Everything That Rises Must Converge Flannery O'Connor
(Full name Mary Flannery O'Connor) American short story writer, novelist, and essayist.
The following entry presents criticism of O'Connor's short story collection Everything That Rises Must Converge (1965). For further information on O'Connor's life and career, see CLC, Volumes 1, 2, 3, 6, 10, 13, 15, 21, and 66.
The title of O'Connor's Everything That Rises Must Converge is taken from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's The Phenomenon of Man. The stories in the collection revolve around characters who are not prepared to accept God's grace. O'Connor's genre is very specific; she is a southern Catholic writer whose work is infused with southern and religious imagery.
Plot and Major Characters
Many of the characters in Everything That Rises Must Converge are similar types. The protagonist of the title story, Julian, is an educated, seemingly liberal, would-be writer who has had to resort to selling typewriters to make a living. He lives with his mother, another O'Connor archetype, a pretentious southern woman who is living in reduced circumstances. She struggles to keep her dignity and to dominate her son, for whom she has sacrificed everything. "The Enduring Chill" features Asbury, another would-be writer forced to move in with his mother. Like Julian, Asbury feels he has risen above the Southern environment in which he was raised. Also reminiscent of Julian, he is a would-be liberal whose attempts to befriend the African-American workers on his mother's dairy farm is more of a rebellion against his mother than a true affection or concern for the workers. The pompous middle-class woman is another frequent character in these stories. Represented by Julian's mother in the title story, Mrs. Turpin in "Revelation," and Mrs. May in "Greenleaf," each woman discovers that her belief in her own virtue and goodness is not enough for true grace. Simply avoiding evil is not enough for redemption in O'Connor's world. Intellectuals are also portrayed with little sympathy by O'Connor. Sheppard in "The Lame Shall Enter First" believes that intelligence and a good home life is enough to save Rufus, a club-footed juvenile delinquent whom he takes in and tries to redeem. Sheppard's blind devotion to ideas and intelligence causes him to be duped by Rufus and to lose his own son, Norton.
The major theme of Everything That Rises Must Converge is derived from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's The Phenomenon of Man. In that work, the author asserts that all matter and spirit will eventually converge at what he refers to as the Omega point. The stories from this collection are about man's resistance to this convergence. O'Connor's characters use different methods to avoid convergence or union with mankind, including isolating themselves in intellectualism like Julian and Sheppard, or clinging to a romanticized version of the past like Julian's mother. It is only through the destruction of pride and false identities that O'Connor's characters have a chance at convergence or redemption, hence the violent climaxes of many of the stories: Julian loses his sense of superiority over and separation from his mother as he watches her die from a stroke; Sheppard realizes the error of his judgement when he finds his son hanging in the attic. Other themes in Everything That Rises Must Converge include Christians struggling to keep their faith and finding redemption in an increasingly secularized and technologically advancing world. A final theme in this collection focuses on capturing the changes of the South of the 1950s and 1960s. O'Connor traces her characters' relationship to the New South, delineating the continuing evolution of the region.
Most critics discuss the relationship of Everything That Rises Must Converge to the ideas of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. The title's obvious allusion to Teilhard de Chardin's work is commonly accepted; however, reviewers disagree about O'Connor's intentions. Some argue that she accepts Teilhard de Chardin's ideas, and the stories are her attempt to portray true convergence. Others, including Robert Fitzgerald in the Introduction to the work, assert that O'Connor uses the title ironically. Reviewers often note the irony and humor in the stories. In addition, many critics praise her storywriting skill and her ability to convey colloquialism and rural southern dialogue. Critics often discuss the grotesque and violent images in the stories, but many point out that the images are not gratuitous. Due to the imagery and setting of the stories, reviewers note a resemblance to the work of William Faulkner, but several assert that O'Connor's work is more representative of the New South than Faulkner's.