The Geranium Summary
“The Geranium” was first published in the literary quarterly magazine Accent in 1946. It was also the first of six stories Flannery O’Connor submitted to fulfill the requirements of her master’s degree in fine arts at the State University of Iowa in June 1947. (O’Connor entitled her thesis project The Geranium: A Collection of Short Stories.) Ten years later, O’Connor began to rewrite “The Geranium” and retitled it “Judgment Day,” which was published posthumously in her second short story collection, Everything That Rises Must Converge. In her early short stories, O’Connor experimented with her writing style and themes, honing the skills that eventually defined her as a major American author. During her graduate studies, O’Connor was greatly influenced by the poetry of T. S. Eliot, whose pessimistic and prophetic poem The Waste Land helped fashion the “shattered epic of modern life” that characterizes much of O’Connor’s fiction (Gooch 137).
O’Connor attended the Iowa Writer’s Workshop while working on her master’s degree. This workshop was directed by American writer, editor, and literary critic Paul Engle, who was a professor at the State University of Iowa at the time. Engle recognized O’Connor’s talent and became her mentor as well as her teacher. Many early stories O’Connor wrote for Engle’s workshop, including “The Geranium,” were read aloud and brutally critiqued by her fellow workshop attendees. The original ending of this short story, for example, was much more violent. The protagonist in the story, an old man named Dudley, spends his lonely days staring at a geranium in his neighbor’s window. Fellow workshop member Norma Hodges recalled that Old Dudley “pitched himself out of the window” in the version O’Connor first read aloud at the workshop. Hodges explained, “I think his daughter asked, ‘Where are you going?’ and Old Dudley said, ‘After that damned geranium!’” (quoted in Gooch 126). A young writer, O’Connor bowed to the opinions of her fellow writers, who claimed that this ending was “too much.” Years later, when “The Geranium” became “Judgment Day,” the mature O’Connor wrote the old man's death, as in her original, violent ending.
O’Connor began reworking and...
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The Barber Summary
“The Barber” is one of the six stories included in Flannery O’Connor’s 1947 master’s thesis titled The Geranium: A Collection of Short Stories. It was first published in 1947 in New Signatures, an anthology of student writing (O’Connor 551). It later appeared in her second short story collection, The Complete Stories, published in 1971. According to O’Connor’s biographer, Brad Gooch, O’Connor was inspired to write this topical short story by events that occurred while she was in the Iowa Writer’s Workshop at the State University of Iowa. Black students at the university were unable to get haircuts at Jim Crow barbers in Iowa City or on campus, and many drove 21 miles to Cedar Rapids for their haircuts. The president of the university refused to take a position on this issue so a married couple finally opened University Barber Shop to accommodate the black students (Gooch 132).
O’Connor’s story takes place in a barber shop in Dilton, a fictional college town in the rural South. The story explores racial tensions between a liberal college professor named Rayber and a racist barber and his patrons (O’Connor would later expand Rayber into a character for her second novel, The Violent Bear It Away). “The Barber” illustrates how ignorance fuels racism. It also demonstrates the futility of trying to fight ingrained Southern racism with mere intellectualism. Rayber’s anger over the racist comments and beliefs he encounters in the barbershop is mostly cerebral. His arguments against the barbershop bigots seem quite erudite when Rayber rehearses them in his head, but they are ineffective when he tries them out on real people. No one appreciates Rayber’s rhetoric except Rayber himself. His discourse is on an intellectual level far beyond that of his opponents, so the ignorant men retaliate the only way they know how—treating Rayber and his arguments as a joke. The result is a frustrating stalemate for Rayber. He punches the barber in the face. When intellectualism fails him, he resorts to violence, lowering himself to the level of ignorance where bigots dwell. If two men cannot settle their differences in a civilized way, there is not much hope for society.
Dilton is a town in the deep South, and Rayber is a liberal college professor who lives there. Many of the people who live in Dilton are racist, even some of Rayber’s...
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“The Wildcat” is one of the six stories included in Flannery O’Connor’s 1947 master’s thesis titled The Geranium: A Collection of Short Stories. It was written sometime prior to 1947. O’Connor submitted the story to The Southwest Review in the summer of 1946 but it was rejected (Whitt 209). The story was first published posthumously in 1970 in The North American Review with the permission of O’Connor’s literary executor and longtime friend, Robert Fitzgerald (O’Connor 551). The story was later included in The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor, published in 1971. Most scholars and critics agree that none of the six stories in O’Connor’s master’s thesis are comparable to her later stories. These early works do not contain the violence, grotesque characters, and religious themes of her more mature fiction. Nevertheless, these six stories were skillfully written, imaginative, and unique enough to bring her writing to the attention of Paul Engle, head of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and O’Connor’s earliest mentor, who encouraged the talented young writer to submit her stories for publication. “The Wildcat” provides valuable insights into the topics, characters, and themes with which O’Connor experimented as a young writer and perfected as a mature writer. O’Connor scholar Margaret Earley Whitt points out that this story is the first one in which O’Connor deals with a physical disability (the protagonist, Old Gabriel, is blind) (Whitt 210). It is the first story in which Black people are cast as characters; it is also unique because it is the only story of O’Connor’s in which all of the characters are Black. O’Connor attempts to present the southern “Negro” characters in this short story in what she believed was a realistic way, experimenting with Negro dialect as well. “The Wildcat” is also the first story in which O’Connor ventures into the mystical, naming her protagonist Gabriel after the Biblical archangel and messenger of God who will blow his horn to wake the dead on Judgment Day.
Old Gabriel may be blind, but he can sense that a wildcat is loose in the woods. He can smell it. It reminds him of the time when he was a boy and a wildcat came around “huntin’ blood.” Amused, Gabriel’s grandsons assure him that this wildcat is only hunting cows, not humans. A man named Jupe Williams saw the cat while...
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The Turkey Summary
“The Turkey” is one of the six stories included in Flannery O’Connor’s 1947 master’s thesis, entitled The Geranium: A Collection of Short Stories. It was written sometime before June of 1947. Originally entitled “The Capture,” it was first published in November 1948 by Mademoiselle. In 1955 when O’Connor was selecting stories to be included in her first short story collection, entitled A Good Man Is Hard to Find, she rewrote “The Turkey” and retitled it “An Afternoon in the Woods.” O’Connor ultimately decided not to include it in the collection, however, because she had completed another short story entitled “Good Country People” that she liked better (Whitt 220). The original version of “The Turkey” was later reprinted in Best Stories from Mademoiselle in 1961 (O’Connor 551). Ten years later, it was also included in The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor.
O’Connor was a bird lover from early childhood. When she moved back home to Milledgeville, Georgia, after being diagnosed with the autoimmune disease lupus, she began raising peacocks. As a preschooler she drew cartoons of turkeys, and when she was five years old she trained a chicken to walk backwards. Her “celebrity chicken” brought her some degree of fame when a “Yankee photographer” from New York City came to the O’Connor home in Savannah, Georgia, to film the chicken for the Pathé News. In her letters, O’Connor wrote that the event “marked me for life” (Gooch 3). Birds appear in many of her stories as symbols and motifs, in this short story, she uses a turkey as a central symbol for faith.
“The Turkey” is the first short story in which O’Connor deals with the religious faith that would dominate most of her later works (Gooch 132). The story is an allegory of how mankind often incorrectly characterizes God as a quid-pro-quo being who entices people into following him. Full of unexpected plot twists, this short story also contains many Biblical allusions that illustrate a young boy’s struggle with his faith.
Eleven-year-old Ruller is playing cowboys in the woods all by himself. O’Connor uses imagery to reveal that he finds a turkey—“a touch of bronze” with “the eye, set in red folds that covered the head and hung down along the neck.” Ruller wishes he had a gun so he could shoot the turkey...
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The Train Summary
“The Train” is the last of the six stories included in Flannery O’Connor’s 1947 master’s thesis at Iowa State University. Written sometime before June 1947, the story was first published individually in the literary quarterly Sewanee Review in April 1948 (O’Connor 552). O’Connor later revised and expanded this short story into the first chapter of her debut novel, Wise Blood, which would take her an additional five years to complete. O’Connor’s biographer Brad Gooch explains that O’Connor’s inspiration for this short story was a train ride home to Georgia for the holidays:
There was a Tennessee boy on it [the train] in uniform who was much taken up worrying the porter about how the berths were made up; the porter was so regal he just barely tolerated the boy. (quoted in Gooch 134)
O’Connor reworked “The Train” many times while she was a graduate student in the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, continually transforming the main character, Hazel Wickers, until she finally settled on a “comic antihero” for his personality (Gooch 135).
Hazel (“Haze”) Wickers is a nineteen-year-old man on furlough from the military. As the story opens, Haze is on a train heading for Taulkinham (an imaginary town) to visit his sister. He wishes he could go home to Eastrod, Tennessee, but his hometown no longer exists. Haze is fearful and alone, uncertain of himself and awkward. He is obsessed by thoughts of Eastrod. Every person and every experience he has on the train reminds him of something “back home.” He is also haunted by memories of his dead mother. This short story is extremely cerebral compared to the others in O’Connor’s thesis. The entire plot focuses on the disconnection between what Haze is thinking and what is actually happening around him. Five years later when O’Connor transforms Hazel Wickers into Hazel Motes, the protagonist in Wise Blood, he is, as O’Connor scholar Dorothy Whitt points out, the first of O’Connor’s characters “to be consumed by the vertical relationship of man to God” (Whitt 219). In this short story, however, Hazel Wickers is a lonely and confused young man, alienated from his home and his family, on a train to nowhere.
Everything on the train to Taulkinham reminds Hazel Wickers of his home in Eastrod, Tennessee, beginning with the porter. Haze...
