Flannery O’Connor was a master of irony in her short stories. In Everything that Rises Must Converge, there is irony in the character of Julian. Although the story is narrated in the third person, O’Connor gives us insight into Julian’s thoughts in the way she narrates what he is thinking. He has a very dysfunctional relationship with his mother but by the end of the novel, the reader slowly comes to sympathize with his mother and not him. This is achieved through the self-serving thoughts and insensitivity Julian exhibits towards his mother, in spite of her foibles. Julian continues to plot ways of getting even with his mother in his mind and with his superior attitude, wishes all sorts of evil upon her, purposefully sitting next to the Black woman on the bus, etc. In the end, his wish to punish his mother comes true when his mother dies as a result of the stress that he has caused her by his cruelty. He is the one that ends up learning the lesson. This is situational irony.
There is moral ambiguity in the short story. The mother has racist attitudes which she naively shares with Julian about having Negro servants growing up and believing that Negroes were better off as slaves, and yet she plays games with the little Black boy on the bus. Julian fancies himself a liberal, free of racist attitudes, yet he wishes he could have some of his family’s plantation wealth and mentally wonders what his mother would do if he brought a Black woman home to dinner. Neither Julian nor his mother are stereotypical bigots, but they harbor racist attitudes without really realizing it. Julian and his mother are ambiguous because they are neither heroes nor villains.
When Julian’s mother is telling him of his high-class ancestry, she makes an allusion that leads the reader to believe that the family name mentioned is one of high social class. We don’t know that the “Godhighs” were rich, but the way the mother throws in this allusion, we must assume that they were.
“Your great-grandfather was a former governor of this state,” she said. “Your grandfather was a prosperous land-owner. Your grandmother was a Godhigh.”
Another allusion is when the mother is talking to a bus patron about Blacks riding the bus. Blacks are not referred to specifically, but alluded to:
“I see we have the bus to ourselves,” she said.
“I come on one the other day and they were thick as fleas - up front and all through.”
A paradox true statement or a statement that a person believes is true that leads to a contradiction or a situation which defies what is reasonable. Julian makes the following true statements, but can you detect how his statements really mean something else? There are several paradoxes in this excerpt, the first one being that he really has not turned out so well.
“The further irony of all this was that in spite of her, he had turned out so well. In spite of going to only a third-rate college, he had, on his own initiative, come out with a first-rate education; in spite of growing up dominated by a small mind, he had ended up with a large one; in spite of all her foolish views, he was free of prejudice and unafraid to face facts.