Monday, February 24, 2014

Context : Food For Thought

The Byzantine Christ

The Byzantine Christ on Parker's back.

Eye to Eye With O'Connor

           Flannery O'Connor uses many themes that traverse the grounds of her many stories, whether it be racism, deformity, or displacement. But one of the largest themes that is present throughout many of her works is the theme of eyes. Particularly when the reader is given details about the eyes of a character, or when characters gaze into the eyes of other characters. The eyes are powerful, and sometimes the eyes are referred to as windows to the soul. Does this hold true in O'Connor's literature though?

            In Revelation, Mrs. Turpin is held prisoner in the eyes of an ugly girl named Mary Grace. That name itself is full of O'Connor irony, because grace is nowhere to be found in her at all. Her eyes look "peculiar" to Mrs. Turpin though. "Her eyes were fixed like two drills on Mrs. Turpin. This time there was no mistaking that there was something urgent behind them" (O'Connor, 642). O'Connor makes these eyes seem like weapons that a predator would use to hold prey captive. And while humans can communicate through using their eyes, Mary Grace is using them as weapons. Earlier, the girl's eyes "seemed lit all of a sudden with a peculiar light, an unnatural light like night road signs give" (637).  Mary Grace has eyes that have something unnatural about them, something that is bent and contorted. What type of people possess eyes that look unnatural? This girl possesses eyes that have a darkness stuck inside of them, because her eyes change after she attacks Mrs. Turpin and is given an injection. "They seemed a much lighter blue than before, as if a door that had been tightly closed behind them was now open to admit light and air" (645). Her eyes had doors in them before that were closed. Is this the work of a demon, or is it madness? The text leads the reader to believe that she is clinically insane, but either way, her eyes are the keys to gazing upon her soul, as Mrs. Turpin learns the hard way.

            Eyes are also very important in Parker's Back. Parker is described as "the hollow-eyed creature" (666), which implies there is nothing behind his eyes, or a lack of substance there. The eyes of the Byzantine Christ pierce Parker's soul as he gazes upon the tattoo design. "Parker returned to the picture--the haloed head of a flat stern Byzantine Christ with all-demanding eyes" (667). This Christ is intense and soul-piercing; Parker has futile hopes that this will please his wife. This tattoo forever connects him with God though and disgusts his wife. In the opening paragraph her eyes are described as, "grey and sharp like the points of two ice picks'' (655). There is no kindness to be found in her eyes, only meanness. The artist saves the eyes of the tattoo for last, because they are the most important part for this particular tattoo; when he finishes the tattoo Parker is hesitant to look at it, but he does. "The eyes in the reflected face continued to look at him--still, straight, all-demanding, enclosed in silence" (670). The eyes consume Parker and in the end he is by himself crying on a tree. Eyes are a powerful tool in O'Connor's stories, and they play an important part in how the reader and characters view the other characters. One of the reasons that the peacock was O'Connor's favorite animal may have been because there are so many eyes on its tail. She also uses the sun as a fiery eye in many of her stories. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Ambiguous, the Grotesque and Redemption that Follows

I remember reading O’Connor for the first time in Honors. We read A Good Man is Hard to Find, and though I was enraptured with the story, at the end I paused and said, “What just happened?” “Did they really die?” I looked back trying to find a proof text, checking myself died. Had I missed any pages? I reread the last few paragraphs which were equally baffling, “Hiram and Bobby Lee returned from the woods and stood over the ditch, looking down at the grandmother who half sat and half lay in a puddle of blood, her legs crossed under her like a child’s and her face smiling up at the cloudless sky” (152). “What a strange ending!” I thought to myself.

Since then I have been baffled over and over by her stories and equally baffled by her ability to paint such a real picture of the human condition.

One thing I have learned to look for in O’Connor’s work and other works are for the missing pieces. What details are not included? In A Good Man is Hard to Find, figuring out what is not said is crucial to the story. O’Connor includes at the end that certain people go back to the woods with certain people, at certain times and there are gunshots. She creates ambiguity. Yet, she seems to focus the lens on the grandmother and the Misfit. One can almost hear the thoughts of the grandmother, but the reader is shocked when the Misfit puts her son’s shirt on indicating he is dead.

After reading her stories I have a new eye for the absurd and the grotesque. I understand her purpose and know that each absurdity most likely has telos—an end goal. In one of the only letters O’Connor wrote about Greenleaf she said, “I think Evil is the defective use of good”. Her stories perfectly portray this fact through the absurd and grotesque things the reader must suffer (and laugh) through. We find this in Good Country People, when a Bible salesman (who one would think was a good man) steals Hulga’s prosthetic leg. Mr. Shiftlet seems like a nice fellow until he leaves Lucynell in the diner. Yet, her characters aren’t exactly polar either. They do things we might do, and they capture our capacity for empathy. Similar to Milton’s Satan, we can relate to their humanity.

It is that humanity that seems to make the redemption so real in O’Connor’s stories. I have learned to look for redemption by a different description. Redemption does not necessarily come at altars and it isn’t always in a pretty package. Sometimes redemption is brutal; sometimes it is beyond our understanding.

