often it hurts to see someone trying desperately to fit into a group or society. We rarely see them succeed, and it pains us to watch them make fools of themselves trying. Such was the case of Minnie Cooper in William Faulkner’s Dry September. We watch her as she attempts to fit in too late in life, which causes the townspeople to feel pity for her. And by reading through the story, we see that the narrator is most likely one of these townspeople who feel sorrow for Minnie. However, we realize that the narrator is not a person close to Minnie, but actually just a person who has seen her through her life, and is actually rather distant from her. This detachment is key in the story, and this idea is brought out in the way that the author tells the life story of Minnie Cooper. Faulkner’s use of diction is key to the story, but also his point of view and tone helps to shape the picture of Minnie in the story.
Right away in the beginning of the story, we see that the narrator is not completely sure of the age of Minnie Cooper. This shows us the tone of the story, which is one that is rather indifferent. The fact that the author is not even close enough to Minnie to know her age also shows us the narrator’s point of view, which one of an observer, and that he only knows Minnie with a passing interest. The narrator’s point of view is strengthened throughout the poem. In the second paragraph, the narrator refers to Minnie as “not the best in Jefferson” when talking about her origins. His nonchalant tone suggests to us that he doesn’t think extremely high of her, but also that he doesn’t feel a particular need to bring her down any. Also, when they are talking about Minnie’s relationship with a bank cashier, people of the town are at first concerned about Minnie, but then, they shrug off the concerns, saying “she’s old enough to take care of herself.” (ln. 38) This suggests to us that even though they still have worries for Minnie, they view her slightly more as a burden that they have to watch out for, rather than as a friend.
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In addition, when the narrator is talking about Minnie in her older years, the narrator tells us about how people often see Minnie at the bar, and how people would buy her a drink, saying “I reckon she’s entitled to a little fun.” (ln. 52) The act of buying someone a drink is usually a sign of interest, but the fact that she is referred to as “the old gal” (ln. 52) suggests to us that it is actually more of an act of pity for Minnie, and that it’s probably done more out of habit, rather than as a friendly act. Lastly, the narrator refers to Minnie by her name only four times in the entire passage. More often, the narrator simply refers to Minnie as “she” or “her,” which suggests that she has lost the respect of her peers, and they no longer feel the need to refer to her by name, except when they demonstrated some form of remorse for her.
The passage’s diction, as well as Faulkner’s close detail to certain things also is essential to the narrator’s characterization of Minnie Cooper’s life. In the first paragraph, it mentions that Minnie often wore a “boudoir cap” (ln. 4) in public. This close detail reveals a connection to the point that the narrator is trying to push across: that Minnie is trying too late to improve her image and become attractive. A boudoir cap is usually something that women would wear while in bed, or just after awakening, and not something you would wear in the open. However, it was extremely popular in those times, so it could represent the fact that Minnie was trying to fit in. Also, Faulkner specifically notes that Minnie requests that the children of her classmates call her “cousin” instead of “aunty” (ln. 40).
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This shows us two things about Minnie. The first is that she is growing old, so much that her friends all have children, and also that she is conscious of this and is trying to make herself appear younger by calling herself cousin. Lastly, Faulkner indirectly shows us the age of her friends’ children. It says in the last paragraph that her “cousins” (ln. 59) are already hanging out with boys and are flirting around, suggesting to us that they themselves have reached the age where Minnie’s popularity was at its peak. This also firmly establishes that Minnie is far past her prime, and that she will definitely not regain her social status.
In addition, Faulkner uses contrasting words in his descriptions. For example, he describes her face as having a “bright, haggard look” (ln. 23), which presents two words that are exact opposites. However, this contrast ties into the point of the narrator. The contrast ties into the confusion that Minnie appears to have in her efforts to appeal to her peers.
Finally, Faulkner uses diction in the passage that appear to be specifically chosen to paint a picture of how Minnie is attempting to appear, or how she once appeared. In the second paragraph, she is described as having a ” slender, nervous body, with a sort of hard vivacity.” This suggest to us that she was probably decently attractive, as well as slightly flirtatious, which allowed her to fit in temporarily as a youth. However, in the middle of the story, she hears two classmates talking about her at a party. This suggests that she has lost the physical attraction that she once had, and while attempting to relive her past, she makes a fool of herself, and this damages her already frail ego. Finally, at the end of the story, when we see her “cousins” walking around town, it mentions that as she walks by stores and shops, wearing what most people think are attractive for young people, men outside the stores no longer even glance in her direction, which tells us that she has completely lost all physical attraction.
William Faulkner "[I] discovered that my own little postage stamp of native soil was worth writing about and that I would never live long enough to exhaust it, and that by sublimating the actual into the apocryphal I would have complete liberty to use whatever talent I might have to its absolute top. It opened up a gold mine of other people, so I created a cosmos of my own." (William Faulkner) ...
William Faulkner’s Dry September paints a sad picture of a woman who is desperately trying to set herself as a popular, attractive woman way too late in her life. We watch as she struggles to make herself appear beautiful, but ultimately fails. Her futile attempts, as well as her oblivion to what people actually think of her, is all brought into perspective through Faulkner’s usage of point of view, diction, and his attentiveness to certain details. We as the audience are able to easily see how Minnie has fallen out of favor from her friends, and also that she is seeking something she can never attain.