The short story "Everything That Rises Must Converge" by Flannery O'Connor tells of a man named Julian who lives with his mother in the recently desegregated American Deep South. She is attending a weight-reducing class at the Y, and Julian accompanies her because she does not like to...
The short story "Everything That Rises Must Converge" by Flannery O'Connor tells of a man named Julian who lives with his mother in the recently desegregated American Deep South. She is attending a weight-reducing class at the Y, and Julian accompanies her because she does not like to take the bus alone. On the way, Julian's mother exhibits her blatant racism through her conversation and expressions.
At the start of the story, as they are preparing to leave, Julian's mother puts on a garish hat that she has recently bought. O'Connor shares Julian's opinion of it:
It was a hideous hat. A purple velvet flap came down on one side of it and stood up on the other; the rest of it was green and looked like a cushion with the stuffing out. He decided it was less comical than jaunty and pathetic.
Julian's mother at first cannot decide whether to wear the hat or not. She comes to the conclusion that "you only live once." To her, the hat imparts an illusion of grandeur and of aristocracy and reminds her of the way life used to be. She sees it as a symbol of affluence, like the gloves she wears and the fact that her son has been to college. To Julian, however, the hat is a symbol of his mother clinging to an ugly racist past that no longer exists. His mother constantly refers to a time when whites were accorded more respect and black people were forced to comply with racist social norms. The hat represents her barely repressed racist attitude. To her, it is a symbol of honor, but to everyone else who sees it, it is unsightly and anachronistic. His son despises the hat, just as he despises her outdated attitudes.
When the African American woman gets on the bus and sits opposite Julian's mother with an identical hat, this is symbolic of the way that society has irrevocably changed. Julian's mother's hat no longer indicates her status. The hat can be worn by anyone now. In the end, when the black woman rebuffs her efforts to give a penny to the black child and pushes Julian's mother to the ground, the hat is no longer on her head but in her lap. This symbolizes the loss of her illusions. She then suffers a debilitating stroke, which is symbolic of her lack of ability to cope with the world as it has become.