Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Stories by Flannery O'Connor

To understand Flannery O’Connor’s short stories is understand the rural South that she was familiar with in the pre-1970s. Her stories focus on aspects character in human, every-day situations all revolving around her South, dealing with race relations, Christianity, rural versus city living, parent-child relationships, etc. She brings the reader into the settings by capturing thought processes, a style I found engaging. I enjoyed reading her stories, although they illustrated a lack of hope in human nature.


Race and Class

I found the most common theme in Flannery O’Connor’s stories is race and class, looking at conflict between generations. A great example is “Everything that Rises Must Converge.” In this story, a progressive young man must ride the bus with his older mother to the YMCA because she is “afraid” of the blacks on the integrated buses. He wants to teach her a lesson, but in the end he realizes he still needs his mother, as “old-fashioned” as she is.

Race and class often mix in O’Connor’s stories. In “Revelation,” a self-satisfied judgmental woman is baffled when a young girl calls her a rude name; in the end, she (maybe) realizes the folly of her judgments.

Other stories clearly dealing with race and class also include rural versus city conflicts. Some of these stories are “The Artificial Nigger” (a father and son visit Atlanta); “The Displaced Person” (a Jewish refugee family joins the farm); “A Late Encounter With the Enemy” (Grandpa fought in the civil war); and “The Geranium” and “Judgment Day” (an old man, living in New York City with his daughter, longs to return to the South to die; these are essentially the same story, one written at the beginning and one at the end of O’Connor’s career).

Isolated, Lonely People

Some of my favorite stories were about lonely, isolated individuals seeking for a place. In “The Crop,” a lonely woman sits down to write a short story-and forgets where she is. I love this story because I can relate to this writer: she can’t figure out how to get the story from her head to paper. In “A Stroke of Good Fortune,” the woman ponders a fortune teller’s message, and the reader, following her thoughts, knows what it is. I loved how clueless she was as I followed her thought process.

While others weren’t favorites, they were also about lonely, isolated people: “You Can’t Be Any Poorer Than Dead” (14-year-old must bury his grandfather); “Good Country People” (a lonely girl with a wooden leg finally trusts someone, the good country man selling bibles); “The Life You Save May Be Your Own” (mother gets her mute daughter married to a nice, good country man); “A View of the Woods” (a lonely, selfish grandfather idolizes his granddaughter); and “The Enduring Chill” (a lonely, unsuccessful writer returns to Georgia to die).

Christianity (Good versus Evil)

Flannery O’Connor’s stories also deal with Christianity and good versus evil in general. Her view of good and evil in the face of Christianity is intriguing.

A Good Man is Hard to Find” is probably the most familiar O’Connor story, but I really don’t like it. Grandma gets her family lost on a side road. They meet a murderer, who Grandma is sure she recognizes as a good man. I think it’s a look at how everyone has good, and yet, we’re all missing good too; we’re all condemned. I find it a bit disturbing.

In other stories, people try to save each other through religion and because of religious training. In “The River,” the boy’s caretaker, Mrs. Conin, wants to “save” him with religion. In “Parker’s Back,” Parker gets one more tattoo that he thinks his religious wife will appreciate. In “The Comforts of Home,” Thomas’s mother thinks she can save a loose woman from corruption. In “The Lame Shall Enter First,” Sheppard thinks he can redeem a criminal boy who shows more promise than his own son.

I sometimes didn’t like the violent shock at the end of each story: but that may be because I was reading all of her short stories in the same week. If you read Flannery O’Connor, read her in installments.

In the end, Flannery O’Connor certainly has a marvelous but morbid story telling ability.

Cross-posted in longer form here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the help! I am a high school English teacher in Florida who studied Flannery during two brush-up English courses last year. I have assigned my Honors I students Flannery's works. Each student is to select one and dissect it. I have read some (but not all) of O'Connor's works and was searching for a very brief plot description of each story (to entice the teens). As a Roman Catholic who originated in the state of Maine, O'Connor's Catholism is foreign to me, which makes her exceptionally interesting. I appreciate your fine work. You just made my job easier:) -Nancy