Everything That Rises Must Converge

by Flannery O’Connor

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How does Julian's mother's world "end" in O'Connor's "Everything That Rises Must Converge"?

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Near the conclusion of Flannery O’Connor’s short story titled “Everything That Rises Must Converge,” an arrogant and inconsiderate Julian tells his elderly mother, who has just been struck to the ground by an angry black woman, “You needn’t act as if the world had come to an end, . . . because it hasn’t.” In fact, however, Julian is just as wrong about this matter as he is wrong about most matters in the story.  For Julian’s mother, the world is indeed about to come to an end in a number of different ways, including the following:

  • Most obviously, she is about to die.
  • The world of white privilege in which she grew up is coming to an end, as the action of the enraged black woman has just shown.
  • The mother’s world, which revolves around Julian, is about the come to an end because of her death. Julian will no longer be the center of her existence. In one way or another, God will (at least according to O’Connor).
  • Before that happens, however, her world, in which Julian is the central focus, is about to be replaced briefly by a mental world in which her childhood and, in particular, her relationship with her beloved black nanny will become most important to her.
  • Her present world – that is, her sense of living in the present – will come to an end and will be replaced by a world in which the past is her chief concern.
  • Ironically, although her life on earth is about to end, O’Connor would have believed that a whole new kind of existence was about to begin for her, either in heaven, in hell, or in purgatory. There are hints throughout the story that the mother may be headed for heaven. Despite her various flaws, the mother is far less damnable (in the literal sense of that word) than is her son.

However, the world is coming to an end not only for Julian’s mother but also, in a sense, for Julian himself.  His world is ending in some of the following senses:

  • He will no longer be able to depend on his mother, as he has done well into his adult life.
  • He will no longer be able to treat his mother with condescension and contempt, as he also has been doing for a long time.
  • Unless he makes radical changes in his life, his world will be even lonelier and more isolated than it is already.
  • Most significantly, he is now about to leave his old world of smug superiority behind and enter in entirely different psychological and spiritual state.  As the final sentence of the story puts it:

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.

  • Ironically, Julian’s entrance into this “world of guilt and sorrow” may actually be the best thing that can happen to him spiritually (which is really the only kind of existence that O’Connor truly cares about). Only by having his pride burned away can he experience the kind of transforming insight that O’Connor celebrates in her famous story titled “Revelation.”  For Julian, paradoxically, a new and much better world may be born out of the death of the world he has inhabited for most of his life.
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In Flannery O'Connor's short story "Everything That Rises Must Converge," why does the woman with the little boy knock Julian's mother to the ground?  How is it that Julian is able to predict that this will happen and his mother is not? Why does Julian relish in this moment even though he initially dreads it? What does he hope it will do?

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.

 

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