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The Peeler Summary
“The Peeler” is one of four short stories Flannery O’Connor revised to include as chapters in her debut novel, Wise Blood (“The Train,” “Heart of the Park,” and “Enoch and the Gorilla” were the other three). “The Peeler” became the third chapter in Wise Blood, but it was published as a short story in the literary quarterly Partisan Review in 1949 (O’Connor 552). By that time, Hazel Wickers, the main character in “The Train,” had become Hazel Motes (Haze) in “The Peeler” and ultimately in Wise Blood. In the short story, Haze meets the two men who will also become major characters in Wise Blood: Enoch Emory, an alienated young man who tries to befriend Haze, and a blind preacher named Asa Shrike, who becomes Asa Hawks in the novel. Both Enoch and Asa fight for Haze’s soul. Throughout “The Peeler,” Enoch is a dark angel perched on one of Haze’s shoulders, urging him to “have us some fun” while Asa is a white angel perched on the other shoulder urging Haze to “repent!”
Hazel Motes is one of Flannery O’Connor’s early grotesques (a character who generates both empathy and disgust), a psychologically warped young man with a distorted image of reality. Like many of O’Connor’s characters, Haze is on parallel journeys, one carnal and one spiritual. The conflict of the story centers on Haze choosing between the two. This short story contains many of the elements that would distinguish O’Connor’s later work: religious imagery, Biblical allusions, and man’s inner struggle with his sin and spiritual natures. Some have called this strange story a parable because embedded in scenes of seemingly ordinary (albeit bizarre) slices of life, there is a moral lesson to be learned and, as is always the case with Flannery O’Connor’s writing, a spiritual lesson. Hazel Motes is a sinner with “a secret need” for redemption who denies this need and tries to run away from God. God does not give up on Haze, however. As the blind preacher reminds him, all mankind has knowledge of God and “them that have knowledge can’t swap it for ignorance.” Once one is “marked” by God, the preacher tells Haze, “there ain’t nothing you can do about it.”
Hazel Motes has just arrived in the fictional city of Taulkingham (O’Connor’s symbolic Atlanta) after a long train ride (first described in the story...
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The Heart of the Park Summary
“The Heart of the Park” is one of four short stories Flannery O’Connor revised to include as chapters in her debut novel, Wise Blood. (“The Train,” “The Peeler,” and “Enoch and the Gorilla” were the other three.) “The Heart of the Park” was published as a short story by the literary quarterly Partisan Review in February 1949 (O’Connor 552). It later became chapter five in Wise Blood.
Like the other short stories that would become part of Wise Blood, “The Heart of the Park” is allegorical, conveying its theme by means of symbolism and religious imagery. O’Connor juxtaposes carnal and spiritual images as in the other three stories, and the central themes are sin and redemption. There are characteristic Biblical allusions and what scholar Andre Bleikasten calls O’Connor’s practice of contrasting “her mundane, profane beginnings and her otherworldly endings.” The violent ending right before the moment of grace that would appear in many of O’Connor’s future stories appears for the first time in “The Heart of the Park.”
The protagonist in this short story is Enoch Emery, the strange young man who was first introduced in “The Peeler” and who would become one of the main characters in Wise Blood. The character of Haze also appears in this short story, but as Hazel Weaver (he was Hazel Wickers in “The Train” and Hazel Motes in “The Peeler” and in Wise Blood). The blind preacher and his daughter who were introduced in “The Peeler” are alluded to in this short story because Haze is trying to get in touch with them and believes Enoch knows where they live. In this short story, O’Connor develops Enoch into one of her grotesques (a character who generates both empathy and disgust). It is also from this story that O’Connor obtained the title for her novel: Enoch’s blood tells him things; he has “wise blood like his daddy.”
Enoch Emery works as a guard at the Taulkinham City Forest Park. The park contains an unholy trinity: a swimming pool, a zoo, and a museum. In the swimming pool, Enoch observes people as if they were animals in a zoo. In the zoo, Enoch watches the animals as if they were people, and in the museum Enoch is obsessed by a shrunken mummy in a glass case who is neither animal nor human. Although a typewritten card provides information about the shrunken...
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A Stroke of Good Fortune Summary
“A Stroke of Good Fortune” was included in Flannery O’Connor’s first collection of short stories, A Good Man Is Hard to Find, but it was first published in 1949. The date is significant because this story alludes to radically changing post-World War II social and moral values such as women’s rights and birth control. Such values were an anathema to a devout Catholic like Flannery O’Connor, who often equated progressiveness with sinfulness in her fiction.
The story’s protagonist, Ruby Hill, is a familiar O’Connor character type—an angst-ridden, spiritually bereft woman guilty of two of what O’Connor believed to be the worst of the deadly sins: pride and envy. Determined to be a progressive woman, unlike her mother who was “done in” by eight children, Ruby is proud of the fact that at age thirty-four, she has escaped motherhood. She dreams of moving to the suburbs. Although a fortune teller predicts that she will experience “a long illness,” Ruby clings to the second part of the prediction—that the illness will bring her “a stroke of good fortune.” That stroke of good fortune, however, is not moving to the suburbs. Ruby is pregnant.
