illustrated portrait of American author Flannery O'Connor

Flannery O'Connor

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How does Flannery O'connor express her religious point of view through her stories with the conflict of living as a Catholic in the Deep South?

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Flannery O'Connor once wrote that she lived in the "Christ-haunted South." That is, O'Connor found herself in an area of evangelicals and their horror of sin which is part of the "landscape," while at the same time her own faith gave her the sacramentalism of Catholicism.  This strange juxtaposition of theologies has provided O'Connor with the paradox of nature's playing the role of a hostile and even evil force as, for example, in "A View of the Woods" in which the trees are "sullen" and "gaunt," while in other works humans are describes as "wheezing horses," "hyenas," "crabs," and "goats." But, at the same time, this "worst of paths" provides the epiphany which leads to sacramental grace and salvation from sin.

Further, O'Connor has felt that the Catholic mind separates nature from grace, thus perceiving the fictional depiction of nature as sentimental.  Because she has perceived sentimentality an excess, O'Connor uses nature to emphasie the negativity in the lives and mentality of her characters, thus avoiding this sentimentality.  In his essay "The Dark Side of the Cross:  Flannery O'Connor's Short Fiction," Patrick Galloway writes that O'Connor utilizes nature as a 

hard, sharp tool with which to hew and chisel her work from the living rock of the real world....and it is by keeping nature constantly in view that the author avoids the sentimental, as well as its flipside, the obscene.

Thus, with the grotesque and violent, O'Connor brings her characters to epiphanies of the horror of their sins and grace without sentimentality.  This technique O'Connor herself terms the "reasonable use of the unreasonable"; and, for O'Connor's readers, this provides a greater vision of spirituality without faith-based beliefs of either the Evangelical or the Catholic.



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