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In Flannery O'Connor's short story "Everything That Rises Must Converge," how does the...

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s1lkman | Honors

Posted May 3, 2012 at 6:04 PM via web

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In Flannery O'Connor's short story "Everything That Rises Must Converge," how does the world of Julian’s mother "end" (on multiple levels and in multiple ways)?

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted May 9, 2012 at 2:43 AM (Answer #1)

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Near the conclusion of Flannery O’Connor’s short story titled “Everything That Rises Must Converge,” an arrogant and inconsiderate Julian tells his elderly mother, who has just been struck to the ground by an angry black woman, “You needn’t act as if the world had come to an end, . . . because it hasn’t.” In fact, however, Julian is just as wrong about this matter as he is wrong about most matters in the story.  For Julian’s mother, the world is indeed about to come to an end in a number of different ways, including the following:

  • Most obviously, she is about to die.
  • The world of white privilege in which she grew up is coming to an end, as the action of the enraged black woman has just shown.
  • The mother’s world, which revolves around Julian, is about the come to an end because of her death. Julian will no longer be the center of her existence. In one way or another, God will (at least according to O’Connor).
  • Before that happens, however, her world, in which Julian is the central focus, is about to be replaced briefly by a mental world in which her childhood and, in particular, her relationship with her beloved black nanny will become most important to her.
  • Her present world – that is, her sense of living in the present – will come to an end and will be replaced by a world in which the past is her chief concern.
  • Ironically, although her life on earth is about to end, O’Connor would have believed that a whole new kind of existence was about to begin for her, either in heaven, in hell, or in purgatory. There are hints throughout the story that the mother may be headed for heaven. Despite her various flaws, the mother is far less damnable (in the literal sense of that word) than is her son.

However, the world is coming to an end not only for Julian’s mother but also, in a sense, for Julian himself.  His world is ending in some of the following senses:

  • He will no longer be able to depend on his mother, as he has done well into his adult life.
  • He will no longer be able to treat his mother with condescension and contempt, as he also has been doing for a long time.
  • Unless he makes radical changes in his life, his world will be even lonelier and more isolated than it is already.
  • Most significantly, he is now about to leave his old world of smug superiority behind and enter in entirely different psychological and spiritual state.  As the final sentence of the story puts it:

The tide of darkness seemed to sweep him back to her, postponing from moment to moment his entry into the world of guilt and sorrow.

  • Ironically, Julian’s entrance into this “world of guilt and sorrow” may actually be the best thing that can happen to him spiritually (which is really the only kind of existence that O’Connor truly cares about). Only by having his pride burned away can he experience the kind of transforming insight that O’Connor celebrates in her famous story titled “Revelation.”  For Julian, paradoxically, a new and much better world may be born out of the death of the world he has inhabited for most of his life.

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