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 truth...is 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.