Style and Technique (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
In remarks prefatory to a public reading of this story, O’Connor stated that “what makes a story work . . . is probably some action, some gesture of a character that is unlike any other in the story, one which indicates where the real heart of the story lies.” This action, which is “both totally right and totally unexpected,” must operate “on the anagogical level, that is, the level which has to do with the Divine life and our participation in it.” O’Connor, anticipating a non-Catholic audience essentially hostile to her religious and philosophical position, manages to dramatize her views within the story: She shows a human being change and creates an effective scene in which God’s grace intervenes in the natural world. Thus, O’Connor makes it possible for the reader to focus on what she sees as crucial: “In this story you should be on the lookout for such things as the action of grace in the Grandmother’s soul, and not for the dead bodies.”
A balance for the seriousness, even sublimity, of this moment of grace is the black humor of the dialogue between The Misfit and the grandmother, which precedes the grandmother’s gesture. Much of this humor derives from the regional particularities of southern speech, which O’Connor’s sharp ear accurately registers. When the grandmother urges The Misfit to seek God’s help, he replies, “I don’t want no hep, I’m doing all right by myself.” Another source of humor is the bizarre...
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Form and Content (Masterplots II: Women's Literature Series)
This collection of ten short stories demonstrates O’Connor’s skill at using irony, violence, and the grotesque to create opportunities for redemption in the lives of characters who are often comical and always spiritually adrift in a realistic, yet highly symbolic world. At least one character in each story is somehow deluded and in need of an awakening by the Divine to reveal the true self and offer an opportunity for change.
Five of the stories include strong Southern women whose “sins” range from simple smugness to pride in one’s physical and material attributes as virtues. In “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” a meddlesome but good-hearted grandmother inadvertently leads her entire family to their violent deaths at the hands of a criminal known as the Misfit. After the rest of the family has been killed, the grandmother experiences a profound spiritual change while talking to the Misfit as she accepts her connection to all living things. The Misfit acknowledges that she would have been a good woman if there had been “somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.” In “A Stroke of Good Fortune,” Ruby Hill is a plump, judgmental woman returning from a visit to Madam Zoleeda, a fortune teller who informed Ruby that she is on the brink of a long illness followed by good fortune. The story ends with a stunned Ruby accepting the fact that she is pregnant, a condition she has carefully avoided and finds disgusting in others. In “A Circle in the Fire,” Mrs. Cope is the proud owner of the best-kept farm in the county, but her worst fears come true when three boys, envious of her possessions, set fire to her farm. She watches, stunned, as a column of smoke rises over her woods, and she listens to their “shrieks of joy as if the prophets were dancing in the fiery furnace, in the circle the angel had cleared for them.”
Mrs. Hopewell is a landowner in the story “Good Country People.” She lives with her grown daughter, Joy, who has changed her name to Hulga because she believes it better suits her disposition, her physical ailments, and the fact that she has no illusions about life. Hulga finds out that she is not as smart as she thought when Bible salesman Manley Pointer tricks her into handing over her wooden leg as she tries to seduce him. The story ends with poor Hulga stranded in a hay loft while Pointer happily absconds with her leg. In “The Displaced Person,” the parish priest, Father Flynn, persuades the wealthy Mrs. McIntyre to hire Mr. Guizac, a Polish war refugee or “displaced person,” to assist the African American workers and Mr. Shortley, a hired white man, in running the farm. Mrs. Shortley, afraid that Guizac will take her husband’s job, soon begins to undermine Mrs....
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Context (Masterplots II: Women's Literature Series)
While O’Connor died before the women’s movement of the 1960’s gained much momentum and never chose to identify herself openly with feminist concerns, her work itself is important to women’s literature for several reasons. In her depiction of strong, independent female characters with as much of a chance at redemption as their male counterparts, O’Connor was responsible for presenting a new, more realistic picture of white Southern women. As Alice Walker has written, “when she set her pen to them not a whiff of magnolia hovered in the air.” Walker was shocked and delighted at the humanity of O’Connor’s characters, “who are miserable, ugly, narrow-minded, atheistic, and of intense racial smugness and arrogance.”
Being a woman affected the way in which O’Connor was received during her time, particularly because the violence and general nastiness of her characters were often not admired coming from a “lady writer.” Even those critics who praised her sometimes did so in carefully couched language. Evelyn Waugh once said of O’Connor’s writing, “If this is the unaided work of a young lady it is a remarkable product.” O’Connor was the first woman to be compared to the great male Southern writer William Faulkner. By taking her art seriously, and working hard during her tragically short life to achieve the status of a great American writer, O’Connor set a standard and paved the way for women writers to come.
Compare and Contrast
Topics for Discussion
Ideas for Reports and Papers
Topics for Further Study
What Do I Read Next?
For Further Reference
Bibliography and Further Reading
Bibliography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Asals, Frederick. Flannery O’Connor: The Imagination of Extremity. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1982.
Bloom, Harold. Flannery O’Connor. New York: Chelsea House, 1986.
Cash, Jean W. Flannery O'Connor: A Life. University of Tennessee, 2002.
Cheatham, George. “Jesus, O’Connor’s Artificial Nigger.” Studies in Short Fiction 22, no. 4 (Fall, 1985): 475-479. Offers a brief discussion of the symbolism of the statue in “The Artificial Nigger.”
Cheney, Brainard. “Flannery O’Connor’s Campaign for Her Country.” Sewanee...
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