What is the setting of Flannery O'Connor's short story "Everything That Rises Must Converge"?

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vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Flannery O’Connor’s short story “Everything That Rises Must Converge” employs several different settings. Initially, for instance, we see Julian and his mother at home; then we see them moving from their home to a bus stop; then we see them boarding a bus; and then, finally, we witness what happens to them after they leave the bus.

Each aspect of the story’s setting is significant. For example, the brief glimpse of life at home which we witness at the beginning of the story is somewhat ironic, because Julian’s mother will never return to this home, since at the end of the story she will be dead. Although she explicitly desires to return “Home” just before she dies, it is clear by this point that the “home” she has in mind is actually her childhood home, where she was loved and cared for by a black servant named Caroline. This home symbolizes the mother's attachment to the past as well as the possibility of racial convergence.

Indeed, the mother's memories of this “home” are significant, because Julian also fantasizes about the same large, prestigious home. Likewise, Julian also fantasizes about the kind of home he would like to inhabit in the future if he ever has the chance – a home in which neighbors would be as far away from him as possible. This imagined setting symbolizes Julian’s pride as well as his narcissistic self-involvement. Thus the settings in the story include not only the obvious settings that the characters actually visit but also the past or imagined settings which help shape (or reveal) who they are as persons.

Meanwhile, the second important “real” setting of the story – the bus – is a highly significant setting for several reasons. First, it helps symbolize the literal and figurative journey that Julian and his mother are undertaking. Second, the bus is a microcosm of society, thus allowing Julian’s mother and other passengers to reveal their various social prejudices, including prejudices involving both race and class.The bus is a meaningful setting because it symbolizes the issue of racial integration which is so important to this work.

Finally, the bus is also a significant setting because it is while she is on the bus that Julian’s mother unexpectedly meets her “black double,” who is wearing exactly the same kind of hat that the mother is wearing. Because the bus is a confined setting, the black woman cannot easily distance herself from Julian’s annoying, condescending mother until both mothers and both sons have descended from the steps of the bus. It is only after they leave the bus together that the black woman strikes Julian’s mother with her purse, a blow that leads to Julian’s mother’s death.

Before she dies, however, Julian’s mother stumbles briefly through the dark streets of the city. It is now, when she is essentially alone in the city, that Julian's mother speaks of her desire to return home. She can never, of course, return “home” in the literal sense, although it is possible to assume that she does return “home” in a higher sense, after her death, by returning to heaven.

Julian, in any case, now seems poised to enter an altogether new setting himself, even if that setting is only figurative: he seems about to enter a “world of guilt and sorrow.” Neither Julian nor his mother, then, ever returns “home” to the kind of life we saw them living as the story opened.

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