O’Connor’s writing has made me look for all these elements in her literature and in others. Reading so many of her stories has certainly shaped the way I will look at fiction from now on. I will always expect the absurd and I will look for a deeper redemption beneath the surface.  

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Write What You Know

A few questions that come to my mind when I reflect on O’Connor’s stories are: why does she write with these characters, and why have put them in the setting of the rural South or, at least, have characters come from there? She seems more than capable as a writer to be able to write using different scenery and characters like some of her colleagues and, more to the point, away from where she grew up. So why would she use characters that could have been, and more than likely were, in her everyday world?
I think the answer to these questions is reasonable. She grew up and lived in Georgia most of her life. This was the case with her faith, Catholicism, as well. She did go off to Iowa and Connecticut but she could not escape where she lived, especially when you have a thick Georgia accent. The questions I have to ask, in contrast to the prior questions, are: What does she know well? Would it not make more sense to write about characters that are a part of her, like her accent? One of the reasons why she was able to write her stories as well as she did was because her characters and their scenery are connected to her in more ways than one, like: they are all from or live in the southern country, they all have some sort of religious background or agenda, etc. Obviously, she did not have these extremes like her characters, but the connections are still there.
What I have learned through this idea is kind of selfish on my part: I am thinking about how I write and what exactly I write about. From this perspective, I take away the notion that I need to write what I know. In hindsight, this seems like a very obvious lesson that everyone already knows. In any case, this is what I figured out on my own time. I feel like there is nothing wrong with experimenting with different forms and ideas but it should only be mixed in with what I already know and/or what I have experienced.

Sandpaper to My Soul

     Reading O'Connor has been a journey for me. It hasn't been an easy journey either, its been a struggle. She has made me hate her characters, love them and hate them again. I've been left feeling like a sucker punch has sent me sprawling on the ground. O'Connor rubs me the wrong way and leaves me feeling uncomfortable like I've been grated by sandpaper. It stays with me and shakes me up, but throughout it all, I've come out better.

   Some themes in characters I've noticed throughout O'Connor's stories are people who refuse to believe in God, those who are over-righteous, those who are innocent, those who are wise to the world, those who are lost. The affects of post-modernism and its battle with the South are still present. Many of her characters such as Hulga, Haze Motes, Rayber, Julian, even young Tarwater, they all believe they know better than others because they have an education. They are too 'smart' to believe in God. These are her main characters! I wasn't comfortable with the main characters being anti-theists; those who hate God and belief in Him. Then her characters are always trying to spread their haughty knowledge to others, or more so they are trying to crush the faith of others. They become preachers and evangelists of their own faith, a faith without Christ. As Rayber told Tarwater, "You need help. You need to be saved right here now from the old man and everything he stands for. And I'm the one who can save you," (p.438).  Haze Motes told the people in the city, "I preach there are all kinds of truths, your truth and somebody else's. but behind all of them, there's only one truth and that is there's no what I and this church preach," (p. 93). These characters are offensive and abrasive to me, the make me feel prickled and angry at them. They mimic the abrasive of some Christians. The way O'Connor describes her these characters makes me want to know what happens to them. They all ignore that there are things they cannot dispell. Like Rayber's love for Bishop, his mentally retarded child. For Haze Motes, its his knowledge that being a bastard is wrong. Unexplainable love, knowledge of good and evil these are things that point toward a Creator, something exists beyond ourselves and the physical world. O'Connor stealithy has made her readers confront the inconsistencies of naturalism, determinism... etc.
     The South, like O'Connor said, is haunted by Christ. We have a Christianized culture, and many of us are lost, like Enoch and young Tarwater, they aren't sure what they believe. God doesn't seem like a reality to them but there is almost a fear for complete unbelief in Him. God is depicted at first like a detestable authority figure in their lives, that was no right to rule them. Enoch, is searching for love and acceptance. Tarwater is searching for freedom and truth. Tarwater may have found it, I'm pretty sure he did. Enoch, not so much. Also in the South are those who are pious and over-bearing like Old Tarwater, Mrs. Hopewell, etc. These characters make me upset too, they are just as uncomfortable as characters like Haze Motes. Yet, in some of them there is wisdom, that makes me stop and think.
     Then O'Connor makes her characters experience or do horrible things, and because she often writes switching between first person and third person; She makes the reader experience them too. Its agony sometimes, because as the character is expose to the harsh truth so it the reader. Through grotesque writing, I have to go encounter grace like her characters, and its not always cut and dry. I'm left with a choice. Some callouses, some rough spots have been rubbed away my soul has been exposed. I will forever read O'Connors work with a Southern Twang inside my head, because the language she uses so is originally Southern, its something that brings her characters to life. Also her characters come alive because they are not perfect, ideal humans. They struggle, they doubt, they don't always understand, they have need. They seem so unlike me but at the same time I can empathize because they go through things like me. They and I both have a choice to make, will we acknowledge God's grace and mercy? My soul has been workd on by O'Connor grotesque 'sandpaper' novels. I am better for it.

Grace and Truth in the Comical and Grosetque

Definitely the biggest thing for me has been the different redemptive analogies and themes O'Connor was able to represent through the use of the grotesque and with the aid of some pretty uncomely characters. I never considered being the possibility of doing something like this having been under the previous understanding that experiences with grace were to be paired with a happy fuzzy endings... a change in action. I had  mostly only been exposed to that which O'Connor considered "soggy literature." She does something so unique in that her focus on the encounter with grace transcends the after effects of grace... which is the most important part of the whole thing! It matters if you have truly had an encounter with grace or not! What happens next can't even be considered if the experience with grace has never occurred! And this grace doesn't look the same way as it usually does! This has lead me to a whole new perspective of looking at truth and this collision also changes the perspective of her characters... Hazel Motes, Mrs. May, Hulga... then BAM (literally for Mrs. May.)

I think mostly it will change my idea of writing, especially in the "Christian genre." O'Connor was bold to write about real, dirty things. This was so bold and brave. And there is light.

On a side note in the subject of the experience of grace not looking like what we think it should ... I am reminded (on a smaller, but somewhat similar scale) of some of Ted Dekker's works and the grace his characters face. If you are familiar with him, in his book Thre3, a character has an encounter later in him life with an angry childhood bully who has come back for the blood of he and his childhood friend... and after many attempts on his life and much drama it is discovered that he himself suffers from a multiple personality disorder... a sickness of the mind that had tormented him as a child, inventing a friend and an enemy. This man's encounter with grace, like O'Connor's friends, results in the revelation that all the destruction has been from he himself.


Everything that Rises Must be Equal and Not At All Racist

“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”
-Martin Luther King Jr.

The most virtuous of Flannery O’Connor’s characters aren’t always evil. With the exceptions of The Misfit, Many Pointer, and the like, few are outright villainous. Often they are merely misdirected in their pursuit of righteousness. Similar to the Pharisees, they seek morality and the destruction of wrongdoing, but are driven by pride, which leads them to malice. This is especially true of the stories that deal with racism. Julian, in Everything that Rises Must Converge, is just as racist as Old Dudley in The Geranium, or Mr. Head in The Artificial Nigger, but genuinely believes that he isn’t. However, his racism is different than that of his mother.
 When his mother says, “I’ve always had a great respect for my colored friends… I’d do anything in the world for them” and turns “unnaturally red” when her son sits next to a black person on the bus, she exhibits a common, easily recognizable type of racism. That part reminded me of people who say, “Well, I’ve managed to befriend one black person, so I’ve earned the right to make questionable comments about their race” (Okay, that’s not a direct quote, but you get it). It is obvious in her comment, even before reading the bus scene, that she does not see equality between her race and theirs. By pointing out that she respects them, she is suggesting in order for the two races to be equal the lower must be elevated to be even with the higher.
 Unfortunately, the opposite of this view is not true equality, but merely another form of racism, as seen in Julian. Immediately following the mother’s comment, Julian says that “when he got on a bus by himself, he made it a point to sit down beside a Negro, in reparation as it were for his mother’s sins.” Never mind the faulty motives behind his so-called act of kindness, by pointedly sitting next to a person of different color, he is suggesting that he is lowering himself to the state of his seatmate in order to be equal to him. He does, however, see the ridiculousness of his actions when his mother tries to give a little boy a nickel and later says, "Your graciousness is not worth a damn." 
What’s most disturbing about this to me is that these subtle hints at racism that still happen today, even outside of the South. We may not sit on opposite sides of the bus anymore, but we aren’t as far removed from it as we think we are. I think that even in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement, Flannery O’Connor saw that racism will not be entirely removed until we stop talking about not being racist. It’s kind of like humility. Truly humble people don’t say that they’re humble or care if others think that they are. 

Description and the Grotesque

I've been so surprised constantly while reading O'Connor.  It has changed the way I read, for rather than be an observer, I have been forced to see, to feel, to experience with the characters.  It's puzzling to me how she does this.  I've read so many books that focused on description, and these sections have rarely held my attention.  However, I don't really know how she does it, but O'Connor uses description like other authors use suspense: to enthrall and capture her readers, to propel the storyline, and to capture a thought or phrase.

The characters within O'Connor have not been anything that I expected.  Having never read anything by her, when told to expect the grotesque, I didn't know what to expect.  I didn't realize that the majority of what seems grotesque to me wouldn't be primarily in the shocking and at times ridiculous way that people act in her stories, but rather in the way they think about each other and relate to each other.  It's so distorted and wrong, yet points a finger towards an issue so clearly.  I still don't understand how she does what she does, but I've gotten to the point where I can look at the strangeness of it all and not only appreciate it, but envy the skilled presentation of her work.

To Hell With It...and Back Again

Since reading O'Connor--and I mean reading her at all, not even reading her deeply--I am frightfully aware of every action I make, every word I speak. And I hate myself for it. It's a change I am working through every moment, that's the good thing. But I'm not as diligent as I would like to be, not as quick, not as early. I always realize after I have said something.

