Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Asbury Fox is representative of the kind of self-styled intellectuals Flannery O’Connor delighted in skewering. Despising their southern roots, these refugees seek enlightenment in the bastions of eastern intellectualism, eventually confronting their own pretentiousness and selfishness in a reunion with family or forgotten friends. There are thus some delicious ironies in the career of Asbury Fox, the would-be novelist, playwright, and poet.

Thinking himself some kind of tragic, Keatsian figure, he returns home to receive the pity and respect such a tragic hero should elicit. He has designed his two-notebook letter to convince his mother of her responsibility for his failures; in death, he will triumph over those unable to recognize his potential artistry. Prepared to die but not to live, he discovers that he has only a recurrent and controllable fever; his egotism and irresponsibility are thus transparent to all by the end of the story.

O’Connor, who imbued most of her stories with the presentation of some unadorned Christian truth, uses Asbury’s confrontation with the local Jesuit priest to reveal the hidden, spiritual source of his failures. Seeking salvation in mere secular wisdom and worldly approval, he becomes a narcissistic parody of the wronged artist. The “enduring chill” he intended for his mother becomes his own destiny, both literally in his undulant fever and in his confrontation with the Holy Ghost he shunned earlier.