Reference to characters, why does Flannery O'Connor feel it's necessary to use violence in her short stories "Greenleaf" and "Good Country People"?

Expert Answers
lynnebh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Flannery O’Connor believed she had to use violence to shock people into paying attention to her themes. She said in her letters that "if the Christian faith is present, readers will understand the work” but she also knew that most people would not be reading her fiction “with the eyes of faith”. Because of this, she made her characters “distortions” or “grotesques” so that people would pay attention to them, so that they would stand out. She felt that the secular world had become too accommodating of dysfunction and sin, too complacent if you will. When you got to the end of “Greenleaf” weren’t you shocked? That is her point. She wants people to be shocked. Were you surprised when Manley Pointer turned out to be a con man and stole Joy/Hulga's leg? That is the point. Joy/Hulga has her leg stolen because it has become a source of pride to her, in a perverted way. She is at the moment of grace at the end of the story because she belived in "Nothing" and Manley Pointer was removing the source of that belief, so that she would be open to believing in "something".

O'Connor described her violent plots as “preludes to moments of unknowing”. It is often at this final violent moment when the characters have an epiphany, a religious experience. In her non-fiction work Mystery and Manners, she said:

Our age not only does not have a very sharp eye for the almost imperceptible intrusions of grace, it no longer has much feeling for the nature of the violences which precede and follow them” (Mystery & Manners 112).

She also said that she was tired of people who did not understand her motives accusing her of being brutal and sarcastic.

The stories are hard but they are hard because there is nothing harder or less sentimental than Christian realism” (Habit of Being 90).

She also used violence because she believed the closer her characters were getting to God, the angrier the devil would become. She said this moment of grace “excited the devil to frenzy”. Be sure to read the information on O’Connor here on eNotes.

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question