Flannery O'Connor Essay - O'Connor, Flannery (Contemporary Literary Criticism)

O'Connor, Flannery (Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Introduction

Everything That Rises Must Converge Flannery O'Connor

(Full name Mary Flannery O'Connor) American short story writer, novelist, and essayist.

The following entry presents criticism of O'Connor's short story collection Everything That Rises Must Converge (1965). For further information on O'Connor's life and career, see CLC, Volumes 1, 2, 3, 6, 10, 13, 15, 21, and 66.

The title of O'Connor's Everything That Rises Must Converge is taken from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's The Phenomenon of Man. The stories in the collection revolve around characters who are not prepared to accept God's grace. O'Connor's genre is very specific; she is a southern Catholic writer whose work is infused with southern and religious imagery.

Plot and Major Characters

Many of the characters in Everything That Rises Must Converge are similar types. The protagonist of the title story, Julian, is an educated, seemingly liberal, would-be writer who has had to resort to selling typewriters to make a living. He lives with his mother, another O'Connor archetype, a pretentious southern woman who is living in reduced circumstances. She struggles to keep her dignity and to dominate her son, for whom she has sacrificed everything. "The Enduring Chill" features Asbury, another would-be writer forced to move in with his mother. Like Julian, Asbury feels he has risen above the Southern environment in which he was raised. Also reminiscent of Julian, he is a would-be liberal whose attempts to befriend the African-American workers on his mother's dairy farm is more of a rebellion against his mother than a true affection or concern for the workers. The pompous middle-class woman is another frequent character in these stories. Represented by Julian's mother in the title story, Mrs. Turpin in "Revelation," and Mrs. May in "Greenleaf," each woman discovers that her belief in her own virtue and goodness is not enough for true grace. Simply avoiding evil is not enough for redemption in O'Connor's world. Intellectuals are also portrayed with little sympathy by O'Connor. Sheppard in "The Lame Shall Enter First" believes that intelligence and a good home life is enough to save Rufus, a club-footed juvenile delinquent whom he takes in and tries to redeem. Sheppard's blind devotion to ideas and intelligence causes him to be duped by Rufus and to lose his own son, Norton.

Major Themes

The major theme of Everything That Rises Must Converge is derived from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's The Phenomenon of Man. In that work, the author asserts that all matter and spirit will eventually converge at what he refers to as the Omega point. The stories from this collection are about man's resistance to this convergence. O'Connor's characters use different methods to avoid convergence or union with mankind, including isolating themselves in intellectualism like Julian and Sheppard, or clinging to a romanticized version of the past like Julian's mother. It is only through the destruction of pride and false identities that O'Connor's characters have a chance at convergence or redemption, hence the violent climaxes of many of the stories: Julian loses his sense of superiority over and separation from his mother as he watches her die from a stroke; Sheppard realizes the error of his judgement when he finds his son hanging in the attic. Other themes in Everything That Rises Must Converge include Christians struggling to keep their faith and finding redemption in an increasingly secularized and technologically advancing world. A final theme in this collection focuses on capturing the changes of the South of the 1950s and 1960s. O'Connor traces her characters' relationship to the New South, delineating the continuing evolution of the region.

Critical Reception

Most critics discuss the relationship of Everything That Rises Must Converge to the ideas of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. The title's obvious allusion to Teilhard de Chardin's work is commonly accepted; however, reviewers disagree about O'Connor's intentions. Some argue that she accepts Teilhard de Chardin's ideas, and the stories are her attempt to portray true convergence. Others, including Robert Fitzgerald in the Introduction to the work, assert that O'Connor uses the title ironically. Reviewers often note the irony and humor in the stories. In addition, many critics praise her storywriting skill and her ability to convey colloquialism and rural southern dialogue. Critics often discuss the grotesque and violent images in the stories, but many point out that the images are not gratuitous. Due to the imagery and setting of the stories, reviewers note a resemblance to the work of William Faulkner, but several assert that O'Connor's work is more representative of the New South than Faulkner's.

