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CONTEMPORARY WRITERS IN CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE 




plannery 
O'Connor 



A CRITICAL ESSAY 



BY ROBERT DRAKE 



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Flannery O'Connor : a critical essay / 
PS3565.C57 Z65 11072 



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Drake, Robert, 

NEW COLLEGE OF CALIFORNIA (SF) 



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3565 
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Drake, Robert. 

Flannery O'Connor. 




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Fiannery O'Connor : a critical essay 
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48 p* ; 22 cm* ( Cont eaporary writers 
in Christian perspective) 

Bibliography: p* 44-48* 

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23 JAN 87 



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New College of California 



CONTEMPORARY WRITERS IN CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE 
A CONTINUING SERIES EDITED BY RODERICK JELLEMA 

LIBRARY 

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Flannery 
O'Connor 



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College of California 



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Copyright © 1966 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 
^ All rights reserved. 

^\, Library of Congress Catalog Card Number, 66-22944. 

Printed in the United States of America. 



Excerpts from following books by permission of the publisher, Farrar, 
Straus & Giroux, Inc. WISE BLOOD, copyright © 1949, 1952, 1962 
by Flannery O'Connor. THE VIOLENT BEAR IT AWAY, copyright 
© 1955, 1960 by Flannery O'Connor. EVERYTHING THAT RISES 
MUST CONVERGE, copyright © 1956, 1957, 1958, 1960, 1961, 1962, 
1964, 1965 by the Estate of Mary Flannery O'Connor. 



FOR 

Mamma and Daddy 
Uncle Sanford and Alice 



ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 

A substantial portion of this study appeared originally as an essay, 
" The Bleeding, Stinking, Mad Shadow of Jesus' in the Fiction of Flan- 
nery O'Connor," in Comparative Literature Studies. My thanks are 
due the editors of that publication for allowing me to draw heavily on 
that essay here. 

My grateful thanks are due also to Harcourt, Brace and World, Inc., 
for permission to quote from A Good Man Is Hard to Find; to Farrar, 
Straus and Giroux, Inc., for permission to quote from Wise Blood, 
The Violent Bear It Away, and Everything That Rises Must Converge 
and for permission to quote from Professor Robert Fitzgerald's intro- 
duction to the last named volume; and to The Macmillan Company, 
for permission to quote from Miss O'Connor's essay, "The Fiction 
Writer and His Country," in The Living Novel: A Symposium, ed. 
Granville Hicks. 

I am indebted to Mr. William S. Newman's unpublished M. A. thesis, 
"Flannery O'Connor's Distinctive Use of Place in Her Novels and 
Short Stories" (The University of Tennessee, 1965), and to my col- 
league, Professor Nathalia Wright, who supervised Mr. Newman's 
thesis, for helpful bibliographical suggestions. I am indebted also to 
Professor Robert Fitzgerald, Miss O'Connor's literary executor, and 
to Miss Elizabeth McKee, her literary agent, and to Mr. Granville 
Hicks for answering a number of queries. 

My warmest thanks, finally, are reserved for Mrs. Regina Cline 
O'Connor for the kind interest she has taken in this study from its 
inception, for reading the introduction and supplying some important 
biographical and bibliographical information, and for the gracious 
hospitality she and her daughter showed me on that memorable day in 
August, 1963, when I visited them at Andalusia Farm. All conver- 
sational remarks attributed to Flannery O'Connor in this study were 
either made by her to me then or verified by me on that occasion from 
conversations of hers as previously reported. 

— R. D. 
The University of Tennessee 
Knoxville 



". . . [the writer's] true country, which the writer 
with Christian convictions will consider to be what 
is eternal and absolute." 

— Flannery O'Connor, "The Fiction 
Writer and His Country" 



"The stories [of Flannery O'Connor] not only imply, 
they as good as state again and again, that estrange- 
ment from Christian plenitude is estrangement from 
the true country of man." 

— Robert Fitzgerald, "The Country- 
side and the True Country" 



I 



The fiction of Flannery O'Connor (1925-1964) was often 
puzzling to her contemporaries, when it was not downright mis- 
understood. Some of them found the easiest way out in identify- 
ing her as another member of the Southern Gothic School, 
which, we are given to understand, probably begins with Poe, 
proceeds in our time through Caldwell and his affinities, and 
reaches its grand apotheosis in Faulkner, with more recent 
excrescences on the tortured parent stalk being represented by 
Carson McCullers, Truman Capote, and Tennessee Williams. 

Roman Catholic critics, on the other hand, were often pleased 
to claim this staunch daughter of their Communion as their 
own especial property and spoke of her, with some pride, as 
another in the tradition of "modern Catholic writers," along 
with Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh. And in one instance 
at least these two prevailing views were combined in the critical 
observation that Miss O'Connor was a "Roman Catholic 
Erskine Caldwell." 

Still other critics, often of the most discriminating sensibility, 
while declining to tag Miss O'Connor with such convenient 
labels, and conceding her gift for the comic, expressed distaste 
for what seemed her undue emphasis on the grotesque; they also 
voiced skepticism about what they felt were the unnecessary 
theological intrusions into the body of her fiction. For such 
readers, who appeared to want to appreciate Miss O'Connor 
in spite of her theology, the task was made no easier by Miss 
O'Connor's assertions from time to time that Christian the- 
ology was absolutely fundamental for a proper understanding 
of her work. Indeed, the insistent theological implications which 
seemed inextricably bound up in her fiction finally did deny 
her the approbation of some very perceptive readers — and 
of course a wider reading public. They became finally the thorn- 
iest problem for any critic who attempted to deal seriously with 



her work; and in many cases they proved a fatal stumbling 
block — usually, for the critics. 

Other critics, while not hostile to theological considerations 
as such, concluded, on the basis of what must surely have been 
a superficial reading of her works, that as a Roman Cathohc 
intellectual she was often condescending to, if not actually 
sneering at, the Southern Fundamentalists — Baptists, Holy 
Rollers and such like — who populated her region and her 
fiction. Once or twice, also, it was even suggested that she 
was out to get the Methodists because in several instances 
she gave such traditional Methodist names as "Wesley" and 
'"Asbury" to some particularly unsavory characters. 

One of the silliest critical strictures on her work concerned 
the paucity of conventional sexual relationships found there: she 
was an American Roman Catholic; therefore she must have 
been an Irish Jansenist, with the traditional Jansenistic horror 
of the flesh, all too often, according to the critic, found in 
Catholic writers at the present. And what she needed, one 
might have inferred from reading that gentleman, was a good 
liberating from an inhibiting tradition. (What she really 
needed was a good liberating from literary critics unwilling to 
grant her the primary concession, according to Henry James, 
due any artist — an acceptance by the reader of her donnee.) 
Fittingly enough, at least one other critic has found Miss 
O'Connor's work as sexy as all get-out: it's full of sublimated 
incest and, once or twice, even sublimated homosexual incest! 

These are two admittedly extreme instances of willful and 
perverse misreadings on the part of critics who, along with 
all too many of their brethren, are not properly concerned 
with fiction as an art form but, rather, with fiction as an 
embodiment of psychological commentary or political and 
sociological ideology — and that preferably of the doctrinaire 
Left. But other critic-ideologists, only several degrees less 
ridiculous, had a field day with Miss O'Connor's work too: the 
South-haters, the secularists, the liberal humanitarians, and 
the rest. All seemed to find, as so many have mistakenly 
found in Faulkner, ample evidence in her fiction to substantiate 
their horror and outrage at that dark and bloody land of moon- 
light lynchings and festering magnolias and a confirmation of 
their worst suspicions that Miss O'Connor did not take a 



"liberal" or "progressive" view of either human nature or 
human history. They found many of her villains admirable 
and were horrified at many of the characters she seemed to 
approve. 

For all these reasons, then, there has been little enough 
sound criticism of Miss O'Connor's fiction, though it has con- 
sistently grown in volume and in seriousness, especially since 
her death. But whatever her work might be, it was provocative 
and difficult to ignore. She has never lacked commentators; she 
has needed — and still needs — more disinterested ones who 
will approach her work with a genuine spirit of good will, will- 
ing, as far as lies within their power, to grant her as an artist 
her donnee, even when they cannot share all her fundamental 
assumptions about man and God. She needs critics earnestly 
seeking to ascertain the worth as literature of the substantial 
body of work she produced in a life which ended tragically 
soon. 



Flannery O'Connor, the only child of Edward Francis and 
Regina Cline O'Connor, was born March 25, 1925, in Savannah, 
Georgia. And there she spent her childhood, beginning her 
education in parochial schools. Mrs. O'Connor, who came of 
an old Georgia Catholic family, was from Milledgeville in 
Baldwin County; and it was to Milledgeville that she and her 
husband and daughter returned late in the Thirties when Mr. 
O'Connor, a real estate businessman, became ill with dis- 
seminated lupus, the disease which would finally take the lives of 
both him and his daughter. (Mr. O'Connor died in 1941.) 