Ruby is so caught up by the idea of “the American Dream” and her failure to have achieved it that she cannot recognize the joy that surrounds her. The warped sense of reality with which she views everything causes her to assume that the people that share her humble surroundings are as miserable as she is. Three prophet-like characters are sent to tell her otherwise on her journey up the “steeple” steps to her fourth-floor apartment, but she is blind to their message. In her selfish quest to avoid sacrificing her life for others (as in motherhood), she fails to realize that self-sacrifice can lead to fulfillment.
Ruby has just come home from the grocery store which is more than eight blocks away from her apartment. She is tired, discouraged, and grumpy. She hardly has enough energy to set her grocery sack down on the table in the foyer. In the first few lines of the story, Ruby reveals herself to be prideful. Her lazy, unmotivated baby brother Rufus, who has “about as much get as a floor mop,” has come back from the war to live with Ruby and her husband, Bill, a salesman. Ignoring the fact that Rufus has been willing to sacrifice his...
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Enoch and the Gorilla Summary
“Enoch and the Gorilla” is one of four short stories Flannery O’Connor revised to include as chapters in her debut novel, Wise Blood. (“The Train,” “The Peeler,” and “The Heart of the Park” are the other three.) “Enoch and the Gorilla” was published as a short story in the literary anthology magazine New World Writing in April 1952 (O’Connor 552). It later became Chapter 12 in Wise Blood, the final chapter involving Enoch Emery, one of the two main characters.
Of the four short stories that would eventually become part of Wise Blood, this story is one of two in which Enoch Emery is the protagonist (“The Heart of the Park” is the other one). In the other stories, Haze is the main character. Haze does not appear in “Enoch in the Gorilla.” It took Flannery O’Connor more than five years to finish Wise Blood. During that time, she revised these four short stories many times, completely changing the roles that Enoch and Haze would play by the time they appeared in the novel. In this short story (written several years after the other three), Enoch has evolved into the characteristic Flannery O’Connor grotesque (a character who generates both empathy and disgust) he would be in Wise Blood.
The first and only hand that has been extended to Enoch Emery since he arrived in the city is warm and soft and belongs to Gonga the gorilla. Gonga is actually a man in a gorilla suit who has been paid to shake hands with people as part of a traveling show. Enoch is a lonely, eighteen-year-old boy who was forced to come to the city by a brutal father whose cruel idea of a joke was to give his four-year-old son a tin box with a picture of peanut brittle on its lid and the caption “a nutty surprise.” The surprise was a piece of coiled steel that flew out of the box when Enoch opened it, breaking his two front teeth and forever ruining his appearance. Enoch lives in a lonely room rented from a landlady who sometimes lends him an old umbrella that she no longer uses. He works at the city zoo and eats at the Paris Diner, “a tunnel about six feet wide” that is two blocks from his room. When the story opens, Enoch is walking down the street in the rain wearing his dark glasses and struggling with the borrowed umbrella, which keeps coming down on him “with a shriek” and “stabbing him in the back of the neck.”...
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A Late Encounter With the Enemy Summary
In August 1951, Flannery O’Connor read a story in her hometown paper, The Milledgeville Union-Recorder, about a “dashing” 106-year-old Confederate general named William J. Bush. Photographed in full-dress uniform, the General was attending a graduation ceremony for his 62-year-old wife at Georgia State College for Women (Gooch 202). O’Connor was an enthusiastic reader of local news and gossip, ever on the lookout for inspiration for her fiction. Quirky stories such as this one appealed to her sardonic sense of humor. She often clipped them out and enclosed them with letters to her friends. This particular news article inspired her short story “A Late Encounter With the Enemy."
The Civil War often appears in O’Connor’s short stories to illustrate what she believed was the South’s preoccupation with a part of its history that Southerners should learn from but not continue to be haunted by. O’Connor wrote in her letters that she was “so sick of the Civil War” (The Habit of Being 246). Gone with the Wind (the novel and subsequent film on the Civil War) was a standing joke in her life and letters, and in “A Late Encounter With the Enemy” she pokes fun at this Southern obsession by alluding to the film’s 1939 Atlanta premiere. In this short story, the fictional 104-year-old General Tennessee Flintrock Sash is a Civil War relic who is regularly put on display each time there is some sort of ceremony or event, especially one associated with the Civil War. The graduate is his granddaughter, Sally Poker Sash, a 62-year-old woman who is finally getting her college degree. Sally and the General are familiar O’Connor character types, lacking in compassion for others and focused on themselves. Each of them is using the other for selfish motives. Sally is using her grandfather’s celebrity status to identify herself with an aristocratic, genteel past that no longer exists. The General is using Sally’s graduation ceremony as another opportunity for him to be up on stage, the only thing that gives his life meaning. They are both prideful. O’Connor finds human pride intolerable, and most of her fiction is dedicated to exposing it as a great enemy of humankind.
