A Darkness Endemic to Mississippi: Jesmyn Ward’s Haunted Places


  • Marco Petrelli




American studies, southern studies, spatiality, hauntology, Jesmyn Ward


The literature of the Southern United States has always been expression of a multilayered connection with ‘place,’ a complex term encompassing identity, history, and politics. Because of its distinctive history, the South’s literary landscapes are often haunted by real and metaphorical ghosts: simulacra of the region’s burdensome and blood-soaked legacy. A narration that acknowledges the existence of specters further complicates the representation of southern space through the polysemic, unpredictable connection with the netherworld. The traditional chronotope of the South, that of the self-supporting idyll, is forced to interact with a repressed, troubling beyond. Haunted places enable forms of counter-communication that challenge the status quo, because, as Jacques Derrida writes, addressing ghosts is also a quest for justice that goes beyond the living present. In the case of a political author like Jesmyn Ward, the commitment to justice is clearly expressed in her use of gothic tropes as a way to channel and revive the suffocated voices of the past. Ward’s work questions the present and restores the dark corners of her native Mississippi’s history. Through theories of literary spaces and hauntology, this essay analyzes Ward’s militant poetics, and how they are grounded in the relationship between immanent and transcendental landscapes.

Author Biography

Marco Petrelli

Marco Petrelli is adjunct professor of Anglo-American literatures at the University of Bologna and the University of Turin. His research interests include the literature and culture of the Southern United States, American gothic, literary spaces, postmodernism, and graphic narratives. He is the author of Paradiso in nero: spazio e mito nella narrativa di Cormac McCarthy, and he published a number of essays in Italian and international journals. He collaborates with the newspaper Il manifesto as a literary critic.


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Articles (general section) - American language, literature, and culture