The daughter, christened Mary Flannery, graduated from 
Peabody High School in Milledgeville and entered Georgia 
State College for Women there in 1941, graduating in 1945 
with a B.A. degree in Social Science, a fact which somewhat 
startles when one recalls the distaste with which she treated 
psychologists and social workers in her fiction. She then spent 

8 



two years at the University of Iowa in Paul Engle's Writer's 
Workshop, receiving the degree of Master of Fine Arts in 
1947. (It was before entering the University of Iowa that 
she dropped the "Mary" from her name. She felt that a double 
name would be an anomaly in the Midwest, and she did not 
want to be known as "Mary O'Connor." After some discussion 
she and her mother settled on the name by which she would 
come to be known. ) 

Her first published story, "The Geranium," appeared in 
Accent in the summer of 1946; and from that time onward 
her stories began appearing with some regularity in the 
quarterlies and even in such more widely circulated magazines 
as Mademoiselle and Harper's Bazaar. Her first novel. Wise 
Blood, was published in 1952 by Harcourt, Brace, followed in 
1955 by a collection of stories, A Good Man Is Hard to Find, 
published by the same company. (Wise Blood was reissued 
in 1962 by her later publishers, Farrar, Straus. Robert Giroux 
had been her editor at Harcourt, Brace and was later to become 
her publisher at Farrar, Straus — now Farrar, Straus and 
Giroux.) Significantly, when A Good Man Is Hard to Find 
was published in England by Neville Spearman in 1957, it was 
re-titled (without her knowledge and much to her dismay) 
The Artificial Nigger. One wonders whether such a title seemed 
more "Southern" to an English publisher: it certainly is inferior 
to the title of the American edition in suggesting the recurring 
theme of Miss O'Connor's work. 

In 1960, Farrar, Straus published Miss O'Connor's second 
novel, The Violent Bear It Away, and in 1965 a posthumous 
volume of stories. Everything That Rises Must Converge. 
Aside from several uncollected stories and occasional critical 
pieces, these four volumes contain almost her entire literary 
output. And it is almost entirely with them that this study 
will be concerned. 

In the late fall of 1950, when Miss O'Connor was completing 
her first novel and living as a "paying guest" with Robert 
Fitzgerald (poet, critic, and now her literary executor) and his 
family at their house in Connecticut, she experienced the first 
symptoms of the disease which would finally take her life. And 
on the train going home to Georgia for Christmas she became 
desperately ill. Devoted medical care in Atlanta and her moth- 



er's warm solicitude and supervision pulled her through this 
first attack. And in the summer of 1951 she and her mother 
moved to Mrs. O'Connor's country place, Andalusia Farm, four 
miles north of Milledgeville, for her recuperation. As matters 
turned out, they made it their permanent home. And it was 
there that Miss O'Connor began raising her celebrated peacocks 
and other exotic birds — and some four-legged pets — and, 
when some measure of health was restored to her, began re- 
ceiving and entertaining her growing circle of friends and ad- 
mirers. 

From the publication of Wise Blood onward, her works 
began to be read with serious attention by an ever widening 
group of readers; and the grants and honors began to come in: 
a Kenyon Review fellowship, a grant from the Ford Founda- 
tion, and several O. Henry awards. 

But though her general health continued to improve, from 
1955 onwards she was forced to use crutches: her disease or 
the medicine she was required to take, or perhaps both, had 
weakened her bone structure. But there seemed enough im- 
provement in her condition over the next few years to allow 
her to accept invitations to lecture and read from her works at 
various colleges and universities, where her work was being 
read, discussed, and criticized with increasing seriousness. One 
of her last public appearances was at Smith College, where she 
received an honorary degree at the 1963 commencement. 

Early in 1964 she found that she had to have an abdominal 
operation, the aftermath of which, as is characteristic of any 
further complication for lupus patients, caused that disease to 
return in full force. From this new onset she never recovered. 
She died in Milledgeville, at the age of thirty-nine, on August 
3, 1964. 



Ill 



Anyone meeting Miss O'Connor for the first time might have 
been astonished that the modest and soft-spoken young woman 

10 



who received him with quiet grace and dignity at Andalusia 
Farm could have written those "terrible" and "shocking" stories. 
But it did not take long for his preconceived image of the author 
and the actuality before him to mesh in his mind. As she sat 
there on the screened-in porch, rocking back and forth in an 
old-fashioned high-backed rocker, occasionally looking across 
the pasture which lay beyond the front yard, she spoke softly 
and directly and with some finality: she looked her guest right 
in the eye and said what she had to say, no more, no less. In 
fact, she talked altogether "head-on," very much as she wrote. 
And when she had finished what she had to say, she just 
stopped: it was then the visitor's turn. 

In her conversation she was not without some of the same 
ironic humor which pervaded her work — and especially in 
her apprehension of what was vulgar, pretentious, or modish in 
current literary matters, or in literary people themselves. In 
this respect, she herself was not "literary" at all: her range 
of interests seemed much too wide. A characteristic instance 
was her reaction to some of the types encountered at dinner 
parties in New York literary circles. ("You know what's the 
matter with all that kind of folks? They ain't frum anywhere!") 
She deplored fiction which was pretentiously experimental in 
form ("If it looks pecuHar, I don't read it"); and she had little 
but contempt for programmatic fiction and particularly for the 
novel as self-pitying sexual autobiography — preferably per- 
verse. (Well, homosexuality ain't all right, and it's about time 
somebody said so!") 

About her own provincialism Miss O'Connor was perfectly 
candid, even exultant. She once observed that if she went to 
Japan and lived for twenty years and then tried to write a 
story about the Japanese, the characters would all talk like 
Herman Talmadge! On another occasion, she said, "I'm inter- 
ested in the Old Adam. He just talks Southern because I do." 
But like all genuine artists, she knew that her real — and 
inevitable — subject lay at her own doorstep, indeed was hardly 
to be found anywhere else. Baldwin County, Georgia, was her 
Wessex, her Yoknapatawpha, even, finally, as ironic as it might 
seem, her great good Hemingway place. 

Such views as these might suggest to some people that her 
critical sympathies were narrow and restricted, but such was 

11 



not the case. Her judgments of her fellow writers, though 
sometimes harsh, never seemed spiteful or envious; and she was 
very quick to give praise where she felt it was due. When she 
was really enthusiastic about another novelist, particularly a 
newcomer, she would urge any dissenter quietly but firmly, 
"Well, you'd better read him again." 

About her own afflictions she never seemed bitter; nor, for 
that matter, did she seem to be "looking on the bright side." 
She seemed merely to have accepted them as part of her lot 

— certainly not as a cross or a thorn in the flesh, to be drama- 
tized — and proceeded about her business. And that was that. 
She certainly made no cult of her illness: she handled her 
crutches with some distaste and refused any offers of assistance. 
One suspected, finally, that Miss O'Connor viewed her illness 
as just one more thing any man or woman had to put up with, 
and she fought what she must have known was a losing battle 
with characteristic irony and humor. (At the onset of what 
proved to be her last illness, she wrote: "I intend to survive 
this.") 

Before one left Andalusia Farm, he might be taken to inspect 
the peacocks or the pet burro Ernest, whom Miss O'Connor 
described as having "a bad, though friendly, character," and 
would perhaps be shown some of Miss O'Connor's paintings — 
boldly composed and as fiercely and glaringly executed as her 
fiction. In her college days she had done cartoons for the stu- 
dent newspaper. And, in a sense, a great deal of her fiction 
itself tends toward the cartoon, if one thinks of it in Henry 
James' pictorial terminology. It is perhaps also significant here 
that she was an admirer of that fierce and outrageous cartoon- 
ist, George Price, and that mordant literary cartoonist, Ring 
Lardner, and also of the work of Nathanael West. 

When her visitor took his departure, she might once again 
look him right in the eye and say simply, "Well, you know 
where we live. Come back." But by then he knew that this 
was no perfunctory conge he had been given, but a forthright 

— and quite literal — godspeed anc} gracious invitation for 
the future. And the visitor went away convinced that he had 
seen beauty and gallantry in action, quiet but sure, and perhaps 
finally a great strength made perfect in weakness. 



12 



IV 



In the essay "The Fiction Writer and His Country," which 
she contributed to The Living Novel: A Symposium, edited by 
Granville Hicks (Macmillan, 1957), Flannery O'Connor made 
her Christian commitment as an artist absolutely plain: 

I see from the standpoint of Christian orthodoxy. This means 
that for me the meaning of life is centered in our Redemption 
by Christ and that what I see in the world I see in its relation 
to that. I don't think that this is a position that can be taken 
halfway or one that is particularly easy in these times to make 
transparent in fiction. 

In the same essay she also observed: 

I have heard it said that belief in Christian dogma is a hindrance 
to the writer, but I myself have found nothing further from the 
truth. Actually, it forces the storyteller to observe. It is not a 
set of rules which fixes what he sees in the world. It affects his 
writing primarily by guaranteeing his respect for mystery. 

And, again in the same essay, she concluded: 

The novelist with Christian concerns will find in modern life 
distortions which are repugnant to him, and his problem will be 
to make these appear as distortions to an audience which is used 
to seeing them as natural; and he may well be forced to take 
ever more violent means to get his vision across to this hostile 
audience. When you can assume that your audience holds the 
same beliefs you do, you can relax a little and use more normal 
ways of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, 
then you have to make your vision apparent by shock — to the 
hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost blind you draw 
large and startling figures. 

