O'Connor, (Mary) Flannery (Vol. 10)
O'Connor, (Mary) Flannery 1925–1964
O'Connor was an American short story writer, novelist, and essayist. A Roman Catholic from the Bible Belt, she liberally laced her fiction with material from each of these religious backgrounds to create a unique, highly personal vision. Her vision is a chilling one, reflected in a world characterized by sudden, bizarre violence and peopled with grotesques whom she sees as mirrors for men fallen from grace. O'Connor is considered one of the important figures of the Southern Renascence. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 2, 3, 6, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.)
Patricia D. Maida
Vision functions as the dynamic principle in Flannery O'Connor's fiction. From her first novel Wise Blood, through The Violent Bear It Away, and in both collections of short stories, O'Connor portrays characters who are morally blind. Her people project their true selves through the physical qualities of their eyes—through color, shape, and intensity. And their perception of the world is controlled by their limited powers of sight. The reader enters this world through the eyes of the characters, experiencing an environment fraught with extraordinary signs in the form of natural imagery. Among the recurring images a triad dominates: the treeline, the sun, and the color purple. Essentially, the tree-line suggests a delineation between the known and the unknown; the sun reflects light or enlightenment; and the color purple indicates bruising and pain. But on the metaphysical level, this triad represents an existential awareness and a spiritual process. (p. 31)
The focus on the eyes of the characters not only provides greater insight for the reader, but it also increases the reader's awareness of the conflict between individual perception and truth…. By assuming the objective point of view, O'Connor the narrator focuses closely on the telling details, especially the eyes of the characters and other elements that will inform the reader….
Vision controls not only the way a person views himself and...
(The entire section is 715 words.)
[In "The Enduring Chill"] four explicit references to Joyce are only the most obvious of an elaborate series of correspondences between Asbury Porter Fox and the Stephen Dedalus of both Portrait and Ulysses: correspondences involving not only major events and images but even details of diction and syntax and providing the basis for a sharply satiric portrait of the self-conscious artist-hero. O'Connor frequently uses satire as an instrument of moral judgment, but "The Enduring Chill" is unique among her stories because its satiric object is a specific literary character. Taking Stephen's distinguishing characteristics and exaggerating them to create a caricature of the modern hero who vows to serve nothing except art, O'Connor presents her view of the would-be artist as a personal failure. By revealing her attitude about Joyce's artistic techniques and about the young Stephen as a cultural hero, "The Enduring Chill" becomes an important index of O'Connor's own central esthetic tenets…. (p. 245)
Like Stephen Dedalus, who for the sake of his vocation adopted a non serviam stance against country, family, and church, Asbury perceives his home, his family, and his religious tradition as constricting limitations which he must defy in the name of art. (p. 246)
One of the Achaean backslappers, Mr. Dedalus was most at home in a bar with his drinking companions; and Asbury is convinced that his "old man,"...
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[No] reader can fail to discern the permanence and seriousness of [O'Connor's] religious concerns. Fall and redemption, nature and grace, sin and innocence—every one of her stories and novels revolves around these traditional Christian themes. It is hardly surprising that O'Connor should have acknowledged close affinities with Hawthorne. Her fiction is of a coarser fabric than his, less delicately shaded in its artistry and far less muted in its effects, but it belongs without any doubt to the same tradition of American romance: characters and plots matter less than "the power of darkness" one senses behind them; symbol, allegory, and parable are never far away, and with O'Connor as with Hawthorne, the accumulated mass of allusions and connotations derives in a very large measure from the rich mythology of Christian culture. The temptation is therefore great to decipher works like theirs through the cultural and hermeneutic codes which the Christian tradition provides, and in O'Connor's case it is all the more irresistible since we have the author's blessing. (pp. 53-4)
O'Connor's public pronouncements on her art—on which most of her commentators have pounced so eagerly—are by no means the best guide to her fiction. As an interpreter, she was just as fallible as anybody else, and in point of fact there is much of what she has said or written about her work that is highly questionable. The...
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