Flannery O'Connor Analysis


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

The fiction of Flannery O’Connor has been highly praised for its unrelenting irony, its symbolism, and its unique comedy. O’Connor is considered one of the most important American writers of the short story, and she is frequently compared with William Faulkner as a writer of short fiction.

For an author with a relatively small literary output, O’Connor has received an enormous amount of attention. More than twenty-five books devoted to her have appeared beginning in the early 1960’s, when significant critics worldwide began to recognize O’Connor’s gifts as a fiction writer. Almost all critical works have emphasized the bizarre effects of reading O’Connor’s fiction, which, at its best, powerfully blends the elements of southwestern humor, the southern grotesque, Catholic and Christian theology and philosophy, atheistic and Christian existentialism, realism, and romance. Most critics have praised and interpreted O’Connor from a theological perspective and noted how unusual her fiction is, as it unites the banal, the inane, and the trivial with Christian, though fundamentally humorous, tales of proud Georgians fighting battles with imaginary or real agents of God sent out to shake some sense into the heads of the protagonists.

As an ironist with a satirical bent, O’Connor may be compared with some of the best in the English language, such as Jonathan Swift and George Gordon, Lord Byron. It is the comic irony of her stories that probably attracts most readers—from the orthodox and religious to the atheistic humanists whom she loves to ridicule in some of her best fiction. Thus, as a comedian, O’Connor’s achievements are phenomenal, since through her largely Christian stories, she is able to attract readers who consider her beliefs outdated and quaint.

In her lifetime, O’Connor won recognition, but she would be surprised at the...

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Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

What evidence is there in Flannery O’Connor’s fiction that its author was a devout Roman Catholic?

According to the title of one of O’Connor’s stories, “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” Can you find any good men in her work? What makes them “good”?

How does violence function in O’Connor’s work?

O’Connor’s fiction is often said to be characterized by “black humor.” How does O’Connor create humor in her work?

How does O’Connor use the motif of a journey to organize her fictions?

In what ways does racism show up in O’Connor’s work?

How does O’Connor use the names of characters (for example, Hazel Motes, Francis Marion Tarwater, Mr. Head) to develop themes in her fiction?

O’Connor’s work is often described as “grotesque.” In what ways can her characters and plot be considered grotesque?

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

In addition to writing thirty-one short stories, Flannery O’Connor wrote two short novels, Wise Blood (1952) and The Violent Bear It Away (1960). A collection of her essays and occasional prose entitled Mystery and Manners (1969) was edited by Robert and Sally Fitzgerald, and a collection of letters entitled The Habit of Being (1979) was edited by Sally Fitzgerald. More correspondence is collected in The Correspondence of Flannery O’Connor and Brainard Cheneys (1986), edited by C. Ralph Stephens. O’Connor also wrote book reviews, largely for the Catholic press; these are collected in The Presence of Grace (1983), which was compiled by Leo J. Zuber and edited by Carter W. Martin.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Asals, Frederick. Flannery O’Connor: The Imagination of Extremity. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1982. In one of the best books on O’Connor’s fiction, Asals focuses on the use of the Doppelgänger (double) motif in the novels and short fiction, the most thorough and intelligent treatment of this subject. Asals also concentrates on O’Connor’s religious extremity, which is evident in her fiction through her concern with polarities and extremes. Contains extensive endnotes and a good bibliography.

Asals, Frederick. “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”: Flannery O’Connor. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1993. Critical essays on O’Connor’s story from a variety of perspectives. Critics discuss the pros and cons of O’Connor’s shift in point of view from the grandmother to The Misfit, the nature of grace in a materialistic world, and the theological significance of the story’s concluding confrontation.

Bacon, Jon Lance. Flannery O’Connor and Cold War Culture. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993. Reads O’Connor’s stories in relation to social issues of their milieu. Discusses the context of Cold War politics, popular culture, media, and consumerism that form the backdrop to O’Connor’s stories.

Cash, Jean W. Flannery O'Connor: A Life. University of Tennessee, 2002. A painstakingly researched portrait of O'Connor. Includes a bibliography and index.

Desmond, John F. Risen Sons: Flannery O’Connor’s Vision of History. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1987. Desmond’s argument is that O’Connor’s fictions reenact Christian history and Catholic theology through an art O’Connor herself saw as an “incarnational act.” Discussing several major stories and the two novels, the book focuses on the metaphysical and the Christian historical vision as observed through reading O’Connor’s fiction and emphasizes that The Violent Bear It Away represents the fullest development of her vision. Includes an extensive bibliography and useful endnotes.

Enjolras, Laurence. Flannery O’Connor’s Characters. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1998. Chapters on O’Connor’s descriptions of the body, of wicked children, of “conceited, self-righteous Christians,” of “intellectuals and would-be artists.” Includes notes and bibliography.

Feeley, Kathleen. Flannery O’Connor: Voice of the Peacock. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press,...

(The entire section is 1094 words.)