O’Connor’s works are filled with people who claim not to need community, but it can be argued that they are simply in denial of their need for companionship. There are several characters who claim that they will simply not accept human companionship, or put off an air of excessive independence, but their actions within the stories tell the reader something completely different. The Geranium and The Life You Save May be Your Own both have very good examples of this. It is clear from the beginning of the story that the old woman Lucynell Crater has intentionally separated herself from the world. One can assume that it is mostly to try and protect her daughter’s innocence from the world. When Mr. Shiftlet arrives Lucynell instantly puts her guards up. She picks him to pieces and gives the reader the idea that she will pull out a gun to try and chase him off at any moment. However, she suddenly offers him a place to stay in her house.
“The old woman began to gum a seed. “What you carry in that tin box, Mr. Shiftlet?” she asked. “Tools,” he said, put back. “I’m a carpenter.” “Well if you come out here to work, I’ll be able to feed you and give you a place to sleep but I can’t pay. I’ll tell you that before you begin,” she said.”
Why this immediate shift from the unwelcoming person she seemed to be, to a lady willing to open up her home to a strange man? Did she really desire a separation from people, or was it forced upon her?
A similar situation is seen in The Geranium. Old Dudley is not portrayed as the friendliest guy in the apartment building. He does not really care to talk to his daughter and avoids even going outside. One immediately jumps to the conclusion that Old Dudley does not wish to have any type of community. However, a lot of the story is Old Dudley reminiscing on the time spent with Rabie. It might be a bit of a jump to say that Rabie was Old Dudley’s friend, at least not in the traditional sense, because of the situation, but he did provide Old Dudley with companionship that was obviously very significant to him. When the African American man moves into the apartment next door, Old Dudley is furious, but then he wonders if the man knows how to fish and if they could go fishing together. Old Dudley dreads leaving his room, he even fears that people in the apartments will hear him, but when he passes the lady in the staircase, “He wondered if she would speak to him.” They pass each other on the stairs without a word and he then, “felt heavy in his stomach.” If he really wants to avoid people, why is he always wishing for someone to speak to him?
O’Connor’s characters are constantly contradicting themselves when it comes to idea of the human need for community. This is all part of the old southern ideals; the idea that to really be successful in the American South is to be independent, own your own land, and essentially be self-sustaining in every area of life. Does that seep into a person’s need for community as well? Is this idea dripping from O’Connor’s work in these stories?