Everything That Rises Must Converge Questions and Answers
by Flannery O’Connor

Start Your Free Trial

How does "Everything That Rises Must Converge" display elements of Southern gothic literature?

Elements of Southern gothic literature in the short story "Everything That Rises Must Converge" by Flannery O'Connor include the filthy, decaying setting, the grotesque and alienated character of Julian's mother, and the tragic ending.

Expert Answers info

Philip Arrington eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2018

write1,348 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Business

The short story "Everything That Rises Must Converge" by Flannery O'Connor tells of a man named Julian who takes his overweight mother to an exercise class. His mother is reluctant to go on her own because she has to travel via the public bus system, which has been integrated. Julian feels obligated to help her, because she is supporting him financially. She puts on an odd-looking, flamboyant hat, and they set out together.

When they get on the bus, all the passengers are White, and Julian's mother starts a racist conversation with the woman next to her. When an African American man boards the bus and sits near them, tension rises, and Julian moves to another seat to taunt his mother. However, after a black woman and her son enter the bus and sit next to them, the situation worsens. Julian realizes that the African American woman and his mother are wearing identical hats, which strikes him as ludicrous. Julian's mother tries to give the little boy a penny when they get off the bus together, but the black woman becomes angry and hits Julian's mother, who falls to a sitting position on the sidewalk. Julian's mother decides to go home instead of to the exercise class, and on the way, Julian berates her for her antiquated racist attitudes until she collapses on the pavement.

According to the Oxford Research Encyclopedia, "characteristics of Southern Gothic include the presence of irrational, horrific, and transgressive thoughts, desires, and impulses; grotesque characters, dark humor, and an overall angst-ridden sense of alienation." Southern gothic literature often has an important character who is eccentric or strange and unwholesome, decaying settings.

In this short story, O'Connor establishes a dingy, decaying setting early when describing where Julian and his mother live. It used to be a fashionable neighborhood, but the houses now are "bulbous liver-colored monstrosities of a uniform ugliness." Every house has "a narrow collar of dirt around it in which sat, usually, a grubby child."

The grotesque, eccentric, alienated character in the story is Julian's mother. She is blatantly racist. She considers herself an aristocrat and brags about her slave-owning ancestors, not realizing that such an attitude is anachronistic and even deviant. She recalls living in an immense mansion with African Americans as servants, seemingly unaware of the irony that the mansion is now inhabited by black people.

Southern gothic literature also typically has violent elements. In this case, Julian's mother's reaction to the black woman's anger is to suffer a debilitating or deadly stroke or heart attack.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial