O'Connor, Flannery (Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)
Flannery O'Connor 1925-1964
(Full name Mary Flannery O'Connor) American short story writer, novelist, and essayist.
The following entry provides criticism on O'Connor's works from 1982 through 2001. See also A Good Man Is Hard to Find Criticism, Flannery O'Connor Short Story Criticism, Flannery O'Connor Literary Criticism (Volume 1), and Volumes 2, 3, 6, 13, 21.
O'Connor is considered one of the foremost short story writers in American literature. She was an anomaly among post-World War II authors—a Roman Catholic from the Bible-belt South whose stated purpose was to reveal the mystery of God's grace in everyday life. Aware that not all readers shared her faith, O'Connor chose to depict salvation through shocking, often violent action upon characters who are spiritually or physically grotesque. Moreover, her penchant for employing ironic detachment and mordant humor prompted some critics to classify O'Connor as an existentialist or nihilist. She also infused her fiction with the local color and rich comic detail of her southern milieu, particularly through her skillful presentation of regional dialect. A complex system of symbolism and allegory adds further resonance to O'Connor's writing.
O'Connor was an only child whose parents were devout Roman Catholics from prominent Georgia families. She attended parochial schools in Savannah and public high school in Milledgeville, where the family moved after her father developed disseminated lupus, the degenerative disease that later struck O'Connor. Soon after her father's death when she was nearly sixteen, O'Connor entered the nearby Georgia State College for Women, where she majored in social sciences. In her spare time she edited and wrote for school publications to which she also contributed linoleum block and woodcut cartoons. O'Connor then enrolled in the graduate writing program at Iowa State University, where she earned her M.A. in 1947 with six stories, including “The Geranium,” which had appeared the previous year in the periodical Accent. Throughout her career, O'Connor's stories were readily published, occasionally by popular magazines such as Mademoiselle, but more often by prestigious literary journals including Sewanee Review, Shenandoah, and Kenyon Review.
O'Connor began her first novel, Wise Blood (1952), while living at Yaddo writers' colony in upstate New York in 1947 and 1948. She continued working on the novel while living in New York City and then in Connecticut, where she boarded with her friends Sally and Robert Fitzgerald, a young married couple who shared O'Connor's Catholic faith and literary interests. However, O'Connor's independent lifestyle ended abruptly at age twenty-five when she suffered her first attack of lupus. From that point forward, O'Connor lived with her mother at Andalusia, a small dairy farm outside Milledgeville. She maintained a steady writing pace, publishing Wise Blood in 1952, followed by the story collection A Good Man Is Hard to Find in 1955, and a second novel, The Violent Bear It Way, in 1960. Each volume attracted significant critical attention, and she was awarded three O. Henry prizes for her short stories in addition to several grants and two honorary degrees. As her reputation grew, she traveled when her health permitted to give readings and lectures. She died in 1964.
O'Connor’s fiction frequently criticizes the materialism and spiritual apathy of contemporary society, faulting modern rationalism for its negation of the need for religious faith and redemption. Employing scenes and characters from her native southern environments, she depicts the violent and often bizarre religiosity of Protestant fundamentalists as a manifestation of spiritual life struggling to exist in a nonspiritual world. The protagonists of both her novels—Hazel Motes in Wise Blood and Francis Marion Tarwater in The Violent Bear It Away—experience intense spiritual conflict. Often considered “Christ-haunted” characters, they are tormented by visions of God and the devil and by the temptation to deny the reality of their revelations. Critics have described O'Connor's protagonists as grotesque in personality, inclined to violence, and isolated and frustrated by their spiritual struggle.
Reflecting the religious themes of her novels, a recurrent motif in O'Connor's thirty-one short stories is that of divine grace descending in an often bizarre or violent manner upon a spiritually deficient main character. She often depicts a rural domestic situation suddenly invaded by a criminal or perverse outsider—a distorted Christ figure who redeems a protagonist afflicted with pride, intellectualism, or materialism. In one of O'Connor's best-known stories, “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” for example, a smugly self-complacent grandmother is shocked into spiritual awareness by a murderer who kills first her family and then her. Critics have noted that O'Connor's tales, while expressing intense action, are related in concise, almost epigrammatic prose. They have also praised her use of richly complex imagery and symbols, observing that spiritual meaning is often conveyed through vivid descriptions of nature in her work.
The predominant feature of O'Connor criticism is its abundance. O'Connor garnered serious and widespread critical attention for her first short story collection, and since her death the outpouring has been remarkable, including hundreds of essays and numerous full-length studies. While her work has received some hostile reviews, including those that labeled her an atheist or accused her of using the grotesque gratuitously, she is almost universally admired, if not fully understood. In addition to wide-ranging studies of her style, structure, symbolism, tone, themes, and influences, critical discussion often centers on theological aspects of O'Connor's work. In inquiries into the depth of her religious intent, critics usually find O'Connor to be the orthodox Christian that she adamantly declared herself.
Wise Blood (novel) 1952
A Good Man Is Hard to Find (short stories) 1955; published in England as The Artificial Nigger, 1957
The Violent Bear It Away (novel) 1960
Three by Flannery O’Connor (novels and short stories) 1964
Everything That Rises Must Converge (short stories) 1965
Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose (nonfiction) 1969
The Complete Stories (short stories) 1971
The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O'Connor (correspondence) 1979
Flannery O'Connor: Collected Works 1988
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SOURCE: Napier, James J. “Flannery O'Connor's Last Three: ‘The Sense of an Ending’.” Southern Literary Journal 14, no. 2 (spring 1982): 19-27.
[In the following essay, Napier evaluates O'Connor's literary output in the last few years of her life, focusing on the achievement of her last three stories: “Revelation,” “Judgment Day,” and “Parker's Back.”]
“Ends are ends only when they are not negative but frankly transfigure the events in which they were immanent.”
—Kermode, The Sense of an Ending, p. 175.1
A casual look at the record of Flannery O'Connor's career reveals a precocious beginning followed by an early success that was sustained for almost two decades until her death in 1964. From the publication of her first story in Accent when she was a student at the School for Writers at the State University of Iowa until the completion of “Parker's Back” in the last month of her life, she seems to have been unremittingly, if not exceptionally, productive. But this, as I say, is what a casual look reveals. A closer look, especially at the last half decade, gives a somewhat different impression.
O'Connor published her second novel, The Violent Bear It Away, in January 1960. (Novels went slowly for her, Wise Blood having taken five, her second one seven,...
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SOURCE: Renner, Stanley. “Secular Meaning in ‘A Good Man Is Hard to Find’.” College Literature 9, no. 2 (1982): 123-32.
[In the following essay, Renner suggests a secular interpretation of the conclusion of “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.”]
Just as literature illuminates life, life illuminates literature, sometimes causing a shock of recognition that simultaneously verifies the author's imaginative vision and advances our comprehension of both the vision and the means employed to reveal it. A recent account in a Southern newspaper of developments in a murder trial casts such light on Flannery O'Connor's “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” a story that has proved particularly troublesome because O'Connor's statements about her intention in its violent climax enjoins an interpretation that does not appear to be supported by the logic of its own content. I refer to O'Connor's representation that at the moment of the grandmother's death at the hands of an escaped killer, when she sees him as one of her own children, she enjoys a sudden accession to divine grace, a “special kind of triumph” that seems beyond the capacity of the character as we know her in the story.1 O'Connor's reading of the climax seems to demand a doctrinaire approach that some readers are unable to bring to the story.2 The design of the story itself, moreover, suggests that its meaning is wider than that...
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SOURCE: Coulthard, A. R. “From Sermon to Parable: Four Conversion Stories by Flannery O'Connor.” American Literature 55, no. 1 (March 1983): 55-71.
[In the following essay, Coulthard considers sin and redemption in four of O'Connor's short stories: “A Temple of the Holy Ghost,” “The Artificial Nigger,” “Revelation,” and “Parker's Back.”]
In a 1958 letter, Flannery O'Connor discussed the major theme of her writing: “It seems to me that all good stories are about conversion, about a character's changing. … The action of grace changes a character. … All my stories are about the action of grace on a character.”1 Like many of O'Connor's statements about her writing, this one is useful if it is properly qualified. Most of O'Connor's stories, of course, are about sin and redemption, but not all of them actually depict “the action of grace on a character.”
In seven stories, for instance, O'Connor clears the way for a character's redemption but stops short of delineating it. The stories freeze the protagonists in their moment of spiritual truth and do not reveal whether they will in fact accept the salvation proffered.2 These open-ended stories are best described by what O'Connor said of one of them, “The Enduring Chill”: “It's not so much a story of conversion as of self-knowledge, which I suppose has to be the first step in...
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SOURCE: Desmond, John F. “Flannery O'Connor and the History behind the History.” Modern Age 27, nos. 3-4 (summer-fall 1983): 290-96.
[In the following essay, Desmond examines the role of historicism and the aesthetic of memory in O'Connor's work.]
The question of Flannery O'Connor's place in the tradition of modern Southern letters remains a vexing one for critics. Both the number and the wide ideological range of critical assessments that have appeared since her death testify to the anomalous position she continues to occupy as a Southern Catholic writer. Some may wish to argue that her rare blend of Christian orthodoxy, Southern regionalism, and comic literary genius makes her writing so unique as to defy categorization. But to argue so merely begs the question of her relationship to modern Southern literature, and the larger, more important question of her place among twentieth-century writers. The issue cannot be ignored because it is not simply a matter of establishing a line of literary and intellectual influences or correspondences within a tradition. Of a more crucial nature, attempts to determine O'Connor's place in a modern tradition raise questions about the fundamental value of her work as a whole.
Among some readers and critics of O'Connor's fiction there is a belief that her work simply does not adequately represent the complexities of the modern consciousness. This...
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SOURCE: Klug, M. A. “Flannery O'Connor and the Manichean Spirit of Modernism.” Southern Humanities Review 17, no. 4 (fall 1983): 303-14.
[In the following essay, Klug maintains that O'Connor's negative attitude towards modernism and the modern writer “sets her at odds with the whole tradition of American fiction in this century and with the type of spiritual hero which that tradition has produced.”]
Flannery O'Connor made no secret of her contempt for the modern age. Her antagonism to it goes far beyond the artist's conventional scorn of science, technology, middle-class values, “the smell of steaks in passage-ways.” She attacks the central assumptions of literary modernism as vigorously as those of our social and economic life and for the same reason. As O'Connor sees it, the modern consciousness in all its manifestations is corrupted by the Manichean predisposition “to separate spirit and matter.”1 As her letters and occasional prose clearly indicate, she blames this compulsion to separate spiritual truth from concrete reality for the two opposing kinds of excess that disfigure modern fiction. On the one hand, it leads to a terminal romanticism which disregards the material world in pursuit of abstraction. On the other hand, it encourages a terminal realism or naturalism which ignores the possibility of any spiritual meaning and sinks in an accumulation of concrete detail....
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SOURCE: Brewer, Nadine. “Christ, Satan, and Southern Protestantism in O'Connor's Fiction.” Flannery O'Connor Bulletin 14 (1985): 103-11.
[In the following essay, Brewer asserts that O'Connor's use of Christ and Satan symbolism in her work proves her thorough understanding of Southern Protestantism.]
In her introduction to Sister Kathleen Feeley's book on Flannery O'Connor, Caroline Gordon reports that O'Connor once remarked “she could wait fifty, indeed a hundred, years to have one of her stories read right.” Unfortunately, it is true that she has been widely misread, despite the probability that no other “Southern” writer has ever written of her own country with more perspicacity and scrupulous realism. It seems paradoxical, but it is undoubtedly her acumen and accuracy that has prompted the misreading of her fiction. The tensions, the complexities, the convolutions, indeed, the contradictions in her work form the warp and the woof of the South itself. One cannot read about the South with the same calm that one reads of, say, New England, or of the Rocky Mountain states. The Southern region of this country is a land of violent contrasts and contradictions, indeed, of violence.
Therefore, in order to “read right” O'Connor's driven characters—Hazel Motes, Rufus Johnson, The Misfit, Joy-Hulga Hopewell, Tom T. Shiflet, Parker, Mrs. McIntye and many others—one must...
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SOURCE: Kinney, Arthur F. “Flannery O'Connor and the Fiction of Grace.” Massachusetts Review 27, no. 1 (spring 1986): 71-96.
[In the following essay, Kinney considers the role of grace in O'Connor's fiction.]
Flannery O'Connor claimed always to be writing fiction about the extraordinary moments of God's grace, when it touches even the most maimed, deformed, or unregenerate of people—especially those; proper Christian literature, she remarked, is always “an invitation to deeper and stranger visions.” Yet however willingly the most devoted and admiring reader might listen to her talk about her art, precisely those extraordinary moments have always been, at the least, troubling. Even Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk for whom she sustained great respect and whose books she bought and read, had his difficulties. He could say of one of her finest stories, “The Lame Shall Enter First,” that her fiction often seemed to him “strangely scrambled.”
The good people are bad and the bad people tend to be less bad than they seem. … Her crazy people while remaining as crazy as they can possibly be, turn out to be governed by a strange kind of sanity. In the end, it is the sane ones who are incurable lunatics. The “good,” the “right” and the “kind” do all the harm.
She was herself perpetually disturbed by what she...
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SOURCE: Oliver, Bill. “Flannery O'Connor Compassion.” Flannery O'Connor Bulletin 15 (1986): 1-15.
[In the following essay, Oliver analyzes O'Connor's unique sense of compassion in “A Temple of the Holy Ghost,” “The Artificial Nigger,” “Parker's Back,” and “Judgment Day.”]
Compassion is the quality O'Connor's fiction is supposed to lack. John Hawkes, in an early and still influential essay, said that her characters “are judged, victimized, made to appear only as absurd entities of flesh” (399). Jesse Hill Ford suspected that she hated human kind. “Her fiction,” he said, “has an axe-murder feel to it” (Martin 216). More recently, the French critic André Bleikasten asserts that between O'Connor and her characters “lies all the distance of contempt, disgust, and derision” (56). Not even O'Connor's many apologists make great claims for her tenderness; by emphasizing her role as an embattled Christian calling for repentance in the wilderness of American secularism, they imply that she could not afford much compassion.
O'Connor claimed it was not human kind she hated but the spiritual obtuseness of the age in which she lived: “My own feeling is that writers who see by the light of their Christian faith will have in these times the sharpest eye for the grotesque, for the perverse, and for the unacceptable” (Mystery and Manners 33-34). Her...
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SOURCE: Spivey, Ted R. “Flannery O'Connor, The New Criticism, and Deconstruction.” Southern Review 23, no. 2 (April 1987): 271-80.
[In the following essay, Spivey encourages various critical perspectives on O'Connor's work, contending that relying on only one will result in a limited and one-sided view of her fiction.]
Since Flannery O'Conner's death in 1964, her work, like Faulkner's, has attracted the attention of critics and scholars throughout the world. In fact, she is now generally acclaimed as the modern South's greatest novelist after Faulkner. Yet we may well ask if both Faulkner and O'Connor, for all the excellent criticism their work has received, do not still await adequate examination in the context of their thought and their total life experience.
One aspect of O'Connor that requires our attention is her own concern with the many aspects of meaning in her work; it is for this reason, among many others, that her letters are so important to those who would understand her and would experience her imaginative power. In a sense, O'Connor was an intertextual critic long before the appearance of deconstructive criticism. Writing about deconstruction and semiotics, Jonathan Culler recommends an intertextual approach that relates literary to nonliterary texts for the following reason: “Since students do not take for granted that literature is something they ought to study,...
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SOURCE: Byars, John. “Prophecy and Apocalyptic in the Fiction of Flannery O'Connor.” Flannery O'Connor Bulletin 16 (1987): 34-42.
[In the following essay, Byars underscores the importance of prophecy in O'Connor's work and asserts that “in a real sense her fiction is a form of prophecy, both revelatory and admonitory, telling a modern secularized world of the presence of grace and the imminence of judgment.”]
