In Flannery O’Connor’s short story “Everything That Rises Must Converge,” an angry African-American woman, near the very end of the story, strikes Julian’s mother with her heavy purse and knocks Julian’s mother to the ground. Before long, the mother dies of her injuries. Why does the black woman strike Julian’s mother?
The simple (and correct) answer is that she thinks that Julian’s mother has been treating her condescendingly. She thinks that Julian’s mother has been taking pride in the latter’s ability to win the favor and attention of the black woman’s young child. Instead of seeing the attention paid to her child as genuinely affectionate, the black woman regards it as a sign of the superiority that Julian’s mother feels as a white. Perhaps the black woman is also a bit jealous of the love her boy is showing to Julian’s mother. In any case, she does not appreciate the fact that the flirtation between her son and Julian’s mother continues after she (the black woman) has ordered it to cease.
Most significantly, the black woman is most offended when Julian’s mother offers the little black a coin as they leave the bus together:
The huge woman turned and for a moment stood, her shoulders lifted and her face frozen with frustrated rage, and stared at Julian’s mother. Then all at once she seemed to explode like a piece of machinery that had been given one ounce of pressure too much. Julian saw the black fist swing out with the red pocketbook. He shut his eyes and cringed as he heard the woman shout, “He don't take nobody’s pennies!” When he opened his eyes, the woman was disappearing down the street with the little boy staring wide-eyed over her shoulder. Julian’s mother was sitting on the sidewalk.
The black woman sees the offer of the coin as the last bit of smug superiority on the part of Julian’s mother. To the black woman, Julian’s mother is the symbol of all the continual white condescension the woman has had to face for decade after decade of her life. She strikes out not so much as Julian’s mother in particular as at the racism she thinks Julian’s mother represents and embodies.
Part of the irony of O’Connor’s story is that the black woman has much more in common with Julian than with either her own son or with Julian’s mother. Both the black woman and Julian are brimming and simmering with belligerence. Both feel enormous hostility toward others, and in a sense Julian is the true son of the black woman, just as the young boy is the true son of Julian’s mother. Despite all her undeniable flaws, Julian’s mother is less full of contempt for others than is true of both the bitter Julian and the bitter black woman.
Another part of the irony of the conclusion is that the black woman actually expresses, physically, the hostility that Julian himself feels toward his mother. Once again, then, the black woman and Julian have far more in common with each other than either of them might assume. The black woman physically assaults Julian's mother in an impulsive act, but it is Julian himself who is most deliberately cruel to his mother when he taunts her as she sits on the sidewalk. Julian, in many ways, is by far the most hateful character in the story, and in some ways it is he, at least as much as the black woman, who is responsible for his mother's death.