Everything That Rises Must Converge

by Flannery O’Connor

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What is the theme of "Everything That Rises Must Converge"?

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To reduce this story down to a one word theme, we might identity the theme as "change" or, in a phrase, "the morality of change". However, a more extensive reading of the theme allows us to identify a number of ideas related to change that are expressed in this story. 

Resistance to change and insistence on change are attributes that help to polarize Julian and his mother. She holds a nostaligic and idealized view of the past, of childhood, and of the way things once were in general.

Julian’s mother relies on custom and tradition for her moral sensibility...

This resistance to change appears in her attitudes, her dialogue and in her behavior. It is exactly this desire to act as if race relations have not changed that leads to her being beaten with a hand bag. 

Julian is the opposite of his mother in this regard.

He dismisses her notions of proper conduct as part of an old social order that is not only immoral, but also irrelevant.

He insists that things have changed and that they should change. Julian cannot tolerate his mother's nostalgia, though he admits to yearning to see the house that she often mentions. For Julian, change is a positive fact and a facet of reality. 

These divergent attitudes concern many types of change. Financial change, aging, social change and geographical change are each dealt with in the story. The polarity of attitudes in regards to these changes constitutes both the central thematic idea of the story and provides the story's conflicts. 

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What are the main themes and quotes that are used to help support the story "Everything That Rises Must Converge"?

In "Everything That Rises Must Converge," Flannery O'Connor explores the phenomenon of generational change in attitudes toward race in the South. Julian likes to think of himself as unbigoted, in contrast to his mother, who believes that blacks have the right to rise in society, but "on their own side of the fence." In other words, Mrs. Chestny believes that the South should remain segregated so that she does not have to share her world with African Americans. If not a complete bigot in his attitudes toward race, Julian does express bias about social class, choosing to speak to African Americans only if they look like they are professionals.

It also seems that Julian takes too much pride in his own racial tolerance and uses it as a tool to provoke and punish his mother. He imagines bringing home an African American girlfriend; in his mind he thinks of her as "a beautiful suspiciously Negroid woman." This calls into question whether Julian is as open-minded about race as he likes to think about himself. He imagines that if his mother objects, he would say "drive her out of here, but remember, you’re driving me too." This attitude is immature and more befits a teenager trying to form a separate identity from his parents than a man who has finished college, and entered the working world. Ultimately, Julian's attitude toward African American people is that they are objects that he can use against his mother to make himself feel superior to her.

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