Critics have often noticed the crucial role prophets and false prophets play in the fiction of Flannery O'Connor. She names characters Enoch and Obadiah; she transforms three adolescent vandals into “prophets dancing in the fiery furnace”; she assigns important revelatory roles to those as diverse as the enormous Mrs. Shortley, an ugly Wellesley student, a young criminal, and a Bible salesman; and finally she makes the struggle against their vocations as prophets the major action that envelops the protagonists of her two novels. In a real sense her fiction is a form of prophecy, both revelatory and admonitory, telling a modern secularized world of the presence of grace and the imminence of judgment. It is less easy, however, to establish two important facts about her fiction as prophecy: the precise direction it takes and the manner, within the fictional process, by which it arrives at such a point.
The nature of her vision and the shape it takes are not now regarded as...
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SOURCE: Garson, Helen S. “Cold Comfort: Parents and Children in the Work of Flannery O'Connor.” In Realist of Distances: Flannery O'Connor Revisited, edited by Karl-Heinz Westarps and Jan Nordby Gretlund, pp. 113-22. Denmark: Aarhus University Press, 1987.
[In the following essay, Garson regards the theme of parents and children as an important one in O'Connor's fiction.]
Her world was narrow, said the poet, Elizabeth Bishop, of Flannery O'Connor's stories. A limited number of themes interested O'Connor; and certain character types and relationships appear and reappear to form a pattern in the two novels and the two short story collections. More than half the stories focus on parents and children: fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, mothers and sons. Rarely are there two parents. Sometimes there are surrogate parents, grandfathers, uncles, granduncles. Just as most of the families have a single parent, almost always there is only one child, very rarely siblings.
The family in O'Connor's stories bears no resemblance to most we associate with Southern fiction, although unquestionably they are of the Gothic, grotesque school. There is, as one critic states, “horror … at the core of family life,”1 in the stories of O'Connor. In all her work, parents and children want and expect things of each other that can never be given. Either the parents are cold, calculating,...
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SOURCE: Cook, Martha E. “Flannery O'Connor's Wise Blood: Forms of Entrapment.” In Modern American Fiction: Form of Function, edited by Thomas Daniel Young, pp. 198-212. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989.
[In the following essay, Cook offers a thematic and stylistic analysis of Wise Blood.]
On May 18, 1952, the Sunday New York Times had the following as its predominant headline: “20,000 parade on fifth avenue to hail armed forces day.” The major sports headlines proclaimed, “giant rally tops cubs, 9-8; dodgers rout pirates, 12-7.” And the cover story for the Book Review was a large article on George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia by Granville Hicks entitled “george orwell's prelude in spain”; it carried the heading, “the story of an idealist who fought a lost cause, but who never lost faith in mankind.” In such a context of patriotism and tradition, one is surprised that Flannery O'Connor's Wise Blood was even reviewed in this and other major papers and magazines when it appeared in the late spring of 1952. But this unorthodox first novel was thoroughly reviewed, by reviewers who ranged from the well-meaning to the vituperative, from some who tried to understand what O'Connor was doing to one who commented in Time that “all too often it reads as if Kafka had been set to writing the continuity for L'il...
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SOURCE: Ochshorn, Kathleen G. “A Cloak of Grace: Contradictions in ‘A Good Man Is Hard to Find’.” Studies in American Fiction 18, no. 1 (spring 1990): 113-17.
[In the following essay, Ochshorn explores the contradictions between readers' interpretations of “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” and O'Connor's intentions regarding the story.]
Flannery O'Connor was often shocked to find how people interpreted her stories. Some readers of “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” believed the grandmother was evil, even a witch. Soon O'Connor set out, quite explicitly, in letters and lectures to detail the theology of the story and the importance of the grandmother as an agent of grace. In a letter to John Hawkes, she explained how violence and grace come together:
More than in the Devil I am interested in the indication of Grace, the moment when you know that Grace has been offered and accepted—such as the moment when the Grandmother realizes the Misfit is one of her own children. These moments are prepared for (by me anyway) by the intensity of the evil circumstances.1
When O'Connor speaks of her Catholicism and its expression in her fiction, she is clearheaded, eloquent, and convincing. In Mystery and Manners, the posthumous collection of her occasional prose, she claims the assumptions that underlie “A Good Man Is Hard to...