O'Connor has shown me the illusion of the gap between physical and spiritual impact. Every action in the physical realm directly impacts the eternal. Events are continual chances to accept or reject God's grace. I have even begun saying "temporal" and "eternal" to distance myself from the dichotomy inherent in the words "physical" and "spiritual." Maybe I should find even different words...seen and unseen? I am not sure.

Although I was already on this track, I have continued to take metaphor more seriously. It no longer sits as a specific, time-bound representation. Metaphor has become a literal representation of the things that can be said no other way.

I have become sensitive to a lot of dogma and doctrine. I have tested things in my own life and destroyed many illusions.

O'Connor supplements the ideas I have gained during interaction with Percy and Heidegger for my thesis. I try to contemplate my encounters during the day rather than reacting mindlessly, expectedly to conversation. I'm still not great at it--and often I intentionally neglect the struggle because I don't have the time to explain why I am suddenly weird. That stinks.

Hope you're all having a good week, though.


Lessons of O'Connor

     O’Connor has a very unique writing style, therefore, it almost impossible to study this many of her works, and leave the texts an unchanged person. The element of her works that leaves the deepest impression, and distinguishes her from so many other authors is how she puts a strong emphasis on the grotesque. This affects the reader in so many different ways. In fact, it changes the way that the reader looks at the world outside of the texts. There are two big things that O’Connor does for the reader. O’Connor changes her reader’s view of humanity and encourages her readers to not be so self-obsessed.
     O’Connor is very good at making her readers think of people in a different way. Haze Motes is a very good example of how she does this. All throughout Wise Blood people are constantly mistaking Haze for a preacher. The way he dresses and carries himself and even the very look in his eyes gives the people he encounters the impression that he is a “good man.” However, the reader of Wise Blood sees from the very beginning that Haze is the opposite of a “good man.” He is an incredibly messed up fellow, and even kills a helpless, innocent man for really no reason at all. This changes your perception of the world a lot. It reiterates the fact that you can never really know someone. This is a theme seen all throughout O’Connor’s works. The people in her stories are rarely what they seem to be, and sometimes this is never even revealed to the other characters in her stories. This is something that can push people into being more aware of the people surrounding them and lead them to be curious of who people really are on the inside. Basically, O’Connor can make her readers a bit paranoid if they allow her too.

     Almost every character in O’Connor’s works that comments a heinous crime is incredibly introspective in their way of thinking. Haze Mote’s can be a good example of this as well. Haze rarely ever responds to what is going on around him, he talks to people, but it is almost always about something going on in his head that has nothing to do with the situation at hand. Mrs. McIntyre from the Displaced Person is also a good example of this very intense introspection, as is Mr. Head from The Artificial Nigger. All of these characters are so caught up in what they want to happen and what they think in their minds would be best that they never even stop to try and consider what the outcome will be. Eventually all of these characters do something drastic and incredibly irrational due to their self-absorbed natures. It is almost as if they are all living with a false sense of reality, and they do not think there is anything outside of themselves and their own heads. In showing the reader this, O’Connor is encouraging people to be more aware of their surroundings and to keep in touch with reality. 

From A Certain Point of View...

You know what they say, "perception is reality". By "they" I mean the modern age and by "perception is reality" I mean one of the most misunderstood cliches in the modern lexicon. There is a certain worldview that surrounds this catchphrase that believes because our minds are the only means we have of interpreting the world around us and the nature of our own lives, then therefore only the individual can justify himself by his own terms of his own actions, which equals freedom. On the other hand, it is widely argued that this catchphrase both ignores the possibility of objective reality, be it God or otherwise, and also enables people to commit any number of atrocities because they refuse to behold themselves to other people's opinions; in other words, perceived self-reality equals solipsistic madness. This, of course, is comprehensive of nothing in particular except my own failings to understand the nuances of human perception, which have been resolved somewhat by our study of Flannery O'Connor, who manages to reconcile these two arguments by perceiving a new way to look at the issue.

For O'Connor, "perception is reality" basically means that each individual person has preconceived ideas about himself and the world around him that are built primarily on his finite senses, memory, and to some extent his heritage. More often than not this is merely a matter of pride but can also extend into the realms of racism and classicism, as evidenced by The Artificial Nigger and Revelation. The thing about perception and reality, though, is that a person's perception is always flawed and full of holes, requiring a significant shift in fortunes and an injection of grace to cure, which is the primary plot device employed by O'Connor throughout her catalog. Even so, as in the case of Hazel Motes and the grandmother, one's certainty in the nature of his world is fatally tinged with doubt, chained to Reality by something beyond their perceptions and thus highlighting the ultimate absurdity of human perception; this is what she calls the grotesque. At the same time that she does this, however, she also allows her characters to experience incarnational grace, a word which here means grace that is both totally divine (otherworldly) and rooted in time. What Tarwater and Hulga both receive is something beyond their own devices yet experienced in a way that speaks to their humanity and is individual to each of them, personally. Thus, grace breaks through the stony walls of their obdurate self-deceptions and entices their senses in a way that is entirely new, endlessly eternal, and finally within their grasps if they are simply willing to clutch.