In typical O’Connor fashion, this short story presents readers with opposing forces. Both the General and Sally are attempting to glorify and live in the present because their pasts are based on lies. They are...
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A Temple of the Holy Ghost Summary
Flannery O'Connor's religious beliefs are evident in most of her short stories. Nowhere are they as explicit as in "A Temple of the Holy Ghost,” published in 1955 as part of her first short story collection, A Good Man Is Hard to Find. Although this story deals with characteristic O’Connor religious themes, it differs from her other stories because her usual biting satire is softened with an atypical sympathy for the characters, making the omniscient narrator's point of view “more complex and humane” than is sometimes associated with O’Connor. The ornery twelve-year-old child at the center of "A Temple of the Holy Ghost” has a spiritual awakening that replaces her stubborn pride with repentance and leads her to ultimate redemption in a gentler way than most of O’Connor’s characters experience (Joy/Hulga in "Good Country People" or Mrs. Turpin in "Revelation," for example).
O’Connor employs one of her trademark fictional strategies in "A Temple of the Holy Ghost." She begins with the mundane but ends with an out-of-this world epiphany, rich with Biblical and religious allusions. Like most of her stories, this one also reflects events and people in the author’s life. O’Connor once described herself as a “very ancient 12-year-old.” The protagonist in this short story is much like the young Mary Flannery herself, a girl with distinct anti-nun sentiments in spite of her love of the Catholic religion. O’Connor actually did have two young cousins who visited her regularly as a child, and the Catholic school in the short story (Mount St. Scholastica) is modeled after St. Vincent’s, a Sisters of Mercy school in Savannah which O’Connor attended, complete with a real-life Sister Perpetua. Like the hermaphrodite in the story, O’Connor had her own “crippling condition”—the autoimmune disease lupus, which would eventually kill her at age thirty-nine. This story also draws upon O’Connor’s experiences growing up Catholic in “The Bible Belt” with its comical portrayal of the Church of God boys singing Protestant hymns to two Catholic school girls. O’Connor’s distinctive wry humor enriches both the characters and the plot, but in spite of the underlying humor, the theme is quite serious.
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You Can't Be Any Poorer Than Dead Summary
“You Can’t Be Any Poorer Than Dead” was published as a short story in the literary anthology magazine New World Writing in October 1955 (O’Connor 552). Flannery O’Connor later revised and rewrote the short story for her second novel, The Violent Bear It Away, considered by most critics to be a classic example of Southern gothic fiction. The title of the story comes from Matthew 11:12:
From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away.
In many of O’Connor’s stories, when God’s grace encounters the evil and violence of sin, sometimes a stronger opposing violence is necessary before sin can be burned away and the sinner redeemed. The violence that begins in this story and continues in the novel is instigated by the devil himself, and only God’s grace can bear it away.
Both of Flannery O’Connor’s novels, Wise Blood and The Violent Bear It Away, feature alienated young men who journey toward redemption in a hostile, secular world. This short story, which would become the opening chapter of The Violent Bear It Away, introduces the novel’s fourteen-year-old protagonist, Francis Mason Tarwater. Young Tarwater has been named after his great uncle, Mason Tarwater (Old Tarwater), a self-proclaimed prophet of God who “rescued” the boy from his schoolteacher uncle, Rayber, and has raised him in an isolated, backwoods cabin. Old Tarwater has given the boy what he believes is a good education, consisting mostly of religion. All he asks in return is that the boy bury him properly when he dies. Young Tarwater is the son of Rayber’s deceased sister. In Rayber’s mind, his uncle has isolated and brainwashed the boy and keeps him around solely to dig the old man’s grave when he dies.
The Violent Bear It Away is a novel about the struggle between good and evil and man’s free will to choose between the two. When Old Tarwater dies, his rigid control of his grand-nephew suddenly disappears, leaving the boy to make his own spiritual choices. When O’Connor rewrote this story for her novel, she made it clearer that Old Tarwater expected his grand nephew to take his place as a prophet of God when he died. In the novel and in the short story, Tarwater rebels against this destiny by getting drunk, refusing to bury his uncle, setting fire to...
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A View of the Woods Summary
“A View of the Woods” was first published in the fall 1957 edition of Partisan Review, a literary quarterly magazine. It is the third story in Everything That Rises Must Converge, O’Connor’s second short story collection published in 1965. This story is one of many that deals with a dysfunctional family—a precocious child and a surrogate parent, in this case a grandfather. Along with three other stories in this second collection, “A View of the Woods” features a property motif that is also common in O’Connor’s fiction, especially the later stories that were written from her native Georgia. After O’Connor was diagnosed with the autoimmune disease lupus at age 25, she was forced to return home to her family’s dairy farm called Andalusia in Milledgeville, Georgia, managed by her mother, Regina. Like the Pitts family in this short story, O’Connor was saddened when her mother sold some of the timberland on Andalusia to raise money for the operation of the dairy farm (Gooch 280). In this short story, a family’s livelihood is threatened by a prideful, controlling old miser who threatens to sell the land that he owns but on which his daughter and family live and farm.