Principal Works

Wise Blood (novel) 1952
A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories (short stories) 1955
The Violent Bear It Away (novel) 1960
Everything That Rises Must Converge (short stories) 1965
Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose [edited by Sally and Robert Fitzgerald] (nonfiction) 1969
The Complete Stories of Flannery O'Connor (short stories) 1971
The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O'Connor (letters) 1979
The Presence of Grace and Other Book Reviews [compiled by Leo J. Zuber, edited by Carter W. Martin] (essays) 1983
Flannery O'Connor: Collected Works (fiction, criticism, letters) 1988
Flannery O'Connor: The Growing Craft—A Synoptic Variorum Edition of The Geranium, An Exile in the East, Getting Home, Judgement Day (short stories) 1993

Criticism

Granville Hicks (review date 29 May 1965)

SOURCE: "A Cold, Hard Look at Humankind," in Saturday Review, Vol. XL VIII, No. 2, May 29, 1965, pp. 23-4.

[In the following review, Hicks discusses the lack of compassion in the stories in O'Connor's Everything That Rises Must Converge.]

Flannery O'Connor died last summer in her fortieth year, having published two novels and a collection of short stories. She left enough short stories to make another collection, which has just been published: Everything That Rises Must Converge.

Already a kind of Flannery O'Connor legend is taking shape. Much has been written about her since her death, and Esprit, published by the University of Scranton, has devoted most of an issue to praise of her work by distinguished men and women of letters. Certain themes are emphasized: her devotion to Catholicism, the toughness of character that permitted her to survive and to triumph as a writer while living on an isolated Georgia farm, the courage with which she endured a crippling and incurable disease, her constant preoccupation with her craft.

Certain of Flannery O'Connor's virtues—particularly her courage and her craftsmanship—cannot be exaggerated, but she was not, as some of her admirers seem to suggest, a candidate for sainthood. She was a devout and proud Catholic: "I am no disbeliever in spiritual purpose and no vague believer," she wrote in her essay in The Living Novel, and, "I see from the standpoint of Christian orthodoxy." Yet she refused to conform to the literary standards set up by many priests and laymen in the name of the Church. (See, for instance, the text of one of her lectures printed in Greyfriar, published by Siena College, Loudonville, New York.) She insisted on expressing her orthodoxy in her own way.

Similarly, although she was an extraordinarily independent young woman, living a kind of life that few contemporary writers would put up with, she was by no means a solitary. Friends and admirers visited her in Milledgeville, and she was cordial with them, even making small talk when that seemed called for, in the best Southern manner. She corresponded with literary people she found congenial, and her letters were lively and often gay. (Shenandoah for the winter of 1965 prints a collection of letters written to Richard H. Stern that reveal sides of Flannery O'Connor few people saw.) Difficult as travel was for her, she spoke at many colleges. She was in the world as much as she wanted to be, as much as was consonant with the state of her health and her integrity as a writer.

She grew steadily in her art, and the best of the stories in Everything That Rises are the best things she ever wrote. They are superb, and they are...

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Walter Sullivan (September 1965)

SOURCE: "Flannery O'Connor, Sin, and Grace: Everything That Rises Must Converge," in The Hollins Critic, Vol. II, No. 4, September, 1965, pp. 1-8, 10.

[In the following essay, Sullivan asserts that O'Connor is more successful in carrying out her themes in her short fiction than in her novels, because she is unable to sustain the images and relationships in the longer form.]

The stories in Everything That Rises Must Converge are the last fruits of Flannery O'Connor's particular genius; and though one or two of them display an uncertainty that must have been the result of her deteriorating health, they are for the most part successful extensions of her...

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Webster Schott (review date 13 September 1965)

SOURCE: "Flannery O'Connor: Faith's Stepchild," in The Nation, Vol. 201, No. 7, September 13, 1965, pp. 142-44, 146.

[In the following review, Schott discusses O'Connor's Catholicism and asserts that "in Flannery O'Connor's stories evil is man's inevitable fate."]

After reading Flannery O'Connor's final stories I ended the night listening to the mathematical music of the baroque. Order had to be restored, the monsters exorcised from the imagination and pressed back into her fiction.

Losers all, her characters act out the Gothic rituals of defeat and destruction in the nightmare American South. And if Miss O'Connor's god was ever aware of them (a...

(The entire section is 2479 words.)

Irving Howe (review date 30 September 1965)

SOURCE: "Flannery O'Connor's Stories," in The New York Review of Books, Vol. V, No. 4, September 30, 1965, pp. 16-7.