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SOURCE: Babinec, Lisa S. “Cyclical Patterns of Domination and Manipulation in Flannery O'Connor's Mother-Daughter Relationships.” Flannery O'Connor Bulletin 19 (1990): 9-29.
[In the following essay, Babinec examines mother-daughter relationships in O'Connor's fiction from a feminist perspective.]
Flannery O'Connor's fiction is witty, grotesque, and entertaining, and, at the same time, complex, ambiguous, and undefinable. Since her death in 1964, many scholars have attempted to analyze O'Connor's fiction in a variety of ways; specifically, they have focused on the representation of Christian values and the issue of grace and redemption, psychological and biographical interpretations, formal textual analysis, and her work's relation to the Southern literary tradition. However, with the exception of Louise Westling's Sacred Groves and Ravaged Gardens, no one has studied issues of mother-daughter relationships from a feminist perspective. Those scholars who do briefly mention mother-child bonds in O'Connor's work usually go no further than to assert that her fictional family ties parallel her own life.
Scholars who reach this conclusion may only be reflecting O'Connor's own thoughts and, in particular, the statements she made in letters to “A”:
Whether the male or female is the superior sex ain't going to ruffle his [Father Walter Ong's]...
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SOURCE: Clasby, Nancy T. “‘The Life You Save May Be Your Own’: Flannery O'Connor as a Visionary Artist.” Studies in Short Fiction 28, no. 4 (fall 1991): 509-20.
[In the following essay, Clasby offers a Jungian reading of “The Life You Save May Be Your Own.”]
Flannery O'Connor's reservations about psychoanalytic readings of her work have not deterred several critics from producing interesting Freudian and Lacanian studies. Some of these studies attribute O'Connor's rejection of psychoanalytic commentary to her unacknowledged fear of the unconscious as “a material realm that threatens to displace the domain of ‘spirit’” (Mellard 628). It may be, however, that her reservations are based in part on an accurate perception of the limits of Freudian thought as applied to the image-making activity of the artist. The “bleeding stinking mad shadow[s] of Jesus” peopling O'Connor's stories cannot successfully be reduced to portraits of individuals suffering castration anxiety. Carl Jung's theories were somewhat more interesting to O'Connor; she reviewed the work of Victor White (Getz 158, 145), a prominent Jungian analyst and Catholic priest, but because she understood Jung in Freudian terms, she found his approach unsympathetic as well. Nevertheless, when taken on its own terms, a Jungian hermeneutics offers a way of opening up O'Connor's extraordinary image structures.
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SOURCE: Walters, Mark. “Violence and Comedy in the Works of Flannery O'Connor.” In New Perspectives on Women and Comedy, edited by Regina Barreca, pp. 185-92. Philadelphia: Gordon and Breach, 1992.
[In the following essay, Walters views O'Connor's fiction from a feminist perspective in order to examine the relationship between violence and comedy in her work.]
Flannery O'Connor is not often read from a feminist perspective. This is not surprising; she herself made clear that she was largely concerned with spiritual matters, with the “demonstration of God's mystery at work in the world.” Understandably, then, much O'Connor criticism has centered on the metaphysical implications of her fiction. But certainly that fiction should be addressed within contexts other than those she herself deliberately articulated, and certainly the effects on her art of her being female, female in a patriarchal South, merit attention. I believe, in fact, that looking at O'Connor's work from a feminist perspective can add much to the ongoing discussion of its most significant and mystifying element, i.e., the relationship between violence and comedy.
For O'Connor, or any American woman, to make comedy was and is in itself an act of defiance. Humor, of course, has long been connected to rebellion or, at the very least, irreverence. But for the female writer this rebellion seems three-fold: she typically...
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SOURCE: Russell, Henry M. W. “Racial Integration in a Disintegrating Society: O'Connor and European Catholic Thought.” Flannery O'Connor Bulletin 24 (1995-96): 33-45.
