Flannery O, Connor, born Mary Flannery O’ Connor, is the author of two novels but is best known for her short stories. The most popular of these is thought to be A Good Man Is Hard to Find. She is considered a southern writer, who often used the south as a setting. She was not known for using characters that were easy to relate to, yet she is considered one of the most important voices in literary history, according to Harold Bloom’s “Flannery O’ Connor.” Bloom also commented that she used her stories to reflect her own religious values, which were Roman Catholic, while discussing underlying issues of ethics, integrity, and morality . From 1956 to 1964, the author used her roots in faith to write over one hundred book reviews for Catholic newspapers in Georgia, often stating that “Anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic." It appeared that she was correct, as her writings are still considered grotesque, and examples of the aforementioned styles can be found in all of her works, including “Wise Blood,” A Good Man Is Hard To Find, and, Everything That Rises Must Converge.
“Wise Blood” was Flannery O’ Connor’s first full-length novel. Originally published in 1952, the book tells about Hazel Motes, a recently discharged World War II veteran attempting to survive on government pension . He returns to Tennessee, ready to greet his family, but finds it abandoned. With no reason to stay, Motes also leaves. He grew up the son of a traveling preacher, and as such, struggled with doubts concerning salvation and sin. Because of war, Motes returned an atheist, intending to tell more people about anti-religion. Though he spends the novel trying to get away from all things Christian, he spends much of his time contemplating religious issues, and even buys a suit and hat that have him mistaken for a preacher . According to David Eggenschwiller’s, “The Christian Humanism of Flannery O’ Connor,” this is typical of her writing . O’ Connor was known for writing about characters who would struggle with issues such as ethics, sin, and morality. As the sun of a traveling preacher, all Motes had known was the gospel. However, having been sent to war, left to fend for himself by the country he served, and later abandoned by his family, he was forced to reassess what being a Christian really meant . The people who taught him the difference between right and wrong were the ones who had abandoned him, and war had left him internally, as well as externally, scarred. Set in the south, which also became a trend in O’ Connor’s writing, Motes was forced to deal with his own ideas concerning morality now that his moral compass was gone. This is made further evident when the first place he lives after he moves is with a prostitute. His first friend is Enoch Emery, a manic zookeeper who was forced to move from home after his father repeatedly abused him and then kicked him out of the house . We are reminded that these are not Christian acts, and yet Motes has been told that all must act as a Christian should. The people who have been saying these things all his life are the least likely to act morally just . This new friend introduces Mote to the concept of “Wise Blood,” which is that he has an intuitive idea of which direction he should push his life toward, requiring know spiritual or religious guidance. After a run-in with a street preacher, Asa, and his daughter, gets him angry, Motes and Emery vow to start preaching the anti-religion. As fate would have it, Motes ends up living in the same boarding house as the two. He becomes infatuated with Asa’s daughter, Lily. He intends to corrupt her spirituality with sex but, instead, finds she is a nymphomaniac, once again making him skeptical of how serious he can take Asa and Lily’s ministry. He realizes he cannot trust either when he sees Asa, who had previously promised to blind himself, with intact eyes. Asa flees and Motes begins his anti-religion campaign with vigor. Throughout a series of events, Motes’ ambitions inspire hoover Shoats to begin his own anti-religious ministry, entitled “Holy Church of Christ Without Christ” which the population can join for a donation of $1. The idea seems like a joke to people and they begin to join to be funny. This angers Motes, because he legitimately wants to free people from religion, while Shoats just wants to make money. Eggenschwiller suggested that O’ Connor was attempting to explain that questioning moral reasoning, sin, and salvation in a public forum will only entice people to silence you. Whether it is by making you look like a joke, or by other means, others may be afraid to face such a harsh reality, and they may want to stop you, as Shoats did. He also suggested that the comparison of the two movements might have been to demonstrate that Motes was correct in spreading a message of anti-religion and even if he felt like he was losing, he was winning. The act of Shoats beginning an antireligious church only to gain money, coupled with the fact that people joined it only shows that individuals were as corrupt as he thought. In a way, his message was already superfluous . Enoch has a manic attack over a man dressed in a gorilla suit, murders him, and dresses as a gorilla himself. Motes seethes over Shoates’ growing ministry, following him one night and trying to force him to shut down his operation. Overcome with rage, he runs Shoats over with a car, and is then surprised as, dying, Shoats begins confessing his sins to him. The next day, a strange police officer pulls him over, pushes his car off a cliff, and startles Motes so badly that he does what Asa could not, blinding himself. He continues to walk around wrapped in barbed wire with small pebbles in his shoes. Again, we see the underlying atonement that registers in many of O’Connor’s stories as one wrestles with morality. Mrs. Flood, the landlady, assumes he’s gone insane, and intends to marry him in order to collect his government pension. Instead, she falls in love with him. Motes dies from a blow to the head, and Mrs. Flood cares for his lifeless corpse, convinces she sees light in his empty sockets.
