Good Versus Evil and Faith Versus Reason
Rufus frankly and repeatedly admits that he is evil, but Sheppard refuses to believe him, reasoning he can “reform” Rufus by giving him a greater purpose in life. Sheppard might mean well, but his denial of evil indicates an arrogance that prizes the intellect over simple faith. Rufus, on the other hand, in spite of being very intelligent, rejects intellectual reasoning and believes there is no greater sin than not having something to believe in—an absolute by which life can be assessed. Thus, Rufus knows that he will go to hell and that if Norton is good, he will go to heaven. Sheppard, however, rejects this either/or view and refuses to believe anything on faith; instead, he requires the hard evidence of science. For this reason, he says that the Bible is something “to hide behind” and exists “for people who are afraid to stand on their own two feet and figure out things for themselves.” Rufus’s behavior finally dries up Sheppard’s compassion, bringing about an epiphany of love for his son, who represents goodness and innocence. Norton’s death signifies O’Connor’s suggestion that tragic consequences might result from valuing our intellectual abilities over faith, which is necessary to distinguish between and understand good and evil.

Selfishness Versus Compassion
While Sheppard repeatedly criticizes his child for being so selfish that he thinks of no one but himself, it is Sheppard who acts for his own self-aggrandizement even though he thinks he is “doing good” for the benefit of others. Although Norton is miserable over the death of his mother, Sheppard feels no compassion for him at all. Indeed, he does not feel real compassion for Rufus either but instead views him as a sort of social experiment “worth any amount of effort because [Rufus] had the potential” to become something in life: he has a high IQ, and “where there...

(The entire section is 530 words.)