O’Connor called this story “a little morality play” that “is not very cheerful” (The Habit of Being 186). She worried that it would not sell because it was “a little grim” for most people's tastes. In spite of her fears, the story won the O. Henry Award for fiction and has been reprinted several times and included in many prominent collections of American short stories. Critics agree that its moral is a common one in O’Connor’s fiction—pride goes before a fall—but its characters are complex, the imagery is powerful, and the ending is shocking.
Nine-year-old Mary Fortune Pitts is her grandfather’s pride and joy. Unlike most doting grandparents, Mr. Fortune only takes pride in the girl because she looks exactly like him; because she looks like him, he believes she is “the smartest and prettiest child” he has ever seen. He is the only one in the family that is glad she looks like him. The girl is like him on the inside as well. No other family member has Mr. Fortune’s strong will, push, and drive, so Mary Fortune Pitts is the only member of the family for whom Mr. Fortune has any respect. Mr. Fortune has turned his granddaughter into an idol of his own...
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The Comforts of Home Summary
“The Comforts of Home” by Flannery O’Connor was first published in the fall 1960 edition of The Kenyon Review, a literary magazine founded by literary critic, teacher, and long-time O’Connor admirer John Crowe Ransom. It is the fifth story in O’Connor’s second short story collection, Everything That Rises Must Converge, published in 1965. This story is one of four in that collection that deal with mother–son issues. Three of the stories end with the mother’s death; in this one, the son is the killer.
Particular character types and human relationships populate O’Connor’s fiction, and many of her stories focus on parents and children. Critic Helen S. Garson points out that in O’Connor’s fiction, there are rarely two parents, there are often surrogate parents (grandfathers, grandmothers, uncles, granduncles, etc.) and almost always there is only one child. Thomas, the protagonist in “The Comforts of Home,” is a familiar O’Connor character type: a single, adult male who lives at home with his widowed mother. Thomas is prideful about his intellect, condescending toward those he deems inferior, and totally dependent upon his mother for support. Like many O’Connor grown-up children, Thomas is the most hostile and condescending toward the person on whom he depends—his mother. The frustration he experiences as a result of his weak character and dependence on his mother transforms his annoyance into violence when his mother brings a rival for his affection into their home. Thomas’s self-sacrificing mother has provided him with all the comforts of home, but in spite of this, in O’Connor’s own words, “this fellow falls flat on his face in the last paragraph” (The Habit of Being 250).
Thomas is a 35-year-old local events historian who lives at home with his widowed mother. His life is made bearable by the fruits of his mother’s labors, not his own. Although his mother provides Thomas with a “well-regulated house” and “excellent meals,” she frustrates him with her “out of hand” virtue that often results, in Thomas’s view, in misplaced charity. Thomas’s father had kept his wife’s charitable impulses under control when he was alive, but now his mother stubbornly but passively ignores Thomas’s weak protestations. Thomas believes that his mother’s good intentions are founded on a “mindless intensity” that...
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The Partridge Festival Summary
“The Partridge Festival” was published in a Catholic journal called The Critic in March 1961. It was one of Flannery O’Connor’s least favorite short stories. She wrote to her friend Maryat Lee on September 6, 1959, that she was currently working on a story “that seems very lightweight indeed” and not much of a challenge (The Habit of Being 348). On May 20, 1964, she wrote to her publisher, Robert Giroux, that she did not want to include “The Partridge Festival” in her latest collection of short stories, Everything That Rises Must Converge. “I have decided that it is a very sorry story and I don’t want it in” (The Habit of Being 579). The story was not included in any collection until 1971, when The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor was published posthumously.
O’Connor was an enthusiastic reader of local news and gossip, ever on the lookout for inspiration for her fiction. She often clipped articles from newspapers and magazines and enclosed them in letters to her friends. “The Partridge Festival” was inspired by a double homicide and suicide that took place in 1953 in her hometown, Milledgeville, Georgia. Marion Stembridge, a local grocer and moneylender, refused to grow a beard to celebrate the town’s sesquicentennial. A mock trial was held and Stembridge was jokingly put in stocks. Afterward, he went on a shooting rampage, killing the town’s two most prominent attorneys before turning the gun on himself (Gooch 234). The two elderly aunts in the story, Bessie and Mattie, were patterned after O’Connor’s aunts Mary and Katie (Gooch 55) and the real-life Quincey State Hospital was located two miles outside of Milledgeville (The Habit of Being 443).
Pseudo-intellectualism is a common motif in O’Connor’s fiction. In this short story, two young, self-styled intellectuals travel to the state mental hospital to visit Singleton, a murderer whom they idealistically view as a scapegoat for the town’s narrow-mindedness and bigotry. In reality, Singleton is a sex-crazed lunatic who has murdered six people during the annual Azalea Festival. The two would-be writers, Mary Elizabeth and Calhoun, are shocked into realizing the foolishness of their naïveté when confronted by the demonic Singleton, who rewards their misguided faith in his so-called victimhood by exposing himself.
