Everything That Rises Must Converge

by Flannery O’Connor
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What are examples of metaphor, simile, and personification in "Everything That Rises Must Converge"?

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In "Everything That Rises Must Converge," Flannery O'Connor explores a young man's reaction to and handling of his elderly mother's adherence to tradition, social hierarchy, and racial prejudice. Throughout the story, O'Connor uses metaphor, simile, and personification to enhance the descriptions of characters as well as...

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In "Everything That Rises Must Converge," Flannery O'Connor explores a young man's reaction to and handling of his elderly mother's adherence to tradition, social hierarchy, and racial prejudice. Throughout the story, O'Connor uses metaphor, simile, and personification to enhance the descriptions of characters as well as their actions and feelings.

Simile

One example of simile is when Julian, while waiting for his mother, "with his hands behind him, appeared pinned to the door frame, waiting like Saint Sebastian for the arrows to begin piercing him." Like the saint and martyr who was killed during the persecution of Christians by the Roman emperor Diocletian, Julian is painfully and selflessly sacrificing himself to serve his mother and escort her to a weight-loss meeting. While this simile seems to exaggerate his service, it also implies the difficulty of his relationship with his mother.

In describing Julian’s mother’s hat, which has a purple velvet flap down one side of it and stands up on the other with a green body that “looked like a cushion with the stuffing out,” O’Connor emphasizes how ridiculous this supposedly fashionable hat is. The mother is descended from a wealthy family that lost money over generations, leaving her poor; nonetheless, she cannot let go of her ancestral social status. The deflated green body reflects this loss of money and material wealth or “stuffing”; it is an empty shell, just as the mother’s reminders of her family’s past glory are hollow. Ironically, the black mother wears exactly the same hat, which disturbs Julian’s mother; her whiteness and supposedly social superiority have been deflated to (or conflated with) that of a black woman.

Later, she becomes “like a mummy beneath the ridiculous banner of her hat”; this simile emphasizes how the mother’s old social order is dead and the decorative hat is a mere relic of past pageantry.

While waiting for and dreading riding the bus with his mother, Julian feels growing anger and embarrassment that threatens to strangle or suffocate him, and his frustration “began to creep up his neck like a hot hand.”

One white woman complains about the crowd of blacks riding the bus, describing them as “thick as fleas—up front and all through.” She compares them to invading and inescapable pests or bugs. When Julian sits next to a black rider, another woman looks horrified, “as if he [the black rider] were a type of monster new to her.”

When the black mother sits next to Julian and mumbles to herself, Julian hears “muted growling like that of an angry cat.” She “was rumbling like a volcano about to become active.” Her latent potential energy is released when she responds to Julian’s mother’s condescending offer—“she seemed to explode like a piece of machinery that had been given one ounce of pressure too much.”

Finally, Julian's heart sinks when he realizes that his mother has learned nothing from the encounter, that the “lesson had rolled off her like rain on a roof.”

Metaphor

There is metaphor in an early description of Julian’s mother:

Two wings of gray hair protruded on either side of her florid face, but her eyes, sky-blue, were as innocent and untouched by experience as they must have been when she was ten.

She appears fragile, childlike, and harmless, like a bird. This initial description of her eyes contrasts to a later description, when “the blue in them seemed to have turned a bruised purple.” Her ego and sense of identity are bruised when she sees the black mother wearing a hat identical to her own.

There is an extended railway/train metaphor when the mother describes society as a “mess,” an inversion of what she perceives to be social order: “the bottom rail is on the top.” Her complaints about lack of social stratification between whites and blacks are regular and repetitive, dependable like a train on schedule:

She rolled onto it every few days like a train on an open track. He knew every stop, every junction, every swamp along the way, and knew the exact point at which her conclusion would roil majestically into the station.

Julian’s mind is described as a protective place of escape:

a kind of mental bubble in which he established himself when he could not bear to be a part of what was going on around him. From it he could see out and judge but in it he was safe from any kind of penetration from without.

He lives in a bubble where he isolates himself from the world for protection; unfortunately, he also fails to form any connection with others, but merely passes judgment on others while hiding behind a shield.

Personification

When Julian and his mother leave for the meeting, the “sky was a dying violet and the houses stood out darkly against it, bulbous liver-colored monstrosities of a uniform ugliness though no two were alike.” The “dying violet” underscores the mother’s dying notion of proper social hierarchy and the purple bruising of her realization. The houses stand up against the sky just as Julian and the black bus riders stand up like contrasting-hued “monstrosities” against the old social order. In fact, “each house had a narrow collar of dirt around it in which sat, usually, a grubby child.” No longer fashionable dwellings, the houses have regressed into hovels.

After the “lighted” bus approaches to pick up Julian and his mother, it carries them until it stops “with a sudden jerk and shook him from his meditation.” The formerly bright and subservient bus wakes Julian and his mother up to the new reality. The bus later stops, and its door “opened with a sucking hiss” to let the black mother and her son climb aboard.

On the bus, body parts take on active life forces of their own: The black mother’s “feet overflowed in red shoes.” She has a “ponderous figure, rising from the red shoes upward over the solid hips, the mammoth bosom, the haughty face.” When Julian’s mother offers the little boy a penny, Julian sees a “black fist swing out with the red pocketbook” to punch her. In contrast, Julian’s mother is stunned and disoriented after being knocked down. She looks around, and her “eyes, shadowed and confused, finally settled on his face.” They “raked his face. She seemed trying to determine his identity.” Julian’s mother no longer seems to recognize her own son.

In these examples, the body parts are synecdoche and represent the entire character.

At the close of the story, the world has become threatening even to Julian, who helplessly realizes that he loves and is losing his mother. Just after she is knocked to the ground, Julian sees “Rising above them on either side were black apartment buildings, marked with irregular rectangles of light.” As his mother loses consciousness, Julian feels a “tide of darkness ... sweeping her from him.” When he tries to find help, the

lights drifted farther away the faster he ran and his feet moved numbly as if they carried him nowhere. The tide of darkness seemed to sweep him back to her, postponing from moment to moment his entry into the world of guilt and sorrow.

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