[In the following review, Howe praises O'Connor's storywriting ability and her collection Everything That Rises Must Converge, but complains that, except for two stories, O'Connor's work is missing the unexpected revelation that he finds endearing in other great stories.]

On and off these last months I have been fussing in my mind with Miss O'Connor's stories, unable to reach that certainty of judgment which, we all know, is the established trade mark of the modern critic. The skill and ambition of these stories are not lost upon me, yet I...

(The entire section is 2043 words.)

Patricia Kane (review date Fall 1965)

SOURCE: "Flannery O'Connor's Everything That Rises Must Converge," in Critique, Vol. VIII, No. 1, Fall, 1965, pp. 85-91.

[In the following review, Kane discusses the distinctive qualities of three stories from O'Connor's Everything That Rises Must Converge—"The Lame Shall Enter First," "A View of the Woods," and "Everything That Rises Must Converge."]

Reviewing the last book of the talented Flannery O'Connor is an awesome task. It seems fitting to praise the quality of her life, the extraordinary spirit that animated Miss O'Connor through her long and painful illness. Such is Robert Fitzgerald's splendid introduction to Everything That Rises Must...

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Robert Fitzgerald (essay date 1965)

SOURCE: "Introduction," in Everything That Rises Must Converge, by Flannery O'Connor, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1956, pp. vii-xxxiv.

[In the following introduction, Fitzgerald provides an overview of O'Connor's career and the themes present in the stories in Everything That Rises Must Converge.]

She was a girl who started with a gift for cartooning and satire, and found in herself a far greater gift, unique in her time and place, a marvel. She kept going deeper (this is a phrase she used) until making up stories becam, for her, a way of testing and defining and conveying that superior knowledge that must be called religious. It must be called religious but with no...

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Patricia Dinneen Maida (essay date Fall 1970)

SOURCE: "'Convergence' in Flannery O'Connor's 'Everything That Rises Must Converge,'" in Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. VII, No. 4, Fall, 1970, pp. 549-55.

[In the following essay, Dinneen Maida discusses the idea of convergence in O'Connor's "Everything That Rises Must Converge" and asserts that O'Connor shows man his inadequacies.]

Flannery O'Connor's fiction continues to provoke interest and critical analysis. The title story of her posthumous collection of short stories, Everything That Rises Must Converge, has been among those stories that have received attention lately. But no one has yet examined the implications of the title. Robert Fitzgerald tells us...

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Marion Montgomery (essay date 1971)

SOURCE: "On Flannery O'Connor's 'Everything That Rises Must Converge,'" in Critique, Vol. XIII, No. 2, 1971, pp. 15-29.

[In the following essay, Montgomery refers to a superficial analysis of O'Connor's "Everything That Rises Must Converge," and proceeds to analyze the story on a deeper level.]

Flannery O'Connor's "Everything That Rises Must Converge" first appeared in New World Writing Number 17, in 1961, from which it was selected for inclusion in both Best American Short Stories of 1962 and Prize Stories of 1963: the O. Henry Awards. It appeared posthumously, as the title story of the final collection of her fiction, in 1965. It has, in...

(The entire section is 5061 words.)

John F. Desmond (essay date Autumn 1972)

SOURCE: "The Lessons of History: Flannery O'Connor's 'Everything That Rises Must Converge,'" in The Flannery O'Connor Bulletin, Vol. I, Autumn, 1972, pp. 39-45.

[In the following essay, Desmond discusses the influence of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's ideas about human history and redemption on O'Connor's "Everything That Rises Must Converge."]

This vision of human history developed by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin—a synthesis of biological and psychological evolution and the Christian conception of historical redemption—is one which strongly appealed to Flannery O'Connor and influenced much of her later work. In The Phenomenon of Man Teilhard describes the...

(The entire section is 2075 words.)

Preston M. Browning Jr. (essay date 1974)

SOURCE: "Everything That Rises Must Converge," in Flannery O'Connor, Southern Illinois University Press, 1974, pp. 99-130.

[In the following essay, Browning asserts that in O'Connor's Everything That Rises Must Converge, "she recognized that the recovery of depth, or being, was possible only by stripping the masks from men whose fraudulent righteousness had rendered them too complacent even to be damned."]