These three statements categorically define Miss O'Connor's 
conception of her role as a writer with "Christian concerns." 
Indeed, one might conclude that she throws them down almost 
like a gauntlet: if this be treason, make the most of it. And 
treason or heresy it is to many contemporary writers and critics, 
who, commendably shying away from the concept of literature- 
as-ideology, assume that the further any writer can get from 
any kind of dogmatic commitment (unless perhaps to some 

13 



kind of vague humanitarianism), the better an artist he is 
apt to be. But these three statements go a long way — in so 
far as any writer can be taken as speaking definitively about 
his own work — toward explaining Miss O'Connor's "concerns" 
as an artist, both thematically and structurally. For her these 
opinions were fundamental and in no way "negotiable," and 
any serious consideration of her work must start there. Indeed, 
it is principally with these "concerns" that this study proposes 
to deal. 



Unlike some contemporary Christian writers, Miss O'Connor 
makes no concessions to the non-Christian world: on the whole, 
she refuses to make her ideology palatable to non-Christian 
readers by suggesting any alternative philosophical frame of 
reference other than that of Christian orthodoxy. (And by 
"Christian orthodoxy" is meant nothing of a narrowly sectarian 
nature. Perhaps we might define it for our purposes here as 
those beliefs comprehended and professed in the Nicene Creed.) 
Today this is an extremely big risk to take: such a theme and 
such a commitment inevitably deny the Christian writer many 
readers. Significantly, many of those same readers find Dante 
and Milton as rewarding as ever. But one suspects that they 
may be reading Paradise Lost and the Divine Comedy simply 
as "poetry" and discounting what they believe to be the 
theological residuum as "history" or perhaps even "mythology" 
— interesting but no longer relevant in these more enlightened 
times. After all, Dante and Milton did live a long time ago. . . . 

This approach, however, is almost impossible to take with 
Miss O'Connor. For one thing, she is only recently dead: in a 
sense, she has not yet passed into history. The settings of her 
novels and stories are thoroughly contemporary; and, more 
significantly, her overriding strategy is always to shock, embar- 
rass, even outrage rationalist readers — and perhaps most 
especially those like the sort mentioned above who think Dante 
and Milton are great poets as long as one doesn't have to take 
their theology seriously. Such readers, significantly, are very 
quick to defend the King James Bible against the encroachments 
of more modern translations — not on any theological grounds 
but rather on literary: here is a literary masterpiece in danger 

14 



of competition from cheap imitations. ,T. S. Eliot has pointed 
out that such a defense assumes of course that the theological 
content is dead: it's just the "literature" they're interested in. 

But Miss O'Connor really seems to beUeve all that stuff, and 
she can't be written off for a long time yet as "history." The 
theology is simply there — as such — and must be reckoned 
with. In her case, the theology is perhaps even more obtrusive 
than it is in a Christian writer like Eliot, many of whose poems 
seem "patient of" a Christian interpretation but not exclusively 
so. And she has no truck with fashionable existentialist Angst 
— Christian or otherwise. She apprehends man's predicament 
in terms of classical Christian theology; and she uses the tra- 
ditional terms without flinching: sin, grace, redemption. Heaven, 
Hell, and all the re$t. Furthermore, she often seems to regard 
her function as prophetic or evangelistic and no bones about it: 
she has, in a sense, come to call the wicked to repentance — 
and none more so than the modern intellectuals who have no 
use for Christianity, the Church, or its traditional doctrines. 
And this may be what does limit her audience: she makes a 
crucial problem of belief. And the fact that she was writing 
in what has been called the post-Christian world (as Dante or 
even Milton were not) may have forced her, as she herself 
intimated, to adopt the violent methods of shock tactics, to 
draw bolder and bolder cartoons rather than representational 
or realistic sketches. 

But by no means is this to say that Miss O'Connor was writ- 
ing programmatic or propagandistic fiction: if she had been, 
she would not have written nearly so well. She does not over- 
simplify either her characters or the dilemmas which confront 
them, or the conflicts in which they are involved. And she 
certainly does not offer Christianity as the simple solution or 
the pat answer to their anguish: if anything, it's quite the re- 
verse — as indeed it is in the Gospels themselves. Miss 
O'Connor was not writing just tracts for the times, though, in 
the broadest sense, her fiction is that too. But her vision of 
man in this world was uncompromisingly Christian; she saw all 
of life in Christian terms; she thought the Gospels were really 
true; and she accepted the historic teachings of the Church. 
And this intellectual and philosophical position informed every- 
thing she wrote. She was not trying to "sell" Christianity; she 

15 



was — as indeed any writer is — trying to "sell" her particular 
perception of life in this world as valid. 

Though born and bred a devout Roman Catholic, Miss 
O'Connor rarely wrote about her fellow communicants, largely, 
one suspects, for geographical and historical reasons. As an 
almost lifelong resident of rural Georgia, she inevitably knew 
more — and perhaps more about — Protestants, particularly 
those in the more fundamentalist and pentecostal sects. But 
there was nothing narrow or sectarian in her theology: she was 
Catholic in the oldest and widest sense of the term. Indeed, 
one suspects that Miss O'Connor's hot-gospelers and the Church 
of Rome have much more in common than not, though of course 
many of her fictional characters do look on the Pope as the 
Whore of Babylon. And to them Europe itself is "mysterious 
and evil, the devil's experiment station." As one of her funda- 
mentalist characters darkly observes, "They never have ad- 
vanced or reformed. They got the same religion as a thousand 
years ago. It could only be the devil responsible for that." 

Certainly, it does not seem true, as has been once or twice 
suggested, that Miss O'Connor was a sophisticated Roman mak- 
ing sport with the eccentricities and grotesqueries of her good 
Southern Baptist brethren. Such a charge is quite wide of the 
mark. If anything, she seems to take a grim ironic pleasure in 
siding with the Southern fundamentalists against the modern, 
will-ful intellectuals and the genteel, self-sufficient schemers who 
are her greatest villains. The Southern Baptists, the Holy 
Rollers may be violent or grotesque or at times even ridiculous; 
but, she implies, they are a whole lot nearer the truth than 
the more "enlightened" but godless intellectuals or even the 
respectable do-gooders and church-goers who look on the 
Church as some sort of glorified social service institution while 
preferring to ignore its pricklier doctrines. Occasionally, her 
misguided characters take a more muddled view, falling between 
these two extremes, like Mrs. Shortley of "The Displaced Per- 



son"; 



She had never given much thought to the devil for she felt that 
religion was essentially for those people who didn't have the 
brains to avoid evil without it. For people like herself, for peo- 
ple of gumption, it was a social occasion providing the op- 
portunity to sing; but if she had ever given it much thought, 

16 



she would have considered the devil the head of it and God the 
hanger-on. 

Significantly, Mrs. Shortley's son, H. C.*, "was going to Bible 
school now and when he finished he was going to start him a 
church. He had a strong sweet voice for hymns and could 
sell anything." 

In the light of these observations, then. Miss O'Connor's 
major theme should come as no surprise to us. It is that the 
Christian religion is a very shocking, indeed a scandalous 
business ("bidness" some of her characters would say) and 
that its Savior is an offense and a stumbling block, even a 
"bleeding stinking mad" grotesque to many. He "upsets the 
balance around here"; He "puts the bottom rail on top"; He 
makes the first last and the last first. In short. He revolutionizes 
the whole Creation and turns the whole world upside down, to 
the scandal of those who believe that two plus two always equals 
four (and, with craft, possibly five) or those who believe that 
they don't need any outside help (a savior) because they're 
doing all right by themselves. And this Christ comes not 
lamb-like and meek, as a rule, but in terrifying glory, riding 
the whirlwind: He is more like Eliot's "Christ the tiger" than 
gentle Jesus meek and mild. There is nothing sweet or senti- 
mental about Him, and He terrifies before He can bless. Jesus 
Christ is finally the principal character in all Miss O'Connor's 
fiction, whether offstage or, in the words and actions of her 
characters, very much on. And their encounter with Him 
is the one story she keeps telling over and over again. 

This theme, along with several related sub-themes, con- 
stitutes the principal burden of Miss O'Connor's work; and, 
even when it is not obvious, it is usually lurking in the back- 
ground (like her Christ), ready to spring out to confront 
her rationalists and do-gooders (and the reader) with its grisly 
imperative: "Choose you this day whom ye will serve." And 
it is impossible, implies Miss O'Connor, to blink the issue: 
there is no place for Laodiceans in her world. For this reason, 
her fiction, though carefully ordered, even sedate and regular in 
its narrative progressions, has often the urgent intensity, the 
ordered ferocity, even, of a dramatic but sober evangelistic 
sermon. And one feels that, in her continuing insistence on 
the immediacy and importance of the Four Last Things, she 

17 



/ 



recaptures (as indeed the fundamentalist sects try to do) some- 
thing of the Pentecostal atmosphere of the Primitive Church. 

