The “Stereotypical Southern Couple” in American Gothic by Alyssa Deguzman


When I first found out that we were going to discuss American Gothic in class, I had no idea that we were going to talk about this painting. I didn’t think that the name of the painting would be American Gothic, because the only thing that seemed to make it “gothic” was the window. I was curious about what my friends would think about the painting because I knew that their analysis would be different from those in the class. I say this because I feel that as a class, we are more concerned with deeper meaning associated with the painting, such as the meaning of every little detail in the painting like the design of the house. However, I knew that my friends would be more honest and genuine about what their first thoughts on the painting. My first friend said that the painting made him think of, “angry white racist people.” He said he thought this because it looked the painting was based on a southern couple on a farm.

It is a common stereotype that people living in the south are “racist rednecks,” or that some families may even marry within their family. This can be seen when my friend took this stereotype even farther, and asked me if the couple in the painting were either. “related, married, or both,” and that they look like Trump supporters. I found it very interesting that such a plain looking painting could spark so much thought and connections to these stereotypical values of Americans in the South.

Another friend told me that the painting made her feel bored as it is very neutral and looks like just a simple life. A different friend told me she had no opinion of it at all because it is just such a boring painting. I found it very interesting that one friend though this painting screamed racism and anger, while the two other friends thought of it as nothing at all. Their views may show that they think the average southern American couple is a redneck, or a boring farmer. Everyone interprets art in different ways, but if an interpretation is so far off from the original artist’s intention, does that make the interpretation wrong? Grant Wood did not intend for people to believe that he used this painting to “satirize the narrow-mindedness and repression that has been said to characterize Midwestern culture.”[1] He denied any accusations of this. Yet, people still make the connection that this painting of a small town life of a boring couple on their farm. I think that because this painting can have so many different interpretations and is so ambiguous  it makes it an icon. The painting can portray a couple that is “rich or poor, urban or rural, young or old, radical or redneck,”[2] but in the end, what the painting truly portrays, is that it is American.


[1]The Art institute of Chicago. “American Gothic.” Art Access: Modern and Contemporary Art. Accessed March 15, 2018.

[2]  Wanda Corn, The Birth of a National Icon: Grant Wood’s American Gothic (Chicago: The Art Institute of Chicago, 1983) 272.

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