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

  • 0:06 - 0:11
    A garrulous grandmother and a roaming
    bandit face off on a dirt road.
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    A Bible salesman lures a one-legged
    philosopher into a barn.
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    A traveling handyman teaches a deaf woman
    her first word on an old plantation.
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    From her farm in rural Georgia,
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    surrounded by a flock of pet birds,
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    Flannery O’Connor scribbled tales
    of outcasts,
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    intruders and misfits staged in
    the world she knew best:
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    the American South.
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    She published two novels,
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    but is perhaps best known
    for her short stories,
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    which explored small-town life
    with stinging language, offbeat humor,
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    and delightfully unsavory scenarios.
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    In her spare time O’Connor drew cartoons,
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    and her writing is also
    brimming with caricature.
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    In her stories, a mother has a face
    “as broad and innocent as a cabbage,”
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    a man has as much drive as a “floor mop,”
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    and one woman’s body
    is shaped like “a funeral urn.”
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    The names of her characters
    are equally sly.
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    Take the story “The Life You
    Save May be Your Own,”
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    where the one-handed drifter Tom Shiftlet
    wanders into the lives
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    of an old woman named Lucynell Crater
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    and her deaf and mute daughter.
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    Though Mrs Crater is self-assured,
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    her isolated home is falling apart.
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    At first, we may be suspicious
    of Shiftlet’s motives
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    when he offers to help around the house,
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    but O’Connor soon reveals
    the old woman to be
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    just as scheming as her unexpected guest–
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    and rattles the reader’s presumptions
    about who has the upper hand.
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    For O’Connor, no subject was off limits.
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    Though she was a devout Catholic,
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    she wasn’t afraid to explore
    the possibility
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    of pious thought and unpious behavior
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    co-existing in the same person.
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    In her novel The Violent Bear it Away,
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    the main character grapples with the
    choice to become a man of God –
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    but also sets fires and commits murder.
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    The book opens with the reluctant prophet
    in a particularly compromising position:
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    “Francis Marion Tarwater’s uncle had been
    dead for only half a day
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    when the boy got too drunk
    to finish digging his grave.”
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    This leaves a passerby to “drag the body
    from the breakfast table
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    where it was still sitting and bury it […]
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    with enough dirt on top to keep
    the dogs from digging it up.”
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    Though her own politics are still debated,
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    O’Connor’s fiction could also be attuned
    to the racism of the South.
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    In “Everything that Rises Must Converge,”
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    she depicts a son raging
    at his mother’s bigotry.
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    But the story reveals that
    he has his own blind spots
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    and suggests that simply recognizing evil
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    doesn’t exempt his character
    from scrutiny.
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    Even as O’Connor probes the most
    unsavory aspects of humanity,
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    she leaves the door to redemption
    open a crack.
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    In “A Good Man is Hard to Find,”
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    she redeems an insufferable grandmother
    for forgiving a hardened criminal,
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    even as he closes in on her family.
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    Though we might balk at the price the
    woman pays for this redemption,
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    we’re forced to confront the nuance
    in moments
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    we might otherwise consider
    purely violent or evil.
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    O’Connor’s mastery of the grotesque
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    and her explorations of the insularity and
    superstition of the South
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    led her to be classified as
    a Southern Gothic writer.
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    But her work pushed beyond
    the purely ridiculous
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    and frightening characteristics
    associated with the genre
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    to reveal the variety and nuance
    of human character.
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    She knew some of this variety
    was uncomfortable,
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    and that her stories could be
    an acquired taste –
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    but she took pleasure
    in challenging her readers.
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    O’Connor died of lupus at the age of 39,
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    after the disease had mostly confined her
    to her farm in Georgia for twelve years.
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    During those years,
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    she penned much of her most
    imaginative work.
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    Her ability to flit between
    revulsion and revelation
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    continues to draw readers to her endlessly
    surprising fictional worlds.
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    As her character Tom Shiftlet notes,
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    the body is “like a house:
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    it don’t go anywhere,
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    but the spirit, lady,
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    is like an automobile:
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    always on the move.”
Title:
Why should you read Flannery O’Connor? - Iseult Gillespie
Speaker:
Iseult Gillespie
Description:

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Video Language:
English
Team:
closed TED
Project:
TED-Ed
Duration:
03:56

English subtitles

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