Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


Powderhead. Tiny settlement somewhere in rural Tennessee—perhaps east of Nashville—where the boy, Francis Marion Tarwater, has spent nearly all of his fourteen years living with his great-uncle. There they live as if in another century, literally prophets in the wilderness, in a two-story shack surrounded by woods and corn fields, plowing with a mule and selling homemade liquor from their still. After his great-uncle dies, Tarwater gets drunk and burns the cabin and the old man’s body, instead of burying him as he has promised. He then escapes to the city, a place he views with distrust.

The imaginary Powderhead is a primal, magical realm, isolated from the modern world both literally and symbolically. The old man’s cabin is inaccessible by car; like holy ground, it must be approached on foot. While Powderhead proves a paradise of sorts for the young Bishop Rayber, a city child who has “never caught a fish or walked on roads that were not paved,” its thorns bar his entrance when he returns as an adult. With its thickly enclosing woods, thorn bushes, and blackberry brambles, Powderhead is alternately oppressive and edenic. The old man’s remote cabin, like his religious vision, has a haunting power that draws both nephew and great-nephew back after they have left it.


City. Large unnamed southeastern city—possibly modeled on Atlanta, Georgia—that is home to about 75,000 people, including Tarwater’s uncle, the schoolteacher George Rayber, and...

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Historical Context

(Novels for Students)

Two Americas: United States Culture in the 1950s
The 1950s were characterized by affluence in much of American society, as...

(The entire section is 750 words.)

Literary Style

(Novels for Students)

Southern Gothic
The Violent Bear It Away is an example of Southern Gothic, a style of writing that is characterized by its...

(The entire section is 828 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Novels for Students)

1950s: Americans are enduring the cold war years, a military stalemate between two international superpowers, the U.S.S.R. and the...

(The entire section is 485 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Novels for Students)

Do you think that Francis Tarwater is a true prophet, a madman, or something else? How do you think people can recognize when someone is a...

(The entire section is 249 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Novels for Students)

Comforts of Home, a Web site dedicated to Flannery O’Connor, can be found at http:// (accessed...

(The entire section is 113 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Novels for Students)

Wise Blood (1952) is O’Connor’s first novel. It tells the story of young Hazel Motes who, like Francis Tarwater, is caught in a...

(The entire section is 261 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

Benoit, Raymond, “The Existential Intuition of Flannery O’Connor in The Violent Bear It Away,” in Notes on Contemporary Literature, Vol. 23, No. 4, September 1993, pp. 2–3.

Bieber, Christina, “Called to the Beautiful: The Incarnational Art of Flannery O’Connor’s The Violent Bear It Away,” in Xavier Review, Vol. 18, No. 1, 1998, pp. 44–62.

Burns, Stuart L., “The Violent Bear It Away: Apotheosis in Failure,” in Sewanee Review, Vol. 76, 1968, pp. 319–36.

Buzan, Mary, “The Difficult Heroism of Francis Marion Tarwater,” in the Flannery O’Connor Bulletin, Vol. 14, 1985, pp. 33–43.


(The entire section is 607 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Asals, Frederick. Flannery O’Connor: The Imagination of Extremity. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1982. A frequently cited study of O’Connor’s attraction to polar oppositions. Emphasizes the Christian sacramentalism, psychology, and use of doubles in The Violent Bear It Away, as well as the differences between O’Connor’s novels. Treats the novel’s ending as both comic and tragic.

Bacon, Jon Lance. Flannery O’Connor and Cold War Culture. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993. Treats O’Connor as a Southern critic of nationalistic Cold War culture in America. The Violent Bear It Away...

(The entire section is 289 words.)