A Good Man Is Hard To Find is a short story O’ Connor published in 1955. It tells about the grandmother attempting to convince Bailey, her son, and his wife to take their young family to vacation in Tennessee instead of Florida. The reason is an article the woman has read, speaking of a Misfit, an escaped prison convict traveling toward Florida. The family declines and they travel to Florida anyway. The grandmother hides her cat in the car while wearing a hat and flowery dress so people will know she is a proper lady if the family gets in an accident. The hat may escape many people’s radar, but it is symbolic. According to Sarah Gordon’s “Flannery O’ Connor: The Obedient Imagination,” the hat represents her warped moral compass . Many believe that the grandmother is the guide throughout the story, when in fact she is the one who ends up getting everybody killed. When she prepares for the car trip, she dressed in preparation for an accident; if anybody should see her dead body, she wanted them to know that she was a lady. She remains, in this scenario, completely unconcerned with the fact that she would be dead, or that her family would likely be injured or dead. All that she is concerned with is that she will be remembered as a lady. It reveals that she is selfish, with a weak moral compass. As we see, later in the story, when the family does get in an accident, her moral compass, just like her hat, fall apart . On the drive, the son points out that he does not like Georgia, reminding the reader again that this story takes place in the south. The grandmother tells stories about plantations and attempts to get the child to respect his home state as they drive, later speaking about Edgar Atkins Teagarden, an old boyfriend. Teagarden used to leave a watermelon on grandmother’s doorstep with his initials carved into is, but a black child would eat it because he thought it said, “Eat.” The family stops at a restaurant to eat; the owners are wary of new people and the phrase, “A good man is hard to find,” is uttered after the grandmother asks if the Misfit has been through. This utterance is also very important, and typical of O’ Connor’s style. Katherine Hample Prown examined a “good man” in context of this short story, citing that it was used in the context of nostalgia. “A good man is hard to find,” Red Sammy, the owner of Towers states. We are to assume that as one time they were easy to find, but now it is difficult because people have changed and the world is a barbaric and chaotic place. Men are not like young Mr. Teagarden, the wealthy gentleman that the grandmother obviously hoped she would have married. Good men are a dying breed. Later in the story, even the Misfit begins remembering how great his own father was, stating that he is not as good. The present-day characters believe that good men are outdated, convinced that nothing like that could exist right now. In this way, Prown believes that the characters allow themselves to remain unhappy and, in some cases, even allow themselves the right to be bad because they have already made the decision that good cannot exist in today’s world. After they eat, the grandmother lies to convince the family into stopping at a plantation she once visited. As they drive deep into the woods, she remembers the plantation is in Tennessee, not Georgia. The memory startles her, which causes her to release her hidden cat. The cat scares her son, and he wrecks the car. She remains silent about her mistake. The Misfit happens upon them, scaring the grandmother, but she claims she can tell he is good and comes from “nice people” which he agrees with, saying his parents are good The grandmother continues to stalls in this manner, striking up a conversation with the Misfit. As he tells the grandmother that he never prays, they hear to gunshots being fired. The Misfit claims that he cannot remember the crime that sent him to prison, but a psychiatrist told him he murdered his father. The grandmother continues to tell him to pray. The Misfit’s two friends return from the woods with Bailey’s shirt before they take the mother and remaining children into the woods. More gunshots are heard as the Misfit confesses he gave himself the nickname, as his own punishment for his crimes. The grandmother begs him not to shoot a lady. The Misfit philosophizes about Jesus while the grandmother calls him “one of her own children” and the Misfit proceeds to shoot her in the chest before saying life has no real pleasure. After the grandmother dies, we begin to understand that she never meant a good man they way many people mean it. To many, good means to be kind, or morally just. To the grandmother, good meant to have morals that were the same as her own. In this case, to be good meant to refrain from killing her. Unfortunately, the same could not be said for her family, as she seemed unaffected by their murder. She begins by calling the Misfit good because she does not believe, or hopes, that he will not shoot a lady. However, the Misfit is arguably traditionally good because he does continue to live out his own moral code, which is “no pleasure but meanness.