Perhaps what people are really afraid of, as they rightly should be, is not that perception is reality but that reality is perception. Yes, but perception IS reality, and whether or not that's something to be afraid of is a personal matter.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Elemental Characters

          O'Connor creates characters with many different personalities; in some of her stories she ties a character's personality to an element and the environment. Some characters have a personality that can fit a variety of elements, but some of her characters are truly tied to one specific element. Examples of this can be seen in A View of the Woods and The Enduring Chill.

           In A View of the Woods, Mr. Fortune is a stubborn old man who is full of pride and set in his ways. He is clearly the embodiment of the earth element. He likes things to be a certain way and is very proud of the fact that his granddaughter, Mary Fortune, looks very much like him. The story begins with these characters viewing a construction site, where earth is being dug up; Mary Fortune is completely absorbed "watching the big disembodied gullet gorge itself on clay" (O'Connor, 525). They are both stubborn and absorbed by the site of earth being moved. Through the imagery and personality of Mr. Fortune, O'Connor links him to the earth element. He also always talks about "his land" which his son-in-law is living on, so Mr. Fortune is very much a man of earth. He has so much pride in being a "PURE Fortune," like a man who knows he is made of pure earth without any other element mixed in. At the end when Mary Fortune decides to start beating him to death, he sees himself claiming to be a "PURE Pitts," so he grabs her by the neck and smashes her head on a rock three times. The last word of the story is "clay," so O'Connor places the earth element throughout this story.

            In The Enduring Chill, Asbury is described as having a "saturnine" disposition, which means his is gloomy and surly. He is also slow in movement and cold in personality towards his mother. Essentially, he embodies the element of water in the form of ice, which ties in perfectly with the title of this story. He used to live in New York where it was always cold and apparently that suited him just fine, since it matched his icy disposition. He has a disease that afflicts him with fever and chills, but the chills seem to be worse for him than the fever part; this adds to his irritation of being stuck on the farm in bed all day. He fails as an artist and writer because he is cold at heart and he cannot find the inspiration that would spark the creation of something good. His mother would give him occasional peace though. "When she was gone, he lay for some time staring at the water stains on the gray walls. Descending from the top of the molding, long icicle shapes had been etched by leaks" (O'Connor, 555). He even sees water and ice in his surroundings. When he realizes that he isn't going to die from this condition, "it was like a warm ripple across a deeper sea of cold" (O'Connor, 572). The very end is where O'Connor makes the element of ice the most apparent in its relation to Asbury. "But the Holy Ghost, emblazoned in ice instead of fire, continued, implacable, to descend" (O'Connor, 572). Asbury is icy until the end of this story. O'Connor links the characters to the elements in a smooth and natural way, which works perfectly with their personalities. This continues to the point to where Mr. Fortune is literally earth and Asbury is literally ice.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014


   What is the definition of childishness? It is formally defines as a property that is characteristic of a child, but what exactly is characteristic of a child? There are many things that children obsess over that are considered to be typical of a child; therefore, it is merely pushed aside. “Kids will be kids”, is a phrase commonly used after a child has done or attempted some ridiculous act. Children are easily entertained, and also easily swayed. These two things are seen very often in O’Connor’s stories. However, they are not necessarily seen in the character of the children, but they are seen in the character of the adults quite often. Throughout all of O’Connor’s works the reader can find many adult characters that have many childish qualities. In fact, it could be argued that the majority of O’Connor’s adult characters are this way. They seemed to have switched roles with the children they supposedly “care for.”

     The story that this reversal of roles is seen the most in is The Artificial Nigger, but, if one examines the characters closely in most of her stories, there is an adult in each that acts and responds to situations like a child. This theme is seen so often, one starts to think that maybe O’Connor is saying something here. This is another way that O’Connor shows this grotesque, twisted view of the world that she seems to have. Another thing O’Connor could be showing the reader could be that because the world is so twisted and grotesque, people are in a perpetual state of childishness. It is impossible for people to grow up because they can never grow past how the world has screwed up their childhoods, so when they become adults they then drop back down and attempt to get back the lost time. 


O'Connor has a fascination with eyes. We have mentioned that in class, and it is true. She has brought it up again.

On page 379, O'Connor writes:

"The next morning when he went to the crib to give the baby his bottle, he found nothing in it but the blue magazine with the old man's message scrawled on the back of it: THE PROPHET I RAISE UP OUT OF THIS BOY WILL BURN YOUR EYES CLEAN.

'It was  me could act,' the old man said, 'not him. He could never take action . . . '"

Why the eyes and the burning and the cleanliness, O'Connor?

There is something to be said for the eyes of a human, especially an afflicted one. Paul, as you'll remember, was made blind until he was made whole in Christ. O'Connor seems to be playing on the idea that eyes can deceive a man before they are cleansed. Afterward, however, they can be clean and holy. The blindness can allow for a man to be broken from what he knows and sees for long enough to see a greater purpose.

It is not just any blindness, though. O'Connor employs the harshness of burning the eyes. She did this in Wise Blood with the lime (a different kind of burning, but burning nonetheless).