In Flannery O'Connor's posthumous volume of stories, Everything That Rises Must Converge, subject and setting are very much a part of the contemporary South. Economic growth is under way, and its partisans are feverishly engaged as midwives to...

(The entire section is 10152 words.)

John V. McDermott (essay date Spring 1975)

SOURCE: "Julian's Journey into Hell: Flannery O'Connor's Allegory of Pride," in Mississippi Quarterly: The Journal of Southern Culture, Vol. XXVIII, No. 2, Spring, 1975, pp. 171-9.

[In the following essay, McDermott discusses Julian and his loss of faith in O'Connor's "Everything That Rises Must Converge."]

In Flannery O'Connor's abrasive allegory "Everything That Rises Must Converge," Julian Chestny runs vainly from his soul's imminent dissolution as the story reaches its inevitable climax. The fact that Julian "had lost his faith" is proven conclusively in the story's final scenes, where "his entry into the world of guilt and sorrow" is nothing less than his entrance...

(The entire section is 2698 words.)

Robert D. Denham (essay date Autumn 1975)

SOURCE: "The World of Guilt and Sorrow: Flannery O'Connor's 'Everything That Rises Must Converge,'" in The Flannery O'Connor Bulletin, Vol. IV, Autumn, 1975, pp. 42-51.

[In the following essay, Denham discusses O'Connor's "Everything That Rises Must Converge" as a journey towards Julian's growth, and asserts that the bus scene serves to make Julian unsympathetic and provides the means for the story's climax.]

"In the act of writing," says Flannery O'Connor, "one sees that the way a thing is made controls and is inseparable from the whole meaning of it. The form of a story gives it meaning which any other form would change." She adds that unless the reader "is able, in...

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Dorothy Tuck McFarland (essay date 1976)

SOURCE: "Everything That Rises Must Converge," in Flannery O'Connor, Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1976, pp. 43-71.

[In the following essay, Tuck McFarland analyzes the different instances of rising and convergence in the stories from O'Connor's Everything That Rises Must Converge.]

The stories in O'Connor's second collection reflect her concern with questions implicitly raised by the rather gnomic title "Everything That Rises Must Converge." The phrase comes from the work of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit paleontologist-philosopher. Teilhard hypothesized that evolution, far from stopping with the emergence of homo sapiens, continues to progress...

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John Ower (essay date Winter 1986)

SOURCE: "The Penny and the Nickel in 'Everything That Rises Must Converge,'" in Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 23, No. 1, Winter, 1986, pp. 107-10.

[In the following essay, Ower discusses the symbolism of the coin Julian's mother gives to the young boy in "Everything That Rises Must Converge."]

In O'Connor's story, the violent climactic "convergence" of black and white races is precipitated by Julian's mother offering a coin to a little Negro boy. Her customary gift to black children is a nickel, but she has been able to find only a cent in her pocketbook. That the fateful coin is a penny, and that it is newly minted, are both emphasized by O'Connor through being twice...

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Jeffrey J. Folks (essay date Spring 1986)

SOURCE: "The Mechanical in Everything That Rises Must Converge," in The Southern Literary Journal, Vol. XVIII, No. 2, Spring, 1986, pp. 14-26.

[In the following essay, Folks discusses O'Connor's relationship to the Southern literary tradition and to the industrialization of the South as expressed in the stories in Everything That Rises Must Converge.]

To many critics, the views of Flannery O'Connor on science and technology have seemed self-evident. The modern faith in science was the extension of a Post-Reformation reliance on Nominalism, a philosophical position that O'Connor never ceased to question. More damaging than pure science, the popular belief in...

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Alice Hall Petry (essay date Spring 1987)

SOURCE: "Julian and O'Connor's 'Everything That Rises Must Converge,'" in Studies in American Fiction, Vol. 15, No. 1, Spring, 1987, pp. 101-08.

[In the following essay, Hall Petry compares Julian from O'Connor's "Everything That Rises Must Converge" to the Roman Emperor Julian the Apostate and discusses their rejection of Christianity.]

In a brief note published in 1978, Mary Frances Hopkins argues that critics of Flannery O'Connor's "Everything That Rises Must Converge" should desist from imposing the name "Mrs. Chestny" on Julian's mother. "No author names characters more deftly than does O'Connor, with all the deadliness of a Thackeray or Waugh but with none of the...