Everything That Rises Must Converge was a short story published by O’ Connor in 1965. It tells a story of Julian, a recent college graduate, taking his mother to a weight loss class at the YMCA. He takes her every week because she refuses to use the bus since integration. While they walk, she contemplates returning her fancy hat to pay their bills while Julian dreams about making more money to support them. The hat once again plays a symbolic role in this regionally southern story. Integration has just taken place, and the hat represents a transformation of the cultural landscape during the 60’s, according to Carol Schloss, author of, “Flannery O’ Connor’s Dark Comedies: The Limits of Inference .” The hat is later worn by a large black woman, demonstrating that the region has now put the two races on equal ground. What was once only available to Julian’s mother, a white woman, is now available to everybody. The two women are no longer separated by race, class, or any other boundary; they shop in the same places, take the same forms of transportation, and now shop in the same shops. The simplicity of the hats demonstrate that people should not be surprised by desegregation showing us all that we are more alike than we are different . Before she sees this woman, however, she tells Julian on the way to the YMCA about how her grandfather used to own slaves. Julian tries to reason that slavery is over, but his mother insists that the races should remain separate. She continues speaking about these archaic views on racial separation to people on the bus, while Julian feels guilty disdain for her. He hates how she thinks, but recognizes the sacrifices she has made for him and is unsure of how to feel. Eggenshwiller points out that we are once again seeing a moral dilemma occurring in this story. Julian feels a loyalty to his mother for all she has done for him, and his education. However, it is because of his education that he knows desegregation was not only necessary, but also morally justified. The very thing his mother sacrificed for is the reason that Julian maintains the intelligence to know that she is wrong . He dreams of showing his mother “lessons” by socializing with African Americans, bringing them home for dinner, or being treated by black doctors, if only to show her that they are no different than anybody else. The woman with the same hat as his mother, and her son, board the bus. As they leave, Julian wants to avoid his mother giving the child a nickel, fearing it will be taken as an insult. She can only finding a penny and, upon attempting to give it to Carver, is nearly knocked out by the boy’s angry mother. While she gives nickels to children of all races, the penny represents Julian’s mother’s patronizing ideals toward African Americans and is more of an insult to the boy’s mother . Though partially given out of kindness, she cannot even recognize how it could be seen as an insult. She did not understand how many opportunities whites had denied blacks, and therefore could not grasp how giving anything to Carver was a continuation of dependence between the races. This was typical of O’ Connor’s grotesque southern style . Julian lectures his mother as they walk the rest of the way. However, she begins to fall, asking for her grandfather and her childhood nurse. Julian realizes something is wrong as his mother evidently begins to die. Her death was classic O’ Connor.
In sum, Flannery O’ Connor kept the styles of southern grotesque, as well as the uncertainty of morality, sin, and salvation alive in her works. Her characters seem to find themselves in difficult situations that back them into morally compromising corners. Julian, for example, knew that the races should be integrated, but was only aware of that because his racist mother made sacrifices for his education. Motes had heard the gospel all his life, but was then forced to go to war, changing everything he knew about morals, sin, or salvation. The grandmother was morally bankrupt from the start. Many readers will also notice a theme with O’ Connor’s work: the thing that they resist, fight for, or are afraid of usually kills her characters. For the grandmother, it was a “good man. Motes was killed by a blow to the head by a police officer, who are supposed to the most moral of all citizens. Julian’s mother was killed by a blow to the side of the head given by an African American woman who represented hundreds of years of black oppression. Though much of her work can be difficult to understand, making sense of it means making sense of an era, morals, and the southern landscape
Bloom, H. (2009). Flannery O'Connor. Chicago: Infobase Publishing.
Eggenschwiller, D. (2002). The Christian Humanism of Flannery O'Connor. Detroit: Wayne State University Press.
Gordon, S. (2000). Flannery O'Connor: The Obedient Imagination. Atlanta: University of Georgia Press.
Hample Prown, K. (2001). Revising Flannery O'Connor: Southern Literary Culture and the Problem of Female Authorship. Richmond: University of Virginia Press.
O'Connor, F. (1999). Everything that Rises Must Converge. Dublin: MacMillan.
O'Connor, F. (2007). Wise Blood. Dublin: Macmillan.
O'Connor, F. (2013). A Good Man is Hard to Find. Boston: GoodBook LLC.
Shloss, C. (2009). Flannery O'Connor's Dark Comedies: The Limits of Inference. Baton Rouge: LSU Press.