The Geranium Summary
“The Geranium” was first published in the literary quarterly magazine Accent in 1946. It was also the first of six stories Flannery O’Connor submitted to fulfill the requirements of her master’s degree in fine arts at the State University of Iowa in June 1947. (O’Connor entitled her thesis project The Geranium: A Collection of Short Stories.) Ten years later, O’Connor began to rewrite “The Geranium” and retitled it “Judgment Day,” which was published posthumously in her second short story collection, Everything That Rises Must Converge. In her early short stories, O’Connor experimented with her writing style and themes, honing the skills that eventually defined her as a major American author. During her graduate studies, O’Connor was greatly influenced by the poetry of T. S. Eliot, whose pessimistic and prophetic poem The Waste Land helped fashion the “shattered epic of modern life” that characterizes much of O’Connor’s fiction (Gooch 137).
O’Connor attended the Iowa Writer’s Workshop while working on her master’s degree. This workshop was directed by American writer, editor, and literary critic Paul Engle, who was a professor at the State University of Iowa at the time. Engle recognized O’Connor’s talent and became her mentor as well as her teacher. Many early stories O’Connor wrote for Engle’s workshop, including “The Geranium,” were read aloud and brutally critiqued by her fellow workshop attendees. The original ending of this short story, for example, was much more violent. The protagonist in the story, an old man named Dudley, spends his lonely days staring at a geranium in his neighbor’s window. Fellow workshop member Norma Hodges recalled that Old Dudley “pitched himself out of the window” in the version O’Connor first read aloud at the workshop. Hodges explained, “I think his daughter asked, ‘Where are you going?’ and Old Dudley said, ‘After that damned geranium!’” (quoted in Gooch 126). A young writer, O’Connor bowed to the opinions of her fellow writers, who claimed that this ending was “too much.” Years later, when “The Geranium” became “Judgment Day,” the mature O’Connor wrote the old man's death, as in her original, violent ending.
O’Connor began reworking and revising “The Geranium” in 1955. By the time the story was reborn as “Judgment Day,” the geranium had disappeared from the title and the story. Old Dudley became Old Man Tanner. There was still an unnamed daughter who cared for an aging father out of a sense of duty. New York City was still a callous place where even a hardy geranium had trouble surviving. In “The Geranium,” race relations and alienation were the prominent themes, but in “Judgment Day” those themes were secondary to ones that became more important to O’Connor as she matured as a writer: grace, redemption and judgment. In “Judgment Day,” Old Man Tanner escaped the trap his life had become through death. In “The Geranium,” Old Dudley was not able to escape his “Wasteland.” He became trapped in a place “where niggers could call you ‘old-timer’,” a place where everything was topsy-turvy, like a toppled geranium “at the bottom of the alley with its roots up in the air.”
Old Dudley has left his life in the South to move in with his daughter who lives in New York City. It was a big mistake. He must have been sick when he agreed to move, he decides. He feels sad, lonely, and trapped. He had been happy in the South, living in the upstairs room of a boarding house after his wife died. He was the “man in the house” who “protected the old ladies.” He survived on his pension and a few odd jobs. He enjoyed fishing and possum hunting with Rabie, a black man who lived in the basement of the boarding house with his wife, Lutisha. Old Dudley’s daughter had gone South to “pester him” about moving in with her. It was her duty to care for her father in his old age, she believed. Old Dudley had always wanted to see New York City, so in a weak moment he agreed to move. New York City is “swishing and jamming one minute and dirty and dead the next.” The streets are like “dog runs” and all the buildings look the same. Instead of fishing with Rabie on the thick, red river back home, Dudley now spends his days staring out the window at his neighbor’s geranium, forcing back tears of loneliness.
It is a sorry-looking geranium, not like the ones they have back home. The geranium is a symbol of Old Dudley himself. Back home, geraniums, like Dudley, were brightly colored, better looking, “sho nuf” geraniums, not dried up, sickly looking, pale pink flowers with faded paper bows. Dudley complains bitterly that the people across the alley have no business even having a geranium, just as he has no business being in New York City. Old Dudley’s throat knots up every day as he contemplates the flower. He stares at it for hours as he thinks about home. Tears well up in his eyes, which he desperately tries to hide from his daughter because she looks at him with pity, not love, when she sees him crying. “Do you want to go for a walk?” she often asks him. The last time he went for a walk with her, she dragged him through multiple subways and city streets where “everything was boiling” until he felt sick and almost tumbled off the overhead “El.” Things are no better in the “too tight” apartment...
(The entire section is 2265 words.)