Flannery O’Connor often uses violence in her stories for a number of reasons.
In the first place, O’Connor felt that most human beings, at least in the modern era, live complacent, comfortable, unquestioning lives. They focus on their present material existences and neglect their ultimate spiritual fates. They take life for granted and fail to realize that life on earth is merely a very brief prelude to an eternal existence, either in heaven or in hell. By using violence in her fiction, O’Connor often seeks to shock both her characters and her readers into an awareness of what really matters in life. Often the characters and readers who are shocked in this way no longer take life – or other persons – for granted.
For example, at the end of “Everything That Rises Must Converge,” the death of Julian’s mother helps Julian finally appreciate how much she meant to him and how much he should have been loving and appreciating her throughout the story. He would never have had this important revelation if his mother had not been struck down violently in front of him. Similarly, at the end of “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” it is only when the grandmother has seen her entire family slaughtered, and only when she is facing imminent death herself, that she is finally able to actually live the Christian values about which she has merely prattled previously.
Another reason that O’Connor often uses violence in her fiction, including violent death, is to suggest that our physical bodies, and our present physical existences, are relatively unimportant in the grand Christian scheme of things. Thus, many readers are shocked when the grandmother is killed at the end of “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” They consider her death pointless, meaningless – a tragic waste. O’Connor, however, encourages us to see the end of this story as a kind of comic, happy victory for the grandmother. In the last split seconds of her life, she lives the kind of life she should have been living for years. In the last few moments of her existence, she lives as Christ would have wanted her to live all along. Thus it is not surprising that the grandmother looks almost happy after she is shot, whereas it is The Misfit who seems uncomfortable and unhappy.
O’Connor felt that if she had written pleasant stories with conventionally “happy endings,” she would have had no impact on modern culture, which had become so unfamiliar or unconcerned with standard Christian truths that it had to be shocked back into an awareness of concepts that had long been taken for granted in previous, spiritually healthier eras.