Form and Content (Masterplots II: Women's Literature Series)
Everything That Rises Must Converge is a gathering of Flannery O’Connor’s short stories written between 1956 and 1964 which had not been previously published in book form. It includes the title story and eight others. The story “Everything That Rises Must Converge” is one of O’Connor’s best, and it remains one of her most-anthologized stories. The title is a quotation from Catholic theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who imagined an “omega point” at which the “rising” or evolving human being would meet God. By analogy, people of the lower classes who “rise” socially must inevitably “meet” with the higher. To Mrs. Chestny in the story, Southern blacks “should rise, yes, but on their own side of the fence.” Her liberal son Julian tries to “teach her a lesson” about her prejudice, but it becomes clear that his overtures to a black man on the bus are motivated by scorn for his mother, not genuine sympathy.
Mrs. Chestny’s striving to set herself above and apart from perceived inferiors is a common trait in O’Connor’s characters, seen also in the protagonist of “Greenleaf,” Mrs. May. Mrs. May looks down on the family of her farmhand, Mr. Greenleaf, even though the Greenleaf boys have done more to better themselves than have her own two boys. The characteristic O’Connor shock ending comes when Mrs. May, frustrated by Greenleaf’s reluctance to remove a “scrub” bull that has wandered into her herd, tries to do so herself and is fatally gored.
In the third story, “A View of the Woods,” the aptly named Mr. Fortune, another O’Connor protagonist who sets himself above others, sells the front lawn with its “View of the Woods” from under his son-in-law Pitts, whom he thinks unworthy of his daughter. The sale...
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Context (Masterplots II: Women's Literature Series)
Though labeled a Southern Catholic female writer, Flannery O’Connor did not consider herself a female writer or a regional writer; the only issues that her fiction dealt with were spiritual issues transcending both gender and geography. Nevertheless, her female characters often reveal the effects of social attitudes toward women that help shape them. Two character types in particular, the domineering mother and the artistic or scholarly daughter, appear frequently.
The unnamed “ugly girl” who becomes the object of Mrs. Turpin’s pity in “Revelation” illustrates a destructive societal norm for young women, both in personal appearance and in intelligence. Mrs. Turpin assumes that the girl deserves her pity because she is overweight, unattractive, and blighted by acne. Worse—or perhaps the two are causally related—she is an intellectual, buried in a book with the ironic title Human Development. Her mother, with Mrs. Turpin’s tacit assent, lectures in vain that the girl could compensate for external “ugliness” by a cheerful disposition.
A similar character in “The Enduring Chill,” Mary George Fox, is scorned by the one character who should most sympathize with her, her brother Asbury. Both aspire to artistic, or at least intellectual, escape from the limits imposed by their society, but Asbury is unable to see his sister as anything but “husband-bait.” “Asbury said she posed as an intellectual,” readers...
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Style and Technique (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Besides the creation of unusual symbols, such as the grotesque hat with one purple flap up and the other down, suggesting the social direction of the wearers, O’Connor is a master of dramatic irony. A paragraph of Julian’s internal monologue characterizes not only Mrs. Chestny but also the jaded young man himself, who despises his mother for her unreal expectations and blames her for a social situation in which she must sacrifice herself for his welfare:She lived according to the laws of her own fantasy world, outside of which he had never seen her set foot. The law of it was to sacrifice herself for him after she had first created the necessity to do so by making a mess of things. If he had permitted her sacrifices, it was only because her lack of foresight had made them necessary. All of her life had been a struggle to act like a Chestny without the Chestny goods, and to give him everything she thought a Chestny ought to have; but because, said she, it was fun to struggle, why complain? And when you had won, as she had won, what fun to look back on the hard times! He could not forgive her that she had enjoyed the struggle and that she thought she had won.
Julian congratulates himself that he has cut himself emotionally free of his mother, as though filial love were some kind of character flaw. He also prides himself on his ability to face facts. His monumental ignorance and immaturity are swiftly brought to a climax in a few sentences, rapidly changing his mode of discourse to one characteristic of childhood. When his mother has a stroke, Julian finds himself “looking into a face he has never seen before.”“Mother!” he cried. “Darling, sweetheart, wait!” Crumpling, she fell to the pavement. He dashed forward and fell at her side, crying, “Mamma, Mamma!” He turned her over. Her face was fiercely distorted. One eye, large and staring, moved slightly to the left as if it had become unmoored. The other remained fixed on him, raked his face again, found nothing and closed.
Only moments before, he had been flippantly lecturing his mother from his pose of wisdom: “From now on you’ve got to live in a new world and face a few realities for a change. Buck up . . . it won’t kill you.”
Ideas for Group Discussions
Compare and Contrast
Topics for Further Study
What Do I Read Next?
Bibliography and Further Reading
Bibliography (Masterplots II: Women's Literature Series)
Asals, Frederick. Flannery O’Connor: The Imagination of Extremity. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1982. By dropping the prejudicial term “grotesque” in favor of “extremity,” this full-length study of O’Connor’s work is able to study a distinctive quality of O’Connor’s literary imagination without distortion.
Brinkmeyer, Robert H. The Art and Vision of Flannery O’Connor. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989. A fine general study of O’Connor’s work, this book is sometimes limited by its reliance on Russian critic Mikhail M. Bakhtin’s theory of “dialogism.”
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