Indeed, the world of Miss O'Connor's fiction seems to wait 
hourly for Judgment Day — or some new revelation or per- 
haps a transfiguration, in any case, some sign that the Al- 
mighty is still "in charge here." Exactly what the event will 
be is not so important as that her world is subject to the 
continuous supervision of the Management, who makes itself 
known sometimes quietly and sedately but, more often here, 
in a "purifying terror." 

With such considerations in mind, it is well now to proceed 
to an examination of Miss O'Connor's fiction, both the- 
matically and structurally, to see for ourselves this apocalyptic 
writer at work and to note the strategies she employed (or was 
forced to employ) to embody her disturbing visions for a 
largely indifferent or even hostile public. 



V 



Though Miss O'Connor seems to have wanted to write more 
novels, her real forte is the short story — and for reasons which 
are perhaps not difficult to ascertain. The violent but fiercely 
controlled intensity with which she wrote is extremely difficult 
to sustain for the length of a novel, and the ironic reversals on 
which so many of her plots turn seem to demand the shorter 
fictional form. Her prose style itself is lean and spare, her nar- 
rative method swift and sinewy — perfectly adapted to her 
highly compressed story form. Full-scale portraiture and 
character development have little place in such fiction, and 
indeed what seems to be the principal flaw in her novels is that 
they are just too spare: too much of the canvas remains 
empty after the bold outline has been violently brushed on. 

Wise Blood, her first novel, is perhaps the least successful 
of Miss O'Connor's more ambitious works. And the reason 
may be that her shattering perceptions about fallen man have 
not sufficiently coalesced into a strong thematic design. Her 

18 



familiar themes, her trade-mark characters are here aplenty; 
and the whole fabric of the novel pulsates with frenzied energy. 
But it might be that Miss O'Connor was trying too hard to say 
too much too soon. 

Hazel Motes, a name that already establishes her flair for 
the grotesque and perhaps the allegorical, is the protagonist 
here. He returns southward after a hitch in the service to be- 
come a sort of anti-evangelist, to preach the "Church Without 
Christ." "I'm going to preach there was no Fall because there 
was nothing to fall from and no Redemption because there was 
no Fall and no Judgment because there wasn't the first two. 
Nothing matters but that Jesus was a liar," he proclaims. And, 
indeed, the case for that side of the argument cannot be better 
stated. And Haze, as he is sometimes called, has not side- 
stepped the issue: he has chosen this day. 

The novel is full of other characters not so bold — or so 
honest — as Haze: people who feel the need of some kind of 
"outside help," some sort of savior, but who are not willing 
to decide for Christ. Among them are the familiar O'Connor 
characters — rural Southerners uprooted from their traditional 
environment and set down, to their confusion, in the anonymity 
of the city to face the anti-traditional modern world. 

One of course always thinks of Miss O'Connor's city, unless 
explicitly identified otherwise, as Atlanta — that most "modern" 
and "progressive" of Southern cities — which usually appears 
as a modern Sodom or Nineveh in her work. On the other hand, 
it would be wrong to try to set up, as some critics have, some 
sort of Eden-Sodom polarity, of the sentimental pastoral 
variety, between country and city in her fiction. Her "good 
country people" can be just as ornery as the most calculating 
of her city slickers. She does suggest that there is something 
almost inherently artificial in cities and city life — witness, 
the artificial "nigger" in the story of that name. But this 
artificiality usually suggests just one more layer of veneer on 
the essential Old Adam, which is pretty much the same, she 
implies, whether in the city or in the sticks. 

In Wise Blood, Asa Hawks is a disgraced evangelist. He had 
once promised to blind himself in public to prove his faith; but 
his nerve failed and he spends his time now hiding as a "blind" 
man behind dark glasses, with his red-hot up-to-date daughter, 

19 



Sabbath Lily Hawks, acting as his guide. She had once written 
an advice columnist, asking how far to go in sexual matters, 
only to receive the following reply: "Light necking is acceptable, 
but I think your real problem is one of adjustment to the 
modern world. Perhaps you ought to re-examine your re- 
ligious values to see if they meet your needs in Life. A 
religious experience can be a beautiful addition to living if 
you put it in the proper perspective and do not let it warf 
[sic] you." Sabbath Lily Hawks, like many of Miss O'Connor's 
characters, perhaps has counted the cost of the Christian choice 
and finds it too high. All things in moderation indeed .... 

Another contemporary attitude toward the Christian religion 
is realized in a man calling himself Onnie Jay Holy (his real 
name is Hoover Shoats) who tries to horn in on what he thinks 
is Hazel Motes' racket. Holy has been a radio evangeUst in 
his time — on a program called "Soulsease, a quarter hour of 
Mood, Melody, and Mentality," and his brand of the Gospel 
is based "on your own personal interpitation of the Bible." 
But Hazel, with his perverse honesty, is not having anything 
to do with such money-changers in the temple. He continues 
to plump for Anti-Christ: he does not think Jesus is a medicine 
which can be taken as needed, certainly not a commodity to 
be purveyed. "Blasphemy is the way to the truth," he continues 
to proclaim. 

The most puzzling of Hazel's opponents in the book may be 
Enoch Emery, who has come from the farm to the city and 
taken a job as guard in the city museum. Enoch asserts that 
he has "wise blood" that tells him what's important and when 
things are going to happen; perhaps he's a prophet manque. 
And this wise blood urges him to show Hazel his secret savior 
— a dwarf-like mummy in the museum. "See theter notice," 
he tells Haze, "it says he was once as tall as you or me. Some 
A-rabs did it to him in six months." And this grotesque 
memento mori Enoch later steals from the museum; and, after 
setting it up in his room like a god in a tabernacle, he takes 
it to Hazel as perhaps the man who really knows what it's all 
about. 

Later Enoch, still in search of some identity in the depersonal- 
izing city, shakes hands with Gonga the Gorilla at a movie 
theater (the first hand he's shaken since coming to the city) 

20 



and resolves to steal "Gonga's" gorilla suit because, apparently, 
he thinks it will give him some sort of identity. And the gorilla 
suit supplants the mummy as his savior. "No gorilla in ex- 
istence, whether in the jungles of Africa or California, or in 
New York City in the finest apartment in the world, was happier 
at that moment than this one, whose god had finally rewarded 
it." 

As one critic has observed, Enoch's donning the gorilla 
suit may be symbolic of evolution in reverse. On the other 
hand, from what one gathers from a close reading of Miss 
O'Connor's work, it may simply suggest her distrust of any 
system, philosophy, or "savior" which denies the essential 
shagginess of the Old Adam. And this gorilla suit none of us 
finally can doff — unless we put it off to put on the New Man 
in Christ. 

A kind of ironic parallel to Enoch might be noted here in 
O. E. Parker of "Parker's Back" in the posthumous volume 
of stories. Whenever he "couldn't stand the way he felt," 
Parker would get himself tattooed. Finally he has little un- 
embellished surface left. So far that has been his only "savior." 
But he goes one step too far in trying to please his God-obsessed 
wife and has "the haloed head of a flat stern Byzantine Christ 
with all-demanding eyes" tattooed on his back. It doesn't par- 
ticularly please her, but it makes a changed man out of him: 
"The eyes that were now forever on his back were eyes to 
be obeyed." 

And perhaps Hazel Motes himself has a savior: his beat-up 
old "rat-colored" Essex car, which becomes his soul's retreat 
and his means of escape from whatever situation displeases 
him. "Nobody with a good car needs to be justified," he says, 
as, for that matter, do Detroit and Madison Avenue. But 
Hazel has been fighting all his life to avoid the Savior preached 
by his evangelist grandfather, the Jesus "moving from tree to 
tree in the back of his mind, a wild ragged figure motioning 
him to turn around and come off into the dark where he was not 
sure of his footing, where he might be walking on the water and 
not know it and then suddenly know it and drown." And like 
many another modern. Hazel had then begun to have the "deep 
black worldless conviction in him that the way to avoid Jesus 

21 



was to avoid sin." He thought he could manage all right by 
himself too. 

A parallel to Hazel's strategy here might be noted in "The 
Artificial Nigger." In that story, when old Mr. Head under- 
takes to explain to his grandson, Nelson, the sewer system of 
the city, where he has taken the boy on an "educational" trip, 
the country-bred boy is considerably shaken. 

He connected the sewer passages with the entrance to hell and 
understood for the first time how the world was put together in 
its lower parts. He drew away from the curb. 

Then he said, "Yes, but you can stay away from the holes," .... 

In a sense, all Miss O'Connor's schemers are like Hazel and 
Nelson: they think they can avoid Jesus by staying away from 
the holes! 

But when Hazel has violently disposed of one of the "false" 
prophets who are his competitors and then loses his old Essex, 
he undergoes some kind of fierce conversion and (like 
Oedipus?) blinds himself, perhaps in remorse. When his land- 
lady, who "was not religious or morbid, for which every day 
she thanked her stars," says she is as good "not believing in 
Jesus as many a one that does," Hazel replies, "You're better. 
If you believed in Jesus, you wouldn't be so good." Indeed not. 
Christian belief would bring conviction of sin and perhaps a 
healthy distrust of good works. Later, he shuts her up with 
"Mind your own business. You can't see," as presumably he 
now does in blindness. And like some early Christian ascetic, 
he wears barbed wire beneath his shirt — presumably the 
modern Southern equivalent of a hair shirt. He dies finally, 
with his face "stern and tranquil." 