When burning, the scars will be irreversible. Like a cauterized wound, the eyes will remain blinded and sealed. That is indeed the cleanness. The man is not just unaware of the physical presentation of the world. He is shut down completely. He will never see the world again, but it shuts down a portal of temptation.

What is the significance? O'Connor may be suggesting that a man lose something, no matter the cost, in order to know Christ.

The Storyteller's Perspective

One thing is certain throughout "The Violent Bear it Away": Flannery O'Connor has incredible insight into how to tell a story.  This continuously hit me while reading this story, and interestingly enough, not in the way it normally does through her ] descriptions of people and places, where her words seem to paint a picture one cannot help but imagine.  No, this story is different, because the entire beginning is predominantly about a speaker and storyteller.

O'Connor's picture of Tarwater's fearsome character of a prophet uncle telling him the stories of the attempted conversion of "the schoolteacher", Tarwater's own personal kidnapping, and even the brief tales of his desspised mother and aunt's deaths all are so unique in the details of how they are told.  In the way O'Connor describes how the prophet breaths, looks, gestures, shouts, and whispers, an entirely new visual of the storytelling is reached. That's one of the most striking things about reading Flannery O'Connor to me, and it's most apparent in "The Violent Bear it Away": There is no such thing as passively reading anything written by her.  She forces you to see, feel, taste, hear, laugh, and recoil with her and her characters.  I think that's what makes her use of the grotesque so powerful, while it would be a much weaker tool in the hands of less talented authors.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Hillbilly Nihilist

This theme was actually particularly interesting to me. When I read O'Connor in high school I was actually pseudo taught (if not taught it was strongly implied) that O'Connor herself was a Nihilist. Her writing's were given to us and presented as a means to inform us of Nihilism... but... "I do not think she was saying what my teacher thought she was saying" .... **Insert Inigo Montoya voice and Princess Bride reference**

I mean, we definitely see O'Connor presenting that idea.. but almost in a grandiose and comical way.  I mean... she is borderline making fun of it.

You can see this in Wise Blood when the advice columnist replies to Sabbath's letter in the manner that she does and even more recently in the quote from Hulga's science book.

So I guess I want to ask, would you have thought O'Connor was a Nihilist if we weren't told better?
Why did my teacher think she was? If my teacher was not a Nihilist himself, he was definitely anti-Christian... so he almost presented it in a way to promote doubt in us rather than showing us what O'Connor was really saying. In fact, the assumption that O'Connor is a Nihilist not only falls short of her purpose but of a lot of the richness...

For example, when Hulga's Nihilism is challenged, when she is made a fool of... the richness is not in that there are mean people in the world who pretend to be Christians... it's that in her insistence that the power of her mind transcends the silly, simple, good country people... she is still found lacking.

Maybe I'm still missing it.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

This Transcendent Thing

“Good Country People” and “A Stroke of Good Fortune” pull of the same feeling; although, one is clearly more light-hearted than the other. In ASGF, Ruby looks down on her family for one reason or another. By the end of the story, we find that Ruby can be, or is just as, ignorant for her refusal to go to a doctor and, ultimately, to acknowledge the fact that she is pregnant. O’Connor finishes the story with this idea there is transcendent thing that is always there, waiting patiently for anyone, “Then she recognized the feeling again, a little roll. It was as if it were not in her stomach. It was as if it were out nowhere in nothing, out nowhere, resting and waiting, with plenty of time,” (p.196).

            In GCP, Joy-Hulga, in the same vein as Ruby, looks down on others because of her intellect. Joy-Hulga sees her difference between other people, including her mother, as a reason for her to be above everyone else. In the end of the story, Joy-Hulga is taken off her guard and, ultimately, learns a hard lesson; at least, we hope that she does. This lesson has the same feel in ASGF; this feeling that this transcendent thing is out there in nothing, waiting for everyone, both the intelligent and ignorant.

Simplicity in O'Connor's sense: Positive or Negative?

"Good Country People" is one of those stories where phrases just hit you, reverberate, and stay with you.  The philosophy contrasting with simplicity and the condescending education of the handicapped throughout the book really stands out.  Again, it's like what we talked about in class.  Flannery O'Connor visualizes problems, especially the hurt in Hulga, through her missing leg.  Although she is missing a leg, she's missing far more than that, lacking moral truth and actual beliefs.  However, while reading, I was forced to ask myself: which is better, to view everything as bleak and empty, and understand the ignorance of those around you, or to be ignorant like Hulga's mother?  The last lines of "Some can't be that simple, I know I never could" summarize this line of thought, contrasting the ignorance with the educated.  Mrs. Hopewell is simple in the sense of her title of "Good, Country People," simple and accepting of the things around her without question.  Is this better or worse than Hulga's contempt of the world around her, only to be shown that there are still many things she doesn't understand, despite her many degrees?


In the midst of the pool of social media we slush through each day, we’ve seen the notorious "#blessed" hashtag. As I read O’Connor’s A Circle in the Fire I could not help thinking of this “Christianese” saying. Here again, I think O’Connor challenges the Church much like she does in many of her other works. Mrs. Cope is so thankful for all she has, but is at the same time fiercely protective. O’Connor seems to question if Cope’s thankfulness is a humble appreciation or an unhealthy attachment.

