Form and Content
Everything That Rises Must Converge is a gathering of Flannery O’Connor’s short stories written between 1956 and 1964 which had not been previously published in book form. It includes the title story and eight others. The story “Everything That Rises Must Converge” is one of O’Connor’s best, and it remains one of her most-anthologized stories. The title is a quotation from Catholic theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who imagined an “omega point” at which the “rising” or evolving human being would meet God. By analogy, people of the lower classes who “rise” socially must inevitably “meet” with the higher. To Mrs. Chestny in the story, Southern blacks “should rise, yes, but on their own side of the fence.” Her liberal son Julian tries to “teach her a lesson” about her prejudice, but it becomes clear that his overtures to a black man on the bus are motivated by scorn for his mother, not genuine sympathy.
Mrs. Chestny’s striving to set herself above and apart from perceived inferiors is a common trait in O’Connor’s characters, seen also in the protagonist of “Greenleaf,” Mrs. May. Mrs. May looks down on the family of her farmhand, Mr. Greenleaf, even though the Greenleaf boys have done more to better themselves than have her own two boys. The characteristic O’Connor shock ending comes when Mrs. May, frustrated by Greenleaf’s reluctance to remove a “scrub” bull that has wandered into her herd, tries to do so herself and is fatally gored.
In the third story, “A View of the Woods,” the aptly named Mr. Fortune, another O’Connor protagonist who sets himself above others, sells the front lawn with its “View of the Woods” from under his son-in-law Pitts, whom he thinks unworthy of his daughter. The sale alienates the only family member for whom Fortune retains any feeling, his nine-year-old granddaughter, Mary Fortune Pitts. The child attacks him in the woods; he smashes her head on a rock, but the ordeal strains his weak heart. The clash seems fatal to both.
The protagonist of “The Enduring Chill,” Asbury Fox, is much like Julian of the title story. He fancies himself an artist, a writer, beyond the narrow rural Southern sensibilities of his domineering mother. Having “escaped” to New York, he becomes ill and returns home, ostensibly to die. It turns out, however, that the very act of defiance he thought would liberate him—drinking unpasteurized milk against his mother’s orders—has given him ungulant fever, and that it is not fatal.
The conflict with the mother in “The Comforts of Home” is almost the inverse of that in the previous story. Here it is the son, Thomas, who clings to “virtue,” though his idea of virtue is static, passive. His mother offends his sense of virtue by taking in a nymphomaniac; in trying to drive her away, he accidentally shoots his mother. A more peculiar sense of virtue divides Mr. and Mrs. Parker in “Parker’s Back”: Parker feels oppressed by his wife’s violent Christian denunciation of any kind of “idolatry.” He tries to appease her by having a Byzantine mosaic of Christ reproduced in a tattoo on his back; this she sees as the worst kind of idolatry, and she hits his back with a broom until it bleeds.
In two stories the filial conflict is modulated by a surrogate. In “The Lame Shall Enter First,” Sheppard ignores his son in order to lavish attention on a juvenile delinquent he hopes to “save.” In “Revelation,” the protagonist, Mrs. Turpin, has no children, but she talks in a doctor’s waiting room with a “stylish lady” while the woman’s daughter scowls at Mrs. Turpin’s self-righteous philosophy, obviously a mirror image of her mother’s. When she has had enough of their talk, it is Mrs. Turpin, not her own mother, whom the girl attacks without warning, hitting her with a book and choking her.
In “Judgement Day,” the conflict becomes father-daughter, as the elderly Tanner is taken against his...
(The entire section is 5,235 words.)