Though Wise Blood is uneven and sonletimes not sufficiently 
"rendered" or even coherent, Miss O'Connor's major themes 
are already emerging. Man cannot justify himself; he cannot 
find salvation in any of the modern saviors, whether sex or 
technology or consumer goods; and Christ, when accepted, 
is sometimes a terrible Savior indeed — scandalous to the 
"enlightened" but stern and all-demanding to the converted. 
Attempts to escape Him or deny Him make man at once warped 
and ridiculous, a caricature or, here is the word again, a cartoon 
of what he was intended by his Creator to be. Yet it is often 
those whom the "upright" and "wholesome" regard as grotesque 

22 



who become chosen vessels indeed. And this is just the scandal 
of the Gospels: the real grotesques are the self -justified, the 
apparent grotesques may be the blessed. 

It should never be forgotten, of course, that always in Miss 
O'Connor's fiction, behind the grotesque, as she herself in- 
timated, lies the ultimate concept of straightness or "ought- 
ness," without which the grotesque is meaningless: we cannot 
know that anything is crooked unless we know that something 
else is straight. It is certainly this fundamental assumption 
that distinguishes Miss O'Connor's grotesquerie from that of 
some members of the Southern Gothic School, who often seem 
to want just to heap up the horrors and hope for the best — 
or the worst. (Nothing could be further from the truth than 
the observation of one critic that Miss O'Connor's grotesquerie 
is "gratuitous.") And the humor-horror combination often com- 
prehended in the very definition of the word grotesque applies 
precisely to Miss O'Connor's view of fallen human nature: man 
is not only warped in thinking he can set up shop on his own; 
he's just downright absurd when he tries to do so. (In her short 
preface to the 1962 edition of Wise Blood, Miss O'Connor, 
significantly, speaks of the work as "a comi6 novel . . . and 
as such, very serious, for all comic novels that are any good 
must be about matters of life and death.") 



A Good Man Is Hard to Find, Miss O'Connor's second 
volume and first collection of stories, contains much of her 
most characteristic work. Indeed, it may be her best single 
volume and the one by which she is longest remembered. The 
ten stories here are prefixed by an epigraph from St. Cyril of 
Jerusalem: "The dragon is by the side of the road, watching 
those who pass. Beware lest he devour you. We go to the 
father of souls, but it is necessary to pass by the dragon." 
Exactly who or what the dragon is here may be a little hard to 
determine. Is it the Devil, who has many protean forms, some 
horrible, some seductive? Or is it perhaps even Christ the 
tiger Who, in a sense, does devour us when we fail His sphinx- 
riddle: "What think ye of Jesus?" 

In any case, these ten stories here do, in one way or another, 
put this question to the reader in a variety of ways. (Miss 

23 



O'Connor herself once described them as "stories about original 
sin.") And some of them are very shocking indeed. Perhaps 
the most typical — and one of the best — is the title story. 
It concerns a family of husband, wife, three children, and 
the husband's mother, all of whom meet violent death at the 
hands of a psychopathic killer who calls himself the Misfit and 
his henchmen. The husband and wife and the two older 
children (the third is an infant) are obnoxious, and the grand- 
mother is little better. She fancies that gentility and refine- 
ment can save her soul. ("In case of an accident, anyone seeing 
her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a 
lady.") But the Misfit, who is something like the Anti-Christ 
Hazel Motes, puts the question to her in the imperative Gospel 
mode : 

"Jesus was the only One that ever raised the dead . . . and He 
shouldn't have done it. He thown everything off balance. If 
He did what He said, then it's nothing for you to do but thow 
away everything and follow Him, and if He didn't, then it's 
nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left 
the best way you can — by killing somebody or burning down 
his house or doing some other meanness to him. No pleasure 
but meanness. ..." 

When the grandmother begs him to pray to Jesus for help, 
the Misfit replies, "I don't want no hep. I'm doing all right 
by myself." He has met the issue head-on, though; unlike 
many people and unlike many of Miss O'Connor's villains, he 
refuses to pretend that the issue — and the choice — do not 
exist. Agnostics might here cry "false dilemma!" — but not 
the Misfit. And therefore, ironically, he does win from many 
of us a grudging admiration which the murdered family does 
not command. 

The Misfit finally goes diabolically whole-hog in the very 
presence of grace. When the grandmother, in terrified and 
idiotic confusion, reaches out and touches him on the shoulder, 
murmuring, "Why, you're one of my babies. You're one of 
my own children," he springs back "as if a snake had bitten 
him" and shoots her three times through the chest, then ad- 
monishes his accomplices, Hiram and Bobby Lee, "It's no 
real pleasure in life." He remains a rather grand Satan — and 
perhaps nobler than Milton's — to the very end. 

Another shocker among these stories is "Good Country 

24 



People." Here Joy Hopewell (who has changed her name 
to Hulga, perhaps to spite her genteel mother), with a Ph.D. 
in philosophy and a wooden leg which she is as sensitive about 
as a peacock is his tail, almost as though it were her soul really, 
is duped by a "Christian" Bible salesman whom she had thought 
to seduce by way of assault on his Christianity — and perhaps 
his masculinity. But the Bible salesman wins hands down: 
he says he doesn't believe in Christianity. ("I may sell Bibles 
but 1 know which end is up and I wasn't born yesterday and 
1 know where I'm going.") Furthermore, using the name Hulga 
(which she regards as "her highest creative act") "as if he 
didn't think much of it," he concludes, "You ain't so smart. 
1 been believing in nothing ever since I was born!" And he 
walks off with her wooden leg, which has fascinated him as the 
thing which makes her "different." Again, it's the sort of 
Anti-Christ figure of the Bible salesman who wins something 
of our admiration: he may be a devil but he's not, as is 
Hulga, a fool (and an "educated" one at that). 

The mother, Mrs. Hopewell (the name seems too symbolic 
to gloss over, and Miss O'Connor is almost openly allegorical 
at times), is one of her familiar genteel women. She is a 
"good Christian woman," perhaps like Mrs. May in "Green- 
leaf" in the posthumous volume who thinks "the word, Jesus, 
should be kept inside the church building like other words in- 
side the bedroom. She was a good Christian woman with a 
large respect for religion, though she did not, of course, believe 
any of it was true." Perhaps also Mrs. Hopewell has something 
in common with old Mrs. Crater of "The Life You Save May 
Be Your Own," who, when reminded by the sanctimonious 
con man, Mr. Shiftlet, that the monks of old slept in their 
coffins, replies, very smugly, "They wasn't as advanced as we 
are." (Mrs. Hopewell is irked that Hulga is a student of 
philosophy. "That was something that had ended with the 
Greeks and Romans.") But Miss O'Connor takes a dim view 
of modern man's "advancement": again and again, she demon- 
strates a profound distrust in "progress" and "enlightenment" 
which are won at the expense of the sacramental, whole view of 
life. And one feels that Tarwater, the teenage prophet of 
The Violent Bear It Away, may be speaking for her when he 
scorns flying as just another form of justification by technology: 

25 



"I wouldn't give you nothing for no airplane. A buzzard can 
fly." 

The role of women in Miss O'Connor's fiction is particularly 
interesting. There is certainly little enough conventional ro- 
mantic interest attributed to them there, and sex as such is a 
negligible theme. This certainly does not mean, however, as 
one of the critics cited previously has implied, that Miss 
O'Connor was anti-sex or that there was something morbid 
in her refusal to write about it: it was simply not one of the 
stories she chose to tell. Significantly, though, there is not much 
warm domestic life in Miss O'Connor's work. Such ties as do 
exist — and not always for the best either — are more often 
found here between grandparents and grandchildren or great- 
uncles and great-nephews than between parents and children 
or brothers and sisters. And on more than one occasion it is 
Christ Himself who causes such family dissensions — true to 
the Gospel promise. Often Miss O'Connor's women constitute 
some of her more villainous characters, almost as though she 
believed in some sort of spiritual double standard. Such women 
are usually widows or divorcees who are apparently as inde- 
pendent of God as they are of sex and marital involvement: 
it is almost as though they regard men as an imperfection 
or a scandal (like Christ?) that the universe would be better 
;off without. (Of Mrs. Mclntyre in "The Displaced Person" 
it is observed that "Christ in the conversation embarrassed 
her the way sex had her mother.") Usually, these women live 
alone or with one or two children on a Georgia farm which 
they are determined to make pay off. The cows are going to 
produce the required amount of milk, and the Negro hands 
are not going to get by with slacking. In short, these women 
seem to think that by taking sufficient thought for the morrow, 
they can add many cubits to their stature, perhaps finally even 
beat the whole racket. But such independence of spirit, though 
commendable in many ways, becomes evil when it verges close 
to the Satanic pride of the Misfit's "I'm doing all right by 
myself." 

A notable case in point is Mrs. Mclntyre in one of Miss 
O'Connor's finest stories, "The Displaced Person" — fittingly 
enough the last story in A Good Man Is Hard to Find. Mrs. 
Mclntyre is persuaded by the local Roman priest, whose Church 

26 



she of course despises, to hire a family of Displaced Persons — 
Polish refugees from World War II — to work on her farm. 
That will show the poor-white Shortley family and those shift- 
less Negroes that she means business and that they had better 
watch their step. 