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Why Do the Heathen Rage Summary
“Why Do the Heathen Rage?” is an excerpt from what might have become Flannery O’Connor’s third novel. According to O’Connor scholar Dorothy Whitt, the O’Connor archives at Georgia College have 378 pages of O’Connor’s unfinished third novel, but they only make up six chapters (Whitt 227). This short story was first published in Esquire Magazine in 1963 (O’Connor 554). O’Connor died on August 3, 1964 before she could finish her third novel. On November 5, 1962, O’Connor wrote to her publisher Robert Giroux that she was working on a story with this title—“It’s been inevitable I get around to that title sooner or later” (The Habit of Being 498). The title originally comes from Psalms 2:1: “Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?” O’Connor’s attention was drawn to this particular verse through the Atlanta newspapers, which featured a column with the same title written by an eccentric Bible scholar named Robert Scott (Whitt 227).
The characters in this short story are familiar O’Connor caricatures—a strong-willed mother, an intellectual but weak son whose mother does not understand him, an impotent father (who has just had a stroke in this short story) and an overbearing schoolteacher sister. O’Connor also develops a familiar theme in this short story, that of modern man adrift in a secular world, unfulfilled by intellectualism, denying the existence of any supreme being, really having no beliefs because he accepts all beliefs.
Tilman has just had a stroke. The only part of him that reveals anything of his former personality is his left eye, which burns with rage. His wife is hoping that this tragic turn of events will shock her do-nothing son Walter into doing something—taking responsibility for managing the family farm. When the ambulance brings Tilman home, his enraged left eye seems to look at Walter without recognizing him. Nor does Tilman seem to recognize his wife or his bossy daughter, Mary Maud, who is barking orders at the ambulance driver as well as at her brother. The only person Tilman acknowledges with any affection is his Negro yard man, Roosevelt, who now will serve as his nurse. Walter quietly observes his family—his father’s face, Roosevelt’s tears, Mary Maud’s confusion, his mother’s reaction. His mother notices his stares and glares at him, “The responsibility is yours now.”...
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Flannery O’Connor’s “Revelation” was published in 1965 as part of her second collection of short stories, Everything That Rises Must Converge. Like most of her short stories, “Revelation” was inspired by events in the author’s life. Flannery O’Connor was diagnosed with the inherited autoimmune disease lupus when she was twenty-five years old. Like her father, she would eventually die of the disease. “Revelation” was written during a time when she was spending many hours in doctors’ waiting rooms similar to the one in this story. Flannery’s disease forced her to give up her independent lifestyle and return home to Georgia to live with her mother, who became her caregiver. By this time, Flannery’s mother, now widowed, had become an astute businesswoman in charge of managing the family farm, Andalusia, outside of Milledgeville, Georgia. Many of Flannery’s female characters are based on her mother, Regina O’Connor—strong, often domineering Southern women obsessed with the world of “things” such as land, livestock, crops, and property. Mrs. Turpin in “Revelation” is such a woman. In addition, she is typical of other O’Connor characters that are pious on the outside but prejudiced on the inside. Despite Mrs. Turpin’s exalted opinion of herself, in God’s eyes she is just as much in need of grace as the people she belittles. This is her “revelation” from God and thus the title of the story.
Flannery O’Connor was a devoted Bible student, reading and studying it all her life. “Revelation” contains many Biblical and theological allusions that reflect O’Connor’s religious beliefs—namely, that everyone is a sinner in need of grace and that grace is unmerited favor. Mrs. Turpin’s vision of the bridge to heaven, reminiscent of Saint Peter’s dream in which a sheet from heaven contains both clean and unclean animals (Acts: Chapter 10), is a final “revelation” that all kinds of people are welcome into heaven if they repent.
Mrs. Turpin and her husband, Claud, enter the very small doctor’s waiting room. Claud has been kicked by a cow and has an injured leg. There is only one vacant chair. Annoyed that the doctor’s waiting room is “hardly bigger than a garage,” Mrs. Turpin orders Claud to take the chair...
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Judgment Day Summary
“Judgment Day” was Flannery O’Connor’s last short story. Her long-time friend and publisher, Robert Giroux, explained in his introduction to The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor that this story was a revised and expanded version of her first short story, “The Geranium.” O’Connor had been working on its revision off and on since 1955 (O’Connor xvi). O’Connor originally wrote “The Geranium” to fulfill the requirements for her master’s thesis in fine arts from the State University of Iowa in 1947. The reworked “Judgment Day” was published posthumously in 1965 in O’Connor’s second collection of short stories entitled Everything That Rises Must Converge. In a letter to Giroux in May 1964, O’Connor explained that she was hoping to finish “Judgment Day” in time for Giroux to include it in her second short story collection in place of “The Partridge Festival,” which she decided was “a very sorry story and I don’t want it in” (The Habit of Being 579).