[In the following essay, Russell maintains that O'Connor's ideas about race were profoundly influenced by her Catholic faith.]
Flannery O'Connor's thoughts on race are more informed by her Christian faith than by her geographic roots. American critics have long acknowledged the importance of her statements about being a Catholic writer in the South, but the dismal failure of the American church to communicate orthodox Catholic teaching since the 1960s has obscured to many what such a commitment implies. To be an intellectual Catholic like O'Connor meant engaging serious theologians and philosophers who labored to tease out the implications of Church dogma for yet another new era. So earnest was O'Connor about the necessity for an educated faith that she quixotically attempted to direct the readers of her diocesan newspaper to the riches of mid-century Catholic writing by reviewing major books. Thus she demonstrated her citizenship in another world, populated densely by French, Italian, and German philosophers with complex arguments about the way to reconstitute social relations after the disasters of totalitarian socialisms had tattered confidence in scientific and rationalistic solutions. Her views on race should be seen within the...
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SOURCE: Desmond, John F. “Flannery O'Connor and the Idolatrous Mind.” Christianity and Literature 46, 1 (autumn 1996): 25-35.
[In the following essay, Desmond investigates O'Connor's view of the modern idolatrous mind through an analysis of her story “An Artificial Nigger.”]
It was Flannery O'Connor's fellow Southern-Catholic writer Walker Percy who defined central features of the modern idolatrous mind in his essay “Notes for a Novel about the End of the World.” Speaking of our present-day diminished religious capacities, Percy said:
The question is not whether the Good News is no longer relevant, but rather whether it is possible that man is presently undergoing a tempestuous restructuring of his consciousness which does not presently allow him to take account of the Good News. For what has happened is not merely the technological transformation of the world but something psychologically even more portentous. It is the absorption by the layman not of the scientific method but rather of the magical aura of science, whose credentials he accepts for all sectors of reality. Thus in the lay culture of a scientific society nothing is easier than to fall prey to a kind of seduction which sunders one's very self from itself into an all-transcending ‘objective’ consciousness and a consumer self with a list of ‘needs’ to be satisfied. … Such a man could...
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SOURCE: Zornado, Joseph. “A Becoming Habit: Flannery O'Connor's Fiction of Unknowing.” Religion & Literature 29, no. 2 (summer 1997): 27-59.
[In the following essay, Zornado explores the relationship between O'Connor's Roman Catholic faith and her art and finds parallels between her literary sensibilities and those of Thomas Merton.]
Its almost impossible to write about supernatural Grace in fiction. We almost have to approach it negatively.
—Flannery O'Connor, Habit [The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor] 144
Much of Flannery O'Connor's fiction undermines the notion that her texts, or any text for that matter, offers the reader a chance at fixed comprehensibility. In fact, O'Connor's fiction often clears itself away as a meaning-bearing icon in order to introduce the reader to something other, to the mystery latent and invisible in the manners. O'Connor remains remarkable as an avowed Catholic and as a writer because she resisted spelling out that mystery though her Catholic faith offered much in the way of dogma that might have sufficed. Even so, there is an indissoluble link between the writer and the Catholic that critics have recognized since the publication of her first novel, Wise Blood in 1952.
From Wise Blood to her final story, “Parker's Back,”...
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SOURCE: Beringer, Cindy. “‘I Have Not Wallowed’: Flannery O'Connor's Working Mothers.” In Southern Mothers: Fact and Fictions in Southern Women's Writing, edited by Nagueyalti Warren and Salle Wolff, pp. 124-41. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1999.
[In the following essay, Beringer elucidates the mother-child relationship in three O'Connor short stories: “The Enduring Chill,” “Greenleaf,” and “Good Country People.”]
The distinctive characters of Flannery O'Connor's stories are drawn masterfully from the red clay of southern agrarian life. The author blends humor, irony, and satire to create characters whose lives are thwarted and misguided. They believe they have progressed along the path of success, yet eventually most come to realize, albeit too late, that their actions have not led to personal fulfillment. The families in her stories exist in a grotesque state of permanent hostility, and any offspring exhibit such a lack of civilizing influence that O'Connor elicits little emotion other than nervous relief when a vengeful God exacts his mercy with what would otherwise be considered terrifying violence.