And at first all seems rosy. The Guizacs are paragons in- 
deed; and, in her delight, Mrs. Mclntyre speaks of them almost 
blasphemously, though of course she would be the last to 
know that. Talking to Mrs. Shortley, one of Miss O'Connor's 
Greek-chorus figures, usually poor whites or Negroes, who 
perceive and comment on the folly of the Mrs. Mclntyres, 
she observes, "But at last I'm saved! . . . That man there — 
he has to work! He wants to work! That man is my salvation." 

But ironically it is this "savior," the Displaced Person, who 
begins to "displace" Mrs. Mclntyre's whole way of life: he 
indirectly causes the Shortleys to leave and unsettles the Negroes 
without whom she cannot run the farm. And when she re- 
monstrates with the Roman priest ("I'm not theological. I'm 
practical!"), she says, "As far as I'm concerned, Christ was 
just another D. P." At one point there is even an ironic — and 
characteristic — breakdown of communication between Mrs. 
Mclntyre and the priest. Speaking of Mr. Guizac, Mrs. Mc- 
lntyre insists, "He didn't have to come in the first place," to 
which the priest, misunderstanding, replies, "He came to re- 
deem us." 

Then, in a dream, Mrs. Mclntyre cries out, ostensibly of 
the D.P., "He's extra and he's upset the balance around here." 
And, ironically, she has spoken more wisely than she knows. 
In the Christian view, Christ is the Great Misfit, the Great 
Displaced Person, resented and scorned by the righteous and 
the self-justified but Himself a Great Displacer of those very 
same righteous: He does upset the balance in their lives. And 
judgment comes to Mrs. Mclntyre in a particularly shocking 
— and perhaps appropriate — form, as it had earlier to Mrs. 
Shortley, who had been all too inclined to fancy herself "a 
giant angel with wings as wide as a house," protecting her 
traditional way of life against those Poles who did not have 
an "advanced religion." 

But Miss O'Connor is grinding no ax here, either Roman 
or ecumenical. She is, however, dramatizing the predicament of 

27 



the willfully blind who see the whole truth only in judgment. 
( Vision, it should be noted, is a recurring motif in her work, 
with physical sight often used symbolically to suggest inner, 
spiritual knowledge.) When Mrs. Shortley dies, apparently of 
a stroke and with her eyes twisted askew in death, her family 
"didn't know that she had had a great experience or ever been 
displaced in the world from all that belonged to her." And 
her eyes then "seemed to contemplate for the first time the 
tremendous frontiers of her true country." We are all, finally. 
Miss O'Connor suggests, displaced persons, displaced from 
our "true country," whose "tremendous frontiers" we re-cross 
only through the grace of God in Christ. 

Almost the same dramatic device — that of physical vision 
— is used to indicate the vision of judgment (and damnation) 
which comes to Mrs. May in "Greenleaf," a story which has 
not the obvious Christian implications of "The Displaced 
Person." As she lies dead, impaled on the horns of a bull, the 
proud and willful Mrs. May, who had vowed to herself that 
she would die only when she got "good and ready," has the 
look of a person "whose sight had been suddenly restored 
but who finds the light unbearable." 

Mrs. May, like many of the O'Connor widow-divorcees, 
has really thought to justify herself by works. ("Before any 
kind of judgment seat, she would be able to say: I've worked, 
I have not wallowed.") And certainly as things in this world 
go, she seems far superior to the feckless poor-white Green- 
leaf family who work on her farm, especially Mrs. Greenleaf, 
who indulges in a particularly repulsive form of "prayer heal- 
ing." (" 'I'm afraid your wife has let religion warp her,' she 
said once tactfully to Mr. Greenleaf. 'Everything in modera- 
tion, you know.' ") But, Miss O'Connor implies, religion is 
not for "moderates"; it does warp one — away from the ways 
of this world. And the final irony remains that it is the hard- 
working but prideful Mrs. May who is really warped. And 
it is such hubris which appears the cardinal sin in Miss O'Con- 
nor's works. 

Hubris in its purest form may be the theme of "The Artificial 
Nigger" in the first collection of stories. Old Mr. Head has 
taken his grandson, Nelson, on his first real trip to the city 
as part of the boy's initiation into adulthood. (Nelson had 

28 



actually been born in the city, a fact which he proudly and 
tirelessly repeats; but of course the boy remembers nothing 
about the city now.) And though full of the pride of years 
and wisdom, it is Mr. Head himself who proceeds to get them 
lost, then later denies (perhaps like St. Peter) knowing his 
grandson when Nelson gets into trouble. At this point Nelson's 
mind is "frozen around his grandfather's treachery as if he 
were trying to preserve it intact at the final judgment." But 
finally they are reconciled by the sight of an "artificial nigger," 
a statue on a suburban lawn, which seems to represent for Mr. 
Head "some great mystery" in life which man — let alone him- 
self — cannot fathom. And for the first time, Mr. Head feels 
the "action of mercy." 

Mr. Head had never known before what mercy felt like because 
he had been too good to deserve any, but he felt he knew now. 
He looked at Nelson and understood that he must say something 
to the child to show that he was still wise and in the look the 
boy returned he saw a hungry need for that assurance. Nelson's 
eyes seemed to implore him to explain once and for all the 
mystery of existence. 

For the first time, the righteous Mr. Head knows himself — 
and perhaps all mankind — for the sinner he is. 

He stood appalled, judging himself with the thoroughness of 
God, while the action of mercy covered his pride like a flame 
and consumed it. He had never thought himself a great sinner 
before but he saw now that his true depravity had been hidden 
from him lest it cause him despair. He realized that he was for- 
given for sins from the beginning of time, when he had con- 
ceived in his own heart the sin of Adam, until the present, when 
he had denied poor Nelson. He saw that no sin was too 
monstrous for him to claim as his own, and since God loved 
in proportion as He forgave, he felt ready at that instant to 
enter Paradise. 

A compassionate view is also taken of the good Mrs. Turpin 
in "Revelation" of the posthumous volume. She, however, is 
not so far gone in pride as the Mrs. Mclntyres and the Mrs. 
Mays. (One wonders whether it is significant here that Mrs. 
Turpin has a living husband to whom she is devoted.) But 
this good, hard-working woman is singled out for a particularly 
nasty piece of invective when a Wellesley College student goes 
berserk in a small-town doctor's office. ("Go back to hell 
where you came from, you old wart hog.") And Mrs. Turpin, 

29 



who really is a good woman, is shocked to the core of her 
being. Indeed, in her indignation she really wrestles with her 
Lord. Why was she singled out for this "message" when 
there was plenty of white-trash and Negroes too in the doctor's 
office? But insight seems to come for her when at the end of 
the story she has a vision which dramatizes explicitly the 
Christian paradox: the first shall be last and the last first. 

A visionary light settled in her eyes. She saw the streak as a vast 
swinging bridge extending upward from the earth through a field 
of living fire. Upon it a vast horde of souls were rumbling to- 
ward heaven. There were whole companies of white-trash, 
clean for the first time in their lives, and bands of black niggers 
in white robes, and battalions of freaks and lunatics shouting and 
clapping and leaping like frogs. And bringing up the end of 
the procession was a tribe of people whom she recognized at 
once as those who, like herself and Claud, had always had a 
little of everything and the God-given wit to use it right. She 
leaned forward to observe them closer. They were marching 
behind the others with great dignity, accountable as they had 
always been for good order and common sense and respectable 
behavior. They alone were on key. Yet she could see by their 
shocked and altered faces that even their virtues were being 
burned away. 

Presumably, Mrs. Turpin is on the road to salvation whereas 
the Mrs. Mclntyres and the Mrs. Mays are damned; but these 
latter ladies don't even bother to wrestle with their Lord. They 
are "warped" indeed. 

Closely allied to pride of will in Miss O'Connor's work is 
pride of intellect, a relationship which reminds one of Haw- 
thorne, as does also Miss O'Connor's obvious allegorical bent. 
On her own admission, she felt a stronger affinity with Haw- 
thorne than any other American writer. Both, in a sense, did 
much of their work in the form of the Christian apologue, 
though Miss O'Connor's word for it was tale. 

Of no group is she more scornful than the modern intel- 
lectuals, particularly those who look on Christianity as merely 
the paraphernalia of outmoded superstition. This is particularly 
evident in the posthumous volume in a story like "The En- 
during Chill." Here Asbury Fox, a Southern intellectual, has 
come home from New York to die (he thinks). And mainly 
to annoy his Methodist mother, who does have something of 
the Mclntyre-May air about her, he asks to see a Jesuit priest. 
(Miss O'Connor does seem fond of good Methodist names 

30 



like "Wesley" and "Asbury," not, one suspects, to insult her 
good Methodist brethren but perhaps to point up the dis- 
crepancies in contemporary Methodism, which still maintains 
its historic nomenclature but may all too often lack the evan- 
gelical spirit of such men as John Wesley and Francis Asbury.) 
Asbury Fox of course expects to find in the Jesuit a charming, 
sophisticated man of the world with whom he can at last, 
even in Georgia, hold an intellectual conversation. Instead 
he gets old Father Finn, deaf in one ear and blind in one eye, 
who cares not a whit for the intellect as such but wants to 
know whether Asbury knows his catechism and says his prayers 
regularly. 