“Judgment Day” is the only short story by O’Connor that does not take place in the South, although it is haunted by what she called “the ghosts of the South.” The story includes much of what distinguishes O’Connor’s fiction, but it is one of a few stories in which she mixes sympathy with her characteristic satire. The characters are complex and symbolic; the writing is ironic and humorous; the motifs are mysterious; the conflicts deal with race relations; and the themes converge on faith, redemption, and judgment. It is a story that is often considered difficult to understand. Scholar Margaret Earley Whitt noted that Flannery O’Connor explained her themes by pointing out that “if the Christian faith is in place for the reader, the work will be understandable” (Whitt 10). O’Connor also knew, however, that the majority of her audience would not be reading her fiction with the eyes of faith. Most of her readers would be of the same mind as Mr. Tanner’s daughter and the “Negro” actor in this short story: “There ain’t no Jesus and there ain’t no God”—it’s just “a lot of hardshell Baptist hooey.” This is why O’Connor’s characters are often distortions (or grotesques) and her plots violent. O’Connor used this approach to force readers to understand that no matter how grotesque people may be, they are still...
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The Artificial Nigger Summary
Many scholars believe that “The Artificial Nigger” is Flannery O’Connor’s best short story. In her letters, O’Connor claimed that it was her personal favorite, describing it as “the best thing I will ever write” (The Habit of Being 209). The story deals with two themes that were important to O’Connor throughout her fiction: it exposes racism, and the pride and ignorance that spawn racism; it also explores the mystery of grace and mercy, and their importance to human beings. O’Connor explained that what she tried to suggest with this short story “was the redemptive quality of the Negro’s suffering for us all” (Habit 78). Not all scholars and critics agree that O’Connor achieved that particular goal, possibly because she was limited by her time, place, and white Catholic perspective. Most do agree, however, that “The Artificial Nigger” tempers her distinctive satiric style with a rare sympathy for her characters.
In typical O’Connor fashion, “The Artificial Nigger” sets up several opposing forces. There is a bigoted, mean-spirited grandfather who fancies himself a wise and appropriate guide for the young, and there is his equally stubborn and competitive grandson, intent on outdoing his grandfather whenever he can. There is the narrow-minded rural white community where the grandfather and grandson live, and there is the sprawling city of Atlanta, “full of niggers,” where they journey to learn their respective lessons. There is a modern secular world of trains and machines, and there is the mysterious spiritual world of sin and salvation. Other characteristic O’Connor touches include a mythic journey of discovery (O’Connor compares Mr. Head and Nelson to Virgil and Dante), dialogue rich in irony, and characters on the verge of spiritual epiphanies.
John Crowe Ransom, the story’s first publisher, urged O’Connor to change the title before he published it in his Kenyon Review. “I hate to insult the black folks’ sensibilities,” he wrote to her (and while reading the story aloud to students in his writers’ workshop, Ransom changed the word “nigger” to “Negro”). O’Connor responded, “the story as a whole is much more damaging to white folk’s sensibilities than to black” (quoted in Gooch 253). O’Connor explained that the story’s title originated from instructions...
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The Crop Summary
“The Crop” is one of the six stories included in Flannery O’Connor’s 1947 master’s thesis titled The Geranium: A Collection of Short Stories. It was written sometime prior to 1946. O’Connor submitted this story, along with one entitled “The Geranium,” to the literary magazine Accent in her first attempt to become a published author. Just before her twenty-first birthday, she was notified that “The Geranium” was accepted for publication (Gooch 127). “The Crop” was first published posthumously by Mademoiselle in 1971 with the permission of O’Connor’s literary executor and long-time friend, Robert Fitzgerald. It later appeared in her second short story collection, The Complete Stories, published in 1971 (O’Connor 551).
In a note accompanying its publication, Robert Fitzgerald wrote that although “The Crop” was obviously far from O’Connor’s best work, it nevertheless promised “the exacting art, the stringent spirit, and the sheer kick of her mature work” (quoted in O’Connor 551). “The Crop” is the story of Miss Willerton, a spinster who aspires to be a writer but is no more successful at producing stories than she is at producing children or crops. She is inept at the simplest household chores, so her sisters put her in charge of crumbing the table. Crumbing is a mindless task that does not require any domestic skills. Miss Willerton conjures up story ideas as she sweeps the crumbs into the crumb-catcher. She has convinced herself that writing is a more worthwhile endeavor than cooking or cleaning, but she spends more time thinking of stories than actually producing them.
The writing process that O’Connor describes in this short story bears many similarities to her own. Like Miss Willerton, O’Connor spent long periods of time alone in her room writing. She, too, worked for hours on just a few sentences, only to discard them over and over. She, too, was extremely critical of her own work. From her letters, Flannery O’Connor also seems to have lacked domestic skills, often surviving on canned tuna and vanilla wafers when she lived alone. Unlike Miss Willerton, however, self-criticism did not paralyze O’Connor and prevent her from producing any stories. O’Connor wrote thirty-one short stories and two novels. Miss Willerton’s creative spark remains trapped inside a mind that cannot free itself from the restraints of what she...
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