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.  

1 comment:

  1. Emphathy is a good word, particularly when it is far different from a distant compassion or 'tenderness.' They return us to ourselves.