"What do you think of Joyce?" Asbury said louder. 

"Joyce? Joyce who?" asked the priest. 

"James Joyce," Asbury said and laughed. 

The priest brushed his huge hand in the air as if he were 
bothered by gnats. "I haven't met him," he said. "Now. Do 
you say your morning and night prayers?" 

Finally, when the old priest admonishes Asbury to ask God 

to send him the Holy Ghost, Asbury replies, "The Holy Ghost 

is the last thing I'm looking for!" Father Finn quickly retorts, 

"And He may be the last thing you get." 

"How can the Holy Ghost fill your soul when it's full of 
trash?" the priest roared. "The Holy Ghost will not come until 
you see yourself as you are — a lazy ignorant conceited youth!" 
he said, pounding his fist on the little bedside table. 

Then, one by one, all Asbury's attempts at self-justification 
are revealed as stale, flat, and unprofitable. Ironically, he 
isn't even going to die: the local doctor, for whom of course 
he has the greatest contempt, has found that he is suffering 
from undulant fever. ("It's the same as Bang's in a cow.") 
And Miss O'Connor even hints that, ironically, Asbury may 
have contracted the disease when he insisted once on drink- 
ing fresh, unpasteurized milk with his mother's Negro dairy- 
men as an act of racial "communion," largely to spite her, 
good traditional Southern woman that she is. Now at the end 
of the story, with all his illusions about life and himself strip- 
ped away, Asbury lies awaiting the coming of some new life 
to supplant the old, which is now exhausted. "The last film 
of illusion was torn as if by a whirlwind from his eyes," and 
he sees that for the rest of his life he will live in the face of 

31 



a "purifying terror." Asbury vainly struggles; but in a denoue- 
ment which ironically parallels that of Flaubert's "A Simple 
Heart," "the Holy Ghost, emblazoned in ice instead of fire, 
continued, implacable, to descend." 

Other intellectuals in the posthumous volume who fare 
even worse are Julian of the title story and Thomas of "The 
Comforts of Home." Julian, largely to vex his mother, whom 
of course he has not allowed to dominate him, professes great 
sympathy for The Negro in the Southern racial troubles. 
Ironically, though. The Negro doesn't seem to want Julian's 
sympathy any more than he wants Julian's mother's traditional 
condescension. And indirectly Julian brings about his mother's 
death along the way. Significantly, in death, one of his mother's 
eyes "remained fixed, raked his face again, found nothing and 
closed." And Julian is left amid the collapse of his proud 
— and spiteful — good works perhaps to reflect on Emerson's 
dictum: "Thy love afar is spite at home." 

Thomas in "The Comforts of Home" is too much absorbed 
in his own intellectual pursuits (history) to know the Devil 
when he sees him (or in this case, her). Thomas is inclined 
to look on the corruption of Star Drake {nee Sarah Ham) as 
innocent and "blameless" "because there was no responsible 
faculty behind it." Star, who gives "the immediate impression 
of being physically crooked," has the look of blindness about 
her — "the blindness of those who don't know that they can- 
not see." But of course Thomas doesn't really believe in the 
Devil anyhow. Christians might be reminded here of C. S. 
Lewis' observation that it is the cleverest of the Devil's many 
wiles to persuade us that he does not exist. When Thomas 
does reluctantly take up arms against this menace (largely to 
protect his own selfish love of home comforts), it is too late; 
and he is hoist with his own petard. 

One wonders here whether it is significant that Thomas is 
a historian. Miss O'Connor seems always to have a very healthy 
respect for history — not as something dead and romantic to 
escape from the "real" world into (as Thomas tries to do) but 
as something very much a part of the present and very much 
alive — witness, "A Late Encounter with the Enemy" in the 
first volume of stories. In that story, "General" Sash, the vain 
old Confederate veteran, thinks of history as a procession, a 

32 



concept which bores him to death: he prefers parades, with lots 
of ''Miss Americas and Miss Daytona Beaches and Miss Queen 
Cotton Products." Furthermore, it is always a mistake to try 
to use history, Miss O'Connor implies: you may get more 
than you bargained for, as does the "General's" granddaughter, 
Sally Poker Sash, who attempts to exploit history for her own 
prideful ends. And certainly, for Miss O'Connor, Christian 
doctrines were not only part of a revealed religion, faithfully 
transmitted by a teaching Church; they were also, in many 
cases, propositions clearly demonstrable from man's own history. 



Perhaps Miss O'Connor's most forceful (though not there- 
fore necessarily her best) dramatization of her major theme 
is to be found in her second novel. The Violent Bear It Away', 
which incidentally has strong thematic and structural links 
with "The Lame Shall Enter First," a long story in the post- 
humous volume. The novel is prefixed with a Biblical quotation 
(St. Matthew 11:12, Douai version): "From the days of John 
the Baptist until now, the Kingdom of Heaven suffereth viol- 
ence, and the violent bear it away." The novel concerns 
the heroic (or demonic?) struggle of Francis Marion Tar- 
water to escape the prophetic calling decreed for him by his 
great-uncle. Mason Tarwater; and it characteristically begins 
with what is surely one of the most arresting opening sentences 
in the history of the American novel: 

Francis Marion Tarwater's uncle had been dead for only half 
a day when the boy got too drunk to finish digging his grave 
and a Negro named Buford Mun'son, who had come to get a 
jug filled, had to finish it and drag the body from the breakfast 
table where it was sitting and bury it in a decent and Christian 
way, with the sign of its Saviour at the head of the grave and 
enough dirt on top to keep the dogs from digging it up. 

But this opening sentence is far from being the parody one 
might first suspect of all Southern "decadent" or Gothic fiction. 
Rather, it's almost as if Miss O'Connor had shouted "Fire!" 
or had labeled the novel "Dangerous. Handle with care." 
And all readers who are unwilling or unable to grant the 
donnee, which she almost never made more explicit, had better 
leave now — perhaps like catechumens in the Early Church. 

33 



For Tarwater's soul a titanic battle is waged — between the 
posthumous influence of the great-uncle (a God-obsessed man, 
if there ever was one) and a living uncle, Rayber, a psychologist 
who had years ago thrown off the great-uncle's soul hunger 
(he thinks) and has now "saved" himself by psychology, 
technology, and other modern conveniences. In this stern 
warfare Rayber (is the name as significant as Lucifer's?) is 
aided by the voice of a "stranger," who later becomes a 
"friend," speaking to Tarwater's own soul, which offers all 
the conventional, sophistical arguments against the old man's 
apostolic "charge." That this is meant to be the voice of the 
Devil seems fairly obvious, though of course the "friend" tries 
to persuade Tarwater that the Devil doesn't exist. And his 
argument is the classic one : 

Jesus or the devil, the boy said. 

No, no, no, the stranger said, there ain't no such thing as a 
devil. I can tell you that from my own self-experience. I know 
that for a fact. It ain't Jesus or the devil. It's Jesus or you. 

The crucial battle rages around Rayber's mentally defective 
child, Bishop. The old man had instructed Tarwater to baptize 
Bishop; Rayber is just as determined that Tarwater shall not. 
Rayber himself had been baptized by the old man when a boy, 
had found in him also the only real love he had ever known. 
But he has thrown off those dark atavistic influences now, he 
thinks, except that sometimes he is overwhelmed by a blind 
senseless love for his idiot child, whom he is determined to 
look on as simply "a mistake of nature." 

So Rayber, with all his intellectual apparatus, sets out to be 
Tarwater's "savior," confident that he can lay the old man's 
ghost — and perhaps the Gospel's too — for the boy. But his 
grand campaign is frustrated when Tarwater, determined to 
avoid his calling in his own way, decides to drown Bishop. 
("You can't just say NO [as Rayber does] . . . You got to do 
NO.") But in the very act of drowning him, Tarwater inad- 
vertently pronounces the words of baptism. For a while longer, 
Tarwater continues to kick against the pricks, to escape "the 
bleeding stinking mad shadow of Jesus," Who pursues him, as 
He does many other O'Connor characters, like the veritable 
Hound of Heaven. Tarwater is even subjected to the final in- 
dignity of rape by the Devil in the guise of a cruising homo^ 

34 



sexual. But at the end, having returned to his native Powder- 
head, Tennessee, he has a vision of his great-uncle being fed 
with the multitude on the loaves and fishes and realizes at last 
that it is only such food which will satisfy his own insatiable 
hunger. Then finally he hears his charge: "GO WARN THE 
CHILDREN OF GOD OF THE TERRIBLE SPEED OF 
MERCY." And having anointed himself with dirt from his 
great-uncle's grave, he moves onward, "his face set toward 
the dark city, where the children of God lay sleeping." 

