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← Why should you read Flannery O’Connor? - Iseult Gillespie

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Showing Revision 4 created 01/29/2019 by Kayla Wolf.

  1. A garrulous grandmother and a roaming
    bandit face off on a dirt road.
  2. A Bible salesman lures a one-legged
    philosopher into a barn.
  3. A traveling handyman teaches a deaf woman
    her first word on an old plantation.
  4. From her farm in rural Georgia,

  5. surrounded by a flock of pet birds,
  6. Flannery O’Connor scribbled tales
    of outcasts,
  7. intruders and misfits staged in
    the world she knew best:
  8. the American South.
  9. She published two novels,
  10. but is perhaps best known
    for her short stories,
  11. which explored small-town life
    with stinging language, offbeat humor,
  12. and delightfully unsavory scenarios.
  13. In her spare time O’Connor drew cartoons,

  14. and her writing is also
    brimming with caricature.
  15. In her stories, a mother has a face
    “as broad and innocent as a cabbage,”
  16. a man has as much drive as a “floor mop,”
  17. and one woman’s body
    is shaped like “a funeral urn.”
  18. The names of her characters
    are equally sly.

  19. Take the story “The Life You
    Save May be Your Own,”
  20. where the one-handed drifter Tom Shiftlet
    wanders into the lives
  21. of an old woman named Lucynell Crater
  22. and her deaf and mute daughter.
  23. Though Mrs. Crater is self-assured,

  24. her isolated home is falling apart.
  25. At first, we may be suspicious
    of Shiftlet’s motives
  26. when he offers to help around the house,
  27. but O’Connor soon reveals
    the old woman to be
  28. just as scheming as her unexpected guest–
  29. and rattles the reader’s presumptions
    about who has the upper hand.
  30. For O’Connor, no subject was off limits.

  31. Though she was a devout Catholic,
  32. she wasn’t afraid to explore
    the possibility
  33. of pious thought and unpious behavior
  34. co-existing in the same person.
  35. In her novel The Violent Bear it Away,
  36. the main character grapples with the
    choice to become a man of God –
  37. but also sets fires and commits murder.
  38. The book opens with the reluctant prophet
    in a particularly compromising position:
  39. “Francis Marion Tarwater’s uncle had been
    dead for only half a day
  40. when the boy got too drunk
    to finish digging his grave.”
  41. This leaves a passerby to “drag the body
    from the breakfast table
  42. where it was still sitting and bury it […]
  43. with enough dirt on top to keep
    the dogs from digging it up.”
  44. Though her own politics are still debated,

  45. O’Connor’s fiction could also be attuned
    to the racism of the South.
  46. In “Everything that Rises Must Converge,”
  47. she depicts a son raging
    at his mother’s bigotry.
  48. But the story reveals that
    he has his own blind spots
  49. and suggests that simply recognizing evil
  50. doesn’t exempt his character
    from scrutiny.
  51. Even as O’Connor probes the most
    unsavory aspects of humanity,

  52. she leaves the door to redemption
    open a crack.
  53. In “A Good Man is Hard to Find,”
  54. she redeems an insufferable grandmother
    for forgiving a hardened criminal,
  55. even as he closes in on her family.
  56. Though we might balk at the price the
    woman pays for this redemption,
  57. we’re forced to confront the nuance
    in moments
  58. we might otherwise consider
    purely violent or evil.
  59. O’Connor’s mastery of the grotesque

  60. and her explorations of the insularity and
    superstition of the South
  61. led her to be classified as
    a Southern Gothic writer.
  62. But her work pushed beyond
    the purely ridiculous
  63. and frightening characteristics
    associated with the genre
  64. to reveal the variety and nuance
    of human character.
  65. She knew some of this variety
    was uncomfortable,
  66. and that her stories could be
    an acquired taste –
  67. but she took pleasure
    in challenging her readers.
  68. O’Connor died of lupus at the age of 39,

  69. after the disease had mostly confined her
    to her farm in Georgia for twelve years.
  70. During those years,
  71. she penned much of her most
    imaginative work.
  72. Her ability to flit between
    revulsion and revelation
  73. continues to draw readers to her endlessly
    surprising fictional worlds.
  74. As her character Tom Shiftlet notes,
  75. the body is “like a house:
  76. it don’t go anywhere,
  77. but the spirit, lady,
    is like an automobile:
  78. always on the move.”