Summary and Analysis: "Dry September" Section III


This section returns to the actions leading up to and including the murder. Again, the weather is associated with the men's behavior. The "lifeless air," the "spent dust," and the "wan hemorrhage of the moon" emphasize the dry September, and all of these images are connected with death.

When Hawkshaw joins McLendon's group, they think that he has changed his mind and has come to join their revenge; however, Hawkshaw continues to try to convince them to stop their thirst for murder. He questions the believability of Miss Minnie's charge, pleading with the group to consider how "a lady will kind of think things about men when there aint any reason to . . ." Because his reasoning falls on deaf ears, he changes his strategy and argues that Will would have left town by now if he were guilty: He would know that he'd be punished. Hawkshaw's attempts at quelling the violence, however, are ineffectual against the men's frenzy and rage.

When the mob captures Will at his workplace, they are ready to kill him on the spot until McLendon stops them. After roughly handcuffing Will and throwing him in the car, they are so agitated that they need something on which to release their pent-up feelings. First McLendon, then the others, strike Will; in defense, Will "swept his manacled hands across their faces and slashed the barber upon the mouth." Hawkshaw strikes back instinctively, and suddenly he wants out of the car.

Hawkshaw's desire to get out of the car can be interpreted in several ways. He wants nothing to do with the violence, and he fears that, in striking back at Will, he, too, is becoming emotionally caught up in the murderous fever of the others. Or, he recognizes the futility of his attempts to stop the killing and abandons all hope. Or, he fears that the men will take out part of their hatred on him, and he will be murdered with Will.

Hawkshaw jumps from the car, and the men drive on. When the car returns, Hawkshaw hides in a ditch, afraid that the mob might be hungry for more violence, this time against him. He counts only four people in the car; we know that the men have killed Will.

The relationship between the sterility of the weather and the mob's violence is masterfully detailed in this section and deserves special attention. As the men's craving for violence intensifies, so too does the weather. The "pall of dust" that characterizes the onset of night foreshadows Will's death; the day ends in a "pall," which is a cover draped over a coffin, and Will's life probably ends in the darkness of an abandoned pit. In observing that "dust hung . . . above the land," Faulkner makes Will's murder a universal event, not something confined only to Jefferson, Mississippi. The "hemorrhage" of the moon intensifies the mob's rushing to capture Will; when they force him into the car, their breathing is described as "a dry hissing," an image linked to the sound a snake makes. The men have become poisonous creatures, influenced by the malevolent weather.

Ironically, the moon's position appears to shift in direct correlation to Hawkshaw's actions. After he jumps from the moving car and is no longer part of the murderous mob, "The moon was higher, riding high and clear of the dust at last." Note, however, that the town, representative of a culture that allows the brutally violent murder of an innocent black man, "began to glare beneath the dust." Hawkshaw might be free of culpability in the killing, but the town is not.

After Will's death, the dust imagery seems almost soothing. The description of an all-encompassing dust suggests death's immortality for Will. Also, it has a settling effect after the intensely violent action we know has happened: "The dust swallowed them; the glare and the sound died away. The dust of them hung for a while, but soon the eternal dust absorbed it again." The "eternal" dust evokes our sympathy for Will and hints at an eternal afterlife for him. However, violence still lurks below the surface; nothing can forestall Miss Minnie's hysteria and McLendon's continuing rage.