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Alice Hall Petry (essay date Spring 1987)

SOURCE: "O'Connor's Everything That Rises Must Converge," in The Explicator, Vol. 45, No. 3, Spring, 1987, pp. 51-4.

[In the following essay, Hall Petry describes the place of the YWCA in O'Connor's "Everything That Rises Must Converge."]

As Patricia Dinneen Maida has pointed out, Flannery O'Connor "does not flood her work with details; she is highly selective—choosing only those aspects that are most revealing." The justice of this observation in regard to "Everything That Rises Must Converge" was confirmed recently by John Ower, who argues persuasively that Julian's mother's having to offer a penny to the little Black boy in lieu of a nickel illustrates the...

(The entire section is 1581 words.)

David Jauss (essay date Winter 1988)

SOURCE: "Flannery O'Connor's Inverted Saint's Legend," in Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 25, No. 1, Winter, 1988, pp. 76-8.

[In the following essay, Jauss asserts that in "Everything That Rises Must Converge" the name of the protagonist is an allusion to St. Julian Hospitator, and that "By subtly calling our attention to St. Julian and the story of his life, O'Connor transforms this story of a tragic bus trip to the Y into an ironic, inverted saint's legend."]

As many critics have noted, Flannery O'Connor's stories are populated with characters who bear symbolic names. Many of these names are so overtly symbolic that we wouldn't be surprised to encounter them in an...

(The entire section is 1186 words.)

Alice Hall Petry (essay date Summer 1989)

SOURCE: "Miss O'Connor and Mrs. Mitchell: The Example of 'Everything That Rises,'" in The Southern Quarterly, Vol. XXVII, No. 4, Summer, 1989, pp. 5-15.

[In the following essay, Hall Petry outlines allusions to Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind found in O'Connor's "Everything That Rises Must Converge."]

Flannery O'Connor knew only too well that she could not assume her audience brought a solid background in Christianity to their readings of her fiction. It was part of the price she paid for being an insistently Roman Catholic writer in the increasingly secularized United States of the mid-twentieth century. One element which she could count on being...

(The entire section is 3181 words.)

Harbour Winn (essay date Summer 1990)

SOURCE: "Everything That Rises Must Converge: O'Connor's Seven-Story Cycle," in Renascence, Vol. XLII, No. 4, Summer, 1990, pp. 187-212.

[In the following essay, Winn asserts that O'Connor's Everything That Rises Must Converge is a short story cycle in which "O'Connor varies the location of her limited omniscient point of view and interweaves parallel thematic patterns to link together the seven stories."]

In modern fiction, writers have combined the aesthetics of the novel and the short story to construct grouping of interrelated stories that are too finely patterned to be described as a mere collection of stories and too dependent on individual...

(The entire section is 10453 words.)

Bryan N. Wyatt (essay date Spring 1992)

SOURCE: "The Domestic Dynamics of Flannery O'Connor: Everything That Rises Must Converge," in Twentieth Century Literature, Vol. 38, No. 1, Spring, 1992, pp. 66-88.

[In the following essay, Wyatt discusses the domestic center of O'Connor's Everything That Rises Must Converge.]

By her own avowal, Flannery O'Connor writes from a fixed perspective of Christian orthodoxy. "I write the way I do," she insists, "because (not though) I am a Catholic" and adds that all her stories "are about the action of grace on a character who is not very willing to accept it."

Her view that her stories are all of a piece clearly is not shared by many of her readers...

(The entire section is 9404 words.)

Michael W. Crocker and Robert C. Evans (essay date June 1993)

SOURCE: "Faulkner's 'Barn Burning' and O'Connor's 'Everything That Rises Must Converge,'" in CLA Journal, Vol. XXXVI, No. 4, June, 1993, pp. 371-83.

[In the following essay, Crocker and Evans outlines similarities between O'Connor's "Everything That Rises Must Converge" and Faulkner's "Barn Burning."]

As two of the most important American writers of this century, William Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor wrote two of the most widely anthologized and widely read short stories of our time—"Barn Burning" and "Everything That Rises Must Converge." Although the relationship between the two writers has been a subject of occasional comment, such comment remains largely...

(The entire section is 3453 words.)