"Dry September" is a short story by American author William Faulkner. First published in a 1931 issue of Scribner's
magazine, it has since been included in many of Faulkner's story collections. Told in five parts, it centers on the formation of a lynch mob in the town of Jefferson, Mississippi, where a rumor circulates that Minnie Cooper, a white woman, has been raped by a black man Will Mayes.
In the first part of the story, it is a Saturday in September, and there has been no rain for months in Jefferson. The men working at the local barbershop discuss the latest piece of gossip coursing through the town: Will has done something terrible to Minnie. Henry "Hawk" Hawkshaw, a barber at the shop who later appears in Faulkner's short story "Hair," asserts that he knows Will and that there is simply no way the rumor could be true. Hawk's refutation of the rumor triggers a heated argument amongst those in the barbershop. One outraged man says that a white woman's word against a black man must always be taken as a fact. Another accuses Hawk of being a liar, and Hawk, who is shaving this man, holds the razor against the man's throat and swears he is not a liar. Minnie is just an old maid, and she always imagines men are making advances toward her.
Then, a townsman named McLendon enters the barbershop. He shares the latest about the rumor, explaining that now people are saying Will raped Minnie. This further stokes the fire of anger within the men at the shop. McLendon, who has a gun, is adamant that Will must be made an example of, despite Hawk's pleas that more information is necessary before making any definitive judgment. McLendon doesn't care whether the rape allegation is true. Hawk argues that Minnie once accused another man of peeping in her window at her. Still, this is not enough to stop McLendon. He and the other patrons of the barbershop leave to go find Will. Hawk watches as they depart, telling the other barbers that someone needs to stop them.
In the second part, Minnie lives with her mother and aunt. She is approaching forty years old, unmarried, and used to possess a higher social standing than she does currently. When she was in her twenties, she watched as all her friends found husbands. No man had any interest in her. She eventually started a relationship with a widower in town, but when his job at the bank transferred him, he moved and left Minnie heartbroken. Since then, she suffers a disconnect from the daily goings-on of life, perhaps because her drinking has gotten out of hand.
The third part of the story revisits the mob of men as they barrel into cars and go in search of Will. At the last minute, Hawk jumps into one of the vehicles and rides along, hoping to talk sense into the others. The argument that originated in the barbershop continues. The men arrive at the ice plant where Will works as a watchman. McLendon summons Will, who faces the mob and tells them he is innocent. The men don't care; they shove him around, handcuff him, and throw him into one of the cars. As the vehicles start off again, Hawk feels sick and jumps out into the ditch. He then gets up and makes his way back to town on foot.
In part four, Minnie nervously gets ready for a night out with friends. Her friends ask her if she is in any condition to venture out, but Minnie wants to go. They want her to tell them what happened with Will when she is feeling up to talking about it. In the town square, Minnie knows the other residents are discussing her and the rumor of her rape. Word reaches her that Will "went on a little trip." She senses other men in town are leering at her. At the movies, Minnie takes a seat with her friends, but the presence of in-love couples at the movie theater compels her to start laughing uncontrollably. Her behavior alarms her friends, and they take her home. By the time they tuck her into bed, she is laughing maniacally and screaming, leading her friends to wonder about the truth of the rape allegation.
It is midnight in the fifth and final part of the story. McLendon arrives home, where his wife waits up for him. Angry with this, he roughly pushes her into a chair. McLendon goes out to the screened-in sleeping porch to get ready for bed. He removes his gun from his pocket, sets it aside, and sheds his clothes. He wipes some of the sweat away and presses his body against the screen of the porch to cool off. McLendon looks up at the dark sky, surrounded by the quiet and seeming peace of the night.