Novels Set in the American South

Absalom, Absalom! | William Faulkner

Thomas Sutpen arrives in Mississippi with a group of slaves and builds a plantation home. He is known for wrestling with his slaves. He marries Ellen Coldfield, the daughter in a poor family, and they have children. When the Civil War starts, father and son go to fight, along with Charles who is courting the daughter. The narrative continues through the war and return home. Four different narrators tell the story, adding relevant details and increasing our understanding of events.

Summer of My German Soldier | Bette Greene

A group of German POWs on their way to a prison camp are brought into the store of Patty’s parents to buy hats. One prisoner, Anton, buys on behalf of everyone because he speaks English. Later, news spreads that a prisoner has escaped. Patty finds Anton lurking outside one night and offers to hide him.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin | Harriet Beecher Stowe

The narrative tells the story of three slaves – Tom, Eliza, and George – who begin in Kentucky and deal with the hardships in their lives. Part I opens with a plantation owner, Mr. Shelby, trying to sell Uncle Tom and Harry, the five-year-old son of Eliza, the house servant. Eliza decides to run away with Harry, but Uncle Tom won’t go against Mr. Shelby.

Read “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”

Roots: The Story of an American Family | Alex Haley

Kunta Kinte is born in a small African village and quickly progresses; by fifteen he is running his own farm and living on his own. He gets captured by white slavers and is taken to Virginia. He makes several unsuccessful escape attempts. He adapts to life on the plantation and meets Belle, a young slave who is helpful to him. The story of Kinte and his descendants continues until after the Civil War.

Their Eyes Were Watching God | Zora Neale Hurston

Janie’s nanny encourages her to marry Logan even though she doesn’t find him attractive. They get married but she leaves him for Joe, a man who plans on becoming an important figure in an all-black community. Their relationship deteriorates and becomes hostile.

Read “Their Eyes Were Watching God”

The Member of the Wedding | Carson McCullers

Frankie Addams is a twelve-year-old tomboy who doesn’t feel she belongs anywhere. When her brother, Jarvis, returns home to get married, Frankie believes she will go away with her brother and his wife, and will finally fit in somewhere.

A Long and Happy Life | Reynolds Price

Rosacoke is getting a ride to a funeral on her boyfriend Wesley’s motorcycle. She has to walk home when he leaves. He is attentive to other women, and alternates between treating Rosacoke normally and badly.

Death Comes for the Archbishop | Willa Cather

Father Latour is sent to New Mexico by the Catholic Church. He performs many marriages and baptisms in various small communities. He is accompanied by his friend, Father Vaillant. They encounter danger, illness, and insincere priests as they try to bring religious order to the region.

Read “Death Comes for the Archbishop”

Wise Blood | Flannery O’Connor

Hazel Motes spends four years overseas in the army. After his release he goes back to his hometown in Tennessee with the intention of doing things he has never done. His religious upbringing enters his thoughts, leading him to follow a preacher down the street. When the preacher talks about Jesus, Hazel says he is also a preacher and is going to start The Church Without Christ.

Losing Battles | Eudora Welty

Several generations are gathering for a reunion and the ninetieth birthday of Granny Vaughn, the matriarch of the family. The most anticipated guest is Jack Renfro, Granny’s great-grandson who was jailed a year and a half ago for attacking and robbing a man who took a family heirloom. The members of the family tell stories. Jack discovers that the car he helped out of a ditch on his way there belongs to the judge who sent him away. He decides to go looking for him and put his car back in a ditch.

The Optimist’s Daughter | Eudora Welty

Laurel McKelva goes to New Orleans when her father, Judge McKelva, is losing his sight. She also meets his new, younger wife, Fay, a selfish and coarse woman. When Judge dies, Laurel and Fay arrange for the funeral. Laurel thinks back on her life.

The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman | Ernest J. Gaines

A high school teacher interviews and then edits the responses of Jane Pittman, a woman who’s a 110 years old and has lived from her emancipation as a slave to the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement a hundred years later.

Ellen Foster | Kaye Gibbons

Ellen remembers her past with her abusive, alcoholic father and overwhelmed mother. She also describes some scenes with her present foster family. Her living arrangements changed several times in a few years.

Cold Sassy Tree | Olive Ann Burns

Rucker Blakeslee is dealing with the death of his wife, Mattie Lou. After she has been dead only three weeks, he makes an announcement that shocks his family–he is going to marry Miss Simpson, a northerner who is kind and free-spirited. There is disapproval from the family and the town. Will Tweedy, the narrator who was fourteen at the time, remembers his grandmother, particularly her final days and funeral. Will has always liked Miss Love; he asks her about the marriage.