Mrs. Cope is indeed “blessed”. She has a successful farm with land, farm hands and a comfortable home. Unfortunately I think many American Christians might see their own reflection in Mrs. Cope. We may have wants, but our needs are met. Americans own property that they “worked hard” for, and they fiercely protect their property as their rights allow them to. Mrs. Cope commented on her own work ethic saying, “I have the best kept place in the country and do you know why? Because I work. I’ve had to work to save this place and work to keep it” (235). She is very proud of the fruit of her work and makes sure she prays every night thanking God for it.
While working for a goal is admirable, she seems a little caught up on her occupation, “I don’t let anything get ahead of me and I’m not always looking for trouble. I take it as it comes” (235). Though she says she doesn’t look for trouble, the rest of the text seems to prove her wrong. Continually she is on the lookout for a fire in her woods. Her paranoia is only stirred and agitated by her young visitors. Their cigarette buds make her shudder as she secretly hopes they’ll go home.

Mrs. Cope does what every good southern woman should do; she welcomes the boys to her home and offers them food. When they ask to stay, she allows them to stay, but is soon irritated (for good reasons) by their rude behavior. She struggles with her piety as she deals with her fears. Her sense of fear grows as the boys stay longer.

In the end the boys start a fire in the woods and O’Connor closes saying, “ She stood taut, listening, and could just catch in the distance a few wild high shrieks of joy as if the prophets were dancing in the fiery furnace, in the circle the angel cleared for them” (251). It seems that the pesky boys could be seen as prophets who have come to burn away Mrs. Cope’s attachment to her property.

The Ending is the Beginning

      O'Connor never ends her stories satisfactory. Where is the happy ending, the conclusion, the satisfaction. Everything seems to be left hanging.  It leaves me feeling confused and troubled. I left with many questions, it leaves me thinking! How dare O'Connor stimulate my mind, I wanted happy peaceful resolutions. Why would O'Connor ever end her stories in an 'all is well' way? She wouldn't. Her stories aren't about good country people who all live on happy farms. Her stories are about living characters. Characters who are grotesque and appalling but reveal conditions of the human soul. She deals with things that defy naturalism, reason, practicality, dogma etc. O'Connor is trying to show that life isn't always clear to understand and isn't about happy endings. She also shows that in life you aren't given solid evidence, there's something more than what meets the eye. She wants to leave the reader unsettled.

"Then she recognized the feeling again, a little roll. It was as if it were not in her stomach. It was as if it were out nowhere in nothing, out nowhere, resting and waiting, with plenty of time." - A Stroke of Good Fortune, pg. 194.

"The sun was a huge red ball like an elevated Host drenched in blood and when it sank out of sight, it left a line in the sky like a red clay road hanging over the trees," -A Temple of the Holy Ghost, pg. 209.

These two endings are ones that I liked and didn't quite grasp the meaning of. The way O'Connor ends her tales makes me have to re-read the stories, to re-evaluate the text. I'm challenged the think. So even in my frustration, I'm thankful for O'Connor endings. Her endings make me reconsider my points of views on things. They make me want to express my ideas, they force me to cultivate new ones. They help me understand or touch on abstract ideas. So truly, O'Connor's endings are the beginnings of new influences upon my life.

The General

Flannery O'Connor employs many themes throughout her short stories; one can recognize quickly her use of pride and humility--or, rather, the process of being humbled.

In "A Late Encounter with the Enemy," O'Connor again portrays a man who has filled himself with pride while also losing regard for God. General Sash looks forward to the future despite his involvement with the bloodiest war in American history. He would rather follow a parade than a funeral. His desire is understandable, but it is for the wrong reasons. HE wants to be admired and seduced.

Even his daughter, Sally Poker, wishes to prove herself by connection to her grandfather's accomplishments. On page 253 she thinks: "See him! See him! My kin, all you upstarts! Glorious upright old man standing for the old traditions!" [emphasis added].

In one statement, Sally contradicts herself. She mentions her grandfather is glorious and upright. The two words imply holiness before the Lord. However, the old traditions were neither good nor bad as a whole. They were not instituted by God, certainly, and some were even opposed by Christian teaching. Men should be freed from sin and bondage. They should not be enslaved.

During that moment early in the story, O'Connor shows the truth of which the Sashes should be afraid. General Sash sits naked except for his hat. O'Connor displays the man as allegory. He will be judged without his uniform--and without a crown.

What is O'Connor showing us here? Those who elevate themselves will be brought low (Psalm 18:27, 2 Samuel 22:28; Matthew 23:12).

But why?

That, we can discuss further in class.

In the mean time, give this song a listen. A completely different kind of general--but still about the Civil War:


[Edit]: Let me add--we should talk about death more with O'Connor. Dying like the General, especially while in his state, should frighten people; I think the Catholic audience would easily notice the despair O'Connor's intends.

