The River Summary (Flannery O’Connor)

Flannery O’Connor


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Early one morning, the tired Mr. Ashfield hands over his son, Harry, to a baby-sitter, Mrs. Connin. Although she has been at work all night, she will keep Harry with her until late that evening. Before leaving the Ashfields’ apartment, Mrs. Connin criticizes the cigarette butts that she smells and the modern art that she sees on the wall, and she hears that Mrs. Ashfield, Harry’s mother, is ill. As she and Harry leave, she tells the boy that she will take him today to see the Reverend Bevel Summers, who will be conducting a healing service by a local river. When she notices Harry has no handkerchief, she lends him one. As they wait for a trolley, Mrs. Connin asks Harry his first name, and he lies, telling her it is Bevel. She is pleased to hear this and says Harry will have to meet the young reverend, who is a good preacher although he cannot heal Mrs. Connin’s husband, who is currently in the hospital. Harry says he wants to be healed, even though all that is wrong with him is that he is hungry. When Mrs. Connin falls asleep on the trolley, Harry hides her handkerchief inside his coat.

In Mrs. Connin’s small house away from the city, Harry sees photographs on her walls as well as a picture of Jesus. Mrs. Connin’s three sons lead Harry to their pigpen, where they trick him into releasing a pig. Harry expects pigs to look clean and cheery, as in children’s books, but the pig that chases him is gray and dirty, with a damaged ear. When Mrs. Connin realizes that Harry does not recognize Jesus in her picture, she reads to him from...

(The entire section is 634 words.)