Most of O'Connor's stories are set on farms managed by single—usually widowed or divorced—women. Andalusia, a large farm in Milledgeville, Georgia, which O'Connor's widowed mother, Regina, inherited and operated, comes readily to mind. Like her...
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SOURCE: Carroll, Rachel. “Foreign Bodies: History and Trauma in Flannery O'Connor's ‘The Displaced Person’.” Textual Practice 14, no. 1 (2000): 97-114.
[In the following essay, Carroll asserts that repressed memories of crisis surface through the unconscious in “The Displaced Person.”]
We must presume … that the psychical trauma—or more precisely the memory of the trauma—acts like a foreign body which long after its entry must be continued to be regarded as an agent that is still at work.
(Josef Breuer and Sigmund Freud)1
History and the irrational are revealed to exist in intimate proximity in O'Connor's texts: the past haunts the present by returning through the unconscious. The role of history in O'Connor's narratives could be addressed by drawing an analogy between the persistence of the unresolved conflicts of the past and the return of the repressed in the form of the uncanny. Freud defines the uncanny as ‘that class of the frightening which leads back to what is known of old and long familiar’2 and as that which ‘ought to have remained secret and hidden but has come to light’ (‘The uncanny’, p. 345). The material which is subject to this mechanism of repression and return in O'Connor's fiction is history, and its violent disruptions reveal their imprint on the unconscious in...
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SOURCE: Als, Hilton. “This Lonesome Place.” New Yorker (29 January 2001): 82-8.
[In the following essay, Als considers the defining characteristics of O'Connor's fiction.]
The two niggers, a man and a woman, cutting across the field are looking for a little moonshine when they spot the white boy, Francis Marion Tarwater—the teen-age antihero of Flannery O'Connor's startling second novel, The Violent Bear It Away—who is digging a grave for his great-uncle Mason. Mason, a self-titled prophet who spent his life denouncing the world for having forsaken its Saviour, believed that Tarwater might have the calling, too, but the boy is not feeling his religion right now, standing in the dirt, just this side of death. O'Connor writes:
The woman, tall and Indianlike, had on a green sun hat. She stooped under the fence without pausing and came on across the yard toward the grave; the man held the wire down and swung his leg over and followed at her elbow. They kept their eyes on the hole and stopped at the edge of it, looking down into the raw ground with shocked satisfied expressions. The man, Buford, had a crinkled face, darker than his hat. “Old man passed,” he said.
The woman lifted her head and let out a slow sustained wail, piercing and formal. She … crossed her arms and then lifted them in the air...
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Burke, William. “Fetishism in the Fiction of Flannery O'Connor.” Flannery O'Connor Bulletin 22 (1993-94): 45-52.
Examines the fetishistic characters in O'Connor's fiction.
Cash, Jean W. “O'Connor on ‘Revelation’: The Story of a Story.” English Language Notes 24, no. 3 (March 1987): 61-7.
Traces the origins and writing of O'Connor's “Revelation.”
Crocker, Michael W., and Robert C. Evans. “Faulkner's ‘Barn Burning’ and O'Connor's ‘Everything That Rises Must Converge’.” CLA Journal 36, no. 4 (June 1993): 371-83.
Finds parallels between “Everything That Rises Must Converge” and William Faulkner's “The Barn Burning.”
Farley, Blanche. “Echoes of Poe, In Sawmill and Loft.” Flannery O'Connor Bulletin14 (1985): 14-23.
Notes similarities in the humor of O'Connor and Edgar Allan Poe.
Gray, Jeffrey. “‘It's Not Natural’: Freud's ‘Uncanny’ and O'Connor's Wise Blood.” Southern Literary Journal 24, no. 2 (fall 1996): 56-68.
Provides a Freudian reading of O'Connor's Wise Blood.
Haddox, Thomas F. “Contextualizing Flannery O'Connor: Allen Tate, Caroline Gordon, and the Catholic Turn in Southern Literature.” Southern...
(The entire section is 806 words.)