The Past Tense

          They lied: hindsight is never 20/20. See, personal subjectivity always has a way of invading our memories to taint our recollections, and even if it doesn’t, our understanding of events and persons can never truly be perfect – there will always be things beyond our understanding either because we lack the necessary information or would simply prefer  to remember things our own way. Therefore, to assume that you can comprehend your personal history or the history of your world based on hindsight alone is a fallacy. What, after all, is more horrifying or ironic than an event from your past or an occurrence from public history that you thought you understood perfectly, but upon fresh knowledge discover you hardly knew at all? Flannery O’Connor understands this concept just fine, displaying the complexities of personal and public memory in several of her works, particularly Wise Blood and The Artificial Nigger.

           Take A Late Encounter with the Enemy, for example. The first example is the ancient General Sash, who consistently fails to accurately appreciate what happened at the movie premiere because he prefers to see himself surrounded by his conception of Hollywood girls. He doesn’t even remember what role he played in the Civil War, instead choosing to remember the movie premiere where he pridefully received the plush General’s uniform. This habit of inconsistency is passed down to his daughter as well, as her memories of who her father actually conflict with what role she perceives he should inhabit. To her he is a symbol of a bygone age of dignity and honor, when in reality his sense of traditional morality is as decrepit as his bones. Then there’s Hollywood and the government, whom romanticize General Sash’s role in the war as a means of placing the Confederate Army in some national mythology rather than understand them for they actually were. They have an idea of what the Confederate soldiers were like and so they feed the public that image through films and presentations such as the one that the General appeared in. I’m still not sure where to draw the line between intentional and unintentional subjectivity, but it’s something I’ll have to discover afresh – if I ever knew, I obviously can’t remember anymore.

What A Beautiful Setting

     Grotesque is a word that is commonly used when discussing the works of Flannery O’Connor. She creates characters and stories that are sometimes very shocking to read, and are loaded down with tons of gruesome imagery. There is comedy in her writing, yes, but it is typically a dark humor, or it is funny because it is so incredibly gross. One might think that since these characters themselves are so disgusting that the world around them, the scenery, would reflect this gruesome nature that the people themselves have. However, this is not the case. O’Connor somehow manages to paint beautiful scenes of nature for her readers, while keep the character of the people in her stories as appalling as ever. The scenery in her stories in no way reflects the souls of most of the people within the stories.

     Why did O’Connor do this? It could simply be because she is a Southern writer and many places in the South are picturesque, so that is how she described them. However, I think it goes deeper than that. Perhaps O’Connor uses the beautiful scenery to emphasize the grotesque elements within her stories? Maybe she uses it to point out how messed up humans truly are. The world was created by God, and it is beautiful, but the humans fell and, therefore, no long match up with what God created. We already know that she exaggerates her characters bad qualities a lot, so maybe she has exaggerated her scenes of nature as well, just in the opposite direction. O’Connor is emphasizing the grotesque, by showing the readers something completely pure and beautiful. The ideal version of nature, matched up with the disgusting state humans have placed themselves in creates stories that shock the reader, but also delight them with how the world could be.  

Monday, February 3, 2014

Ignorance and Color

        White people know everything, right? "The day is going to come," Mr. Head prophesized, "when you'll find out you ain't as smart as you think you are" (O'Connor, 211). The white people in many of O'Connor's stories assume they know everything because of their social standing and their ethnicity; they frown upon Negroes and assume the people with dark skin know nothing. Ironically, the white people are the ones that end up looking like fools when all is said and done. especially when local color is added to the picture.
        An excellent example of this is found in O'Connor's story titled "The Artificial Nigger." Nelson represents the young, upcoming generation of white people who assume they know everything already. The only problem with this is that this assumption is false, especially when weighed against the knowledge of locals. Nelson and Mr. Head get terribly lost in the city, so Nelson asks a black woman for directions but he gets incredibly flustered as he looks at her. Mr. Head notes the boy's lack of sense; yet they are both ignorant of the city. By lowering themselves to the point of asking directions from a black woman, they are proving the fact that the locals always know best, even if they are black. In the South, Negroes were thought to be uneducated and ignorant of their surroundings, but this story places that stigma on the two main, white, characters. The white men soon realize they are not as smart as they assumed they were, since even the old man gets lost in the city. Mr. Head represents the older generation that sticks to the old traditions and maintains an air of supremacy over colored folks. Except when it comes to color, black people sometimes seem to know much more than white people in O'Connor's stories, like in "The Geranium."
        Why does O'Connor set up this color dichotomy? There is a greater reason than observing the biases of the South when it comes to color. In a story like this, she is reminding the reader that prideful people get nowhere in the world if they act too good to ask help from others, especially others who may be a different color. There is also the element of local color in this story. The black neighborhood is a miniature culture within the city, so it is natural for the white men to feel out of place there. Worse than that, they don't want to look uneducated or ignorant in this neighborhood where they are clearly out of place. Yet if they weren't in need of help, then they would assume the black people were all ignorant and unable to help them as they looked down upon the colored folks. O'Connor does the color reversal to show that no matter what color a person may be, the locals will always know more regardless of the color of their skin.