The tragic potentialities inherent in Rayber, the man "who 
wants it all in his head," who has betrayed his past and denied 
his Lord, are minimized here. They are not so in the case 
of Sheppard, the City Recreational Director and psychologist- 
counselor of "The Lame Shall Enter First," who attempts to 
reform Rufus Florida Johnson, a juvenile delinquent with a 
club foot, and ironically loses in the process first the affection 
and finally the very life of his own son, Norton. 

Sheppard looks on his counseling job at the reformatory, 
where he meets Rufus, as something like a priest's — except 
of course that he does not absolve. "His credentials were less 
dubious than a priest's; he had been trained for what he was 
doing." Convinced that Rufus' delinquency is due to a neurosis 
attributable to his deformed foot, Sheppard has the boy fitted 
with a corrective shoe, only to have Rufus refuse to wear it. 
(Similarly, Rayber had tried to replace Tarwater's "filthy hat, 
the stinking overalls, worn defiantly like a national costume" 
with clean, more conventional clothes.) And Rufus is "as 
touchy about the foot as if it were a sacred object" — an 
attitude that reminds one of Hulga Hopewell's feeling for her 
wooden leg. Both are the things that, in the Bible salesman's 
words to Hulga, make them "different" and give them some 
personal identity, though, appropriately, Hulga's attitude toward 
her distinguishing affliction seems more idolatrous than John- 
son's. 

But Rufus is a hell-raiser because, he says, Satan has him 
in his power. ("I He and steal because I'm good at it! My 
foot don't have a thing to do with it!") And, like the Misfit, 
Rufus poses the real question in non-Laodicean terms: "If I 
do repent, I'll be a preacher. ... If you're going to do it, it's 
no sense doing it half way." (Fittingly, Rufus has a prophet- 

35 



grandfather who has gone with a savmg remnant to the hills, 
to await an imminent Apocalypse.) Certainly, implies Rufus, 
salvation is not to be found in Sheppard, "that big tin Jesus 
[who] thinks he's God." For Rufus, salvation is not a matter 
of works: "I don't care if he's [Sheppard] good or not. He 
ain't rights And Sheppard, face to face with Original Sin, that 
"elemental warping of nature that had happened too long ago 
to be corrected now," is defeated. But our hearts warm toward 
him as they do not, on the whole, toward Rayber because the 
insight that comes to him at the end of the story marks him 
out as truly tragic. 

He had stuffed his own emptiness with good works like a glutton. 
He had ignored his own child to feed his vision of himself. He 
saw the clear-eyed Devil, the sounder of hearts, leering at him 
from the eyes of Johnson. His image of himself shrivelled until 
everything was black before him. 

There is, finally, no salvation in works, whatever form they 
may take, or in self, Miss O'Connor implies again and again; 
only in that Name which is above every name in earth and 
heaven — Christ the Lamb, Christ the Tiger, Christ the Lord. 
In Him alone is salvation to be found. To contradict Him is, 
finally, to contradict ourselves. And to live without Him is 
intolerable: it is Hell. 

Perhaps a final word may be in order here about the lack of 
tenderness or compassion with which Miss O'Connor has some- 
times been charged — especially toward those characters of hers 
who seem headed for damnation. Miss O'Connor is a "tough" 
writer, but she is not an inhumane one. Nor is she ever just 
plain bitchy. Her damned characters prepare their own ends: 
they do choose this day whom they will serve. And she refuses 
to let them off the hook by interfering with the consequences 
of their actions, which are inevitable. (Thomas Hardy, though 
he did not share Miss O'Connor's Christian persuasion, has 
often been accused of the same inhumanity simply because he 
insists, again and again, that, once a choice has been made, the 
game must be played all the way out.) But, for Miss O'Connor, 
the wages of sin is still death; and she is powerless to intervene 
in the Hellish consequences which overtake her prideful and 
self-justified villains. 

For her, such "tenderness," very much touted in a modem 

36 



world that likes to believe there is always a second chance and 
indeed often encourages man to believe that he is a creature 
more sinned against than sinning, would not only have been un- 
reahstic: it would have been downright sentimental — or even 
sinister. And at least once she made her views on this sort of 
modern tenderness very plain — in her introduction to A 
Memoir of Mary Ann (New York, 1961), written by the 
Dominican Nuns of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Home for 
cancer patients in Atlanta. 

Significantly, this congregation of Dominicans, which now 
maintains a number of such free homes across the country, was 
founded late in the nineteenth century by Nathaniel Hawthorne's 
daughter, Rose Hawthorne Lathrop, who later became known, 
in religious life, as Mother Alphonsa. The congregation is 
called the Servants of Relief for Incurable Cancer. The 
memoir is an account of the life and death of Mary Ann Long, 
who entered the Atlanta home when she was nearly four and 
died there at the age of twelve. In discounting the modern 
sentimental tenderness which would see in the life and death 
of such a child a discrediting of the goodness of God and 
find in it therefore just one more good reason for not believing 
in Him, Miss O'Connor observed: 

In this popular pity, we mark our gain in sensibility and our loss 
in vision. If other ages felt less, they saw more, even though 
they saw with the blind, prophetical, unsentimental eye of ac- 
ceptance, which is to say, of faith. In the absence of this faith 
now, we govern by tenderness. It is a tenderness which, long 
since cut off from the person of Christ, is wrapped in theory. 
When tenderness is detached from the source of tenderness, its 
logical outcome is terror. It ends in forced labor camps and in 
the fumes of the gas chamber. 

Not for Miss O'Connor is such tenderness, which, uprooted 
from a dogmatic rationale, can all too easily become arbitrary 
and malignant. She holds fast to charity and mercy; but these 
of course are, along with Christ, the last things the truly damned 
want. The gates of her Hell remain locked from the inside. 



37 



VI 



This then is the substance of the scandalous gospel, the har- 
rowing evangel Miss O'Connor proclaims, which is not peace 
but a sword. But what about the imagery and the forms in 
which her unsettling visions are embodied? 

The discerning reader notices again and again in her works 
what seems to be almost a predilection for the grotesque as 
manifested in physical or mental deformity. Characters some- 
times have one leg or one arm missing, sometimes a club foot 
or a cast in one eye. Sometimes they are deaf-mutes, lunatics, 
mental defectives, even hermaphrodites. Frequently, also, Miss 
O'Connor even manages to suggest physical or mental de- 
formity in her seemingly undeformed characters by comparing 
them or their appurtenances to that which is inanimate or non- 
human — for example, the wife in "A Good Man Is Hard to 
Find," "whose face was as broad and innocent as a cabbage," 
with her "green head-kerchief that had two points on the top 
like rabbit's ears." Again, the grandmother in the same story 
has a "big black valise that looked like the head of a hip- 
popotamus." In the same story. Red Sammy Butts' "stomach 
hung over [his trousers] like a sack of meal swaying under his 
shirt." Or again, the old Confederate veteran in "A Late En- 
counter with the Enemy," who is "as frail as a dried spider," 
"every year on Confederate Memorial Day ... was bundled up 
and lent to the Capitol City Museum where he was displayed 
from one to four in a musty room full of old photographs, old 
uniforms, old artillery, and historic documents." The train con- 
ductor in "The Artificial Nigger" has "the face of an ancient 
bloated bulldog"; Ruby Hill in "A Stroke of Good Fortune" 
is "a short woman, shaped nearly like a funeral urn." And 
many more such instances might be cited. 

But does all this suggest that Miss O'Connor was simply dis- 
turbingly (even morbidly) interested in the lunatic, the maimed, 
and the halt for its own sake? It should certainly be apparent, 

38 



from the foregoing pages, that she was not. In her view, physi- 
cal or mental deformity of the outward and visible sort always 
suggests inner, spiritual deformity. And when she compares 
man to the non-human, she is suggesting that his efforts to 
assert his own will, to provide his own "savior," make him into 
just that — non-human, sometimes even inhuman. Human 
beings are most human and their personalities as individuals 
are most nearly fulfilled, she implies, when they remember the 
Source of all Humanity, the Fountain of all Life and Light 
Whose creatures they are. And, for Christians, at least one 
aspect of the Incarnation is God's revelation in Christ of what 
true humanity, true personality can be for all of us. 

Once when Miss O'Connor was asked why Southern writers 
showed such a penchant for freaks, she replied, perhaps with 
some irony, that possibly they were the only people left who 
knew a freak when they saw it. But in a lecture at Notre Dame 
in the spring of 1957, she went even further: 

I doubt if the M ixture of/Southern\4ifeJ is any more grotesque 
than that of the rest oT~tfie nation, butrfdoes seem evident that 
the Southern writer is particularly adept at recognizing the 
grotesque; and to recognize the grotesque, you have to have some 
notion of what is not grotesque and why. . . . [italics mine] 

And, for grotesque here, we might read deformity, which, for 
Miss O'Connor, always points toward that which is undeformed. 
For her, this undeformed state was to be achieved only when 
man entered into his "true country," his true life, found only 
in Christ. 

Another aspersion against Miss O'Connor, often made along 
with the charge of her insistence on deformity, is that her 
stories have little that is beautiful in them. True it is that Miss 
O'Connor's characters often have little of physical beauty 
about them. And often the natural world itself seems ugly, if 
not downright sinister or hostile, with ominous turnip-shaped 
clouds lowering overhead and the sun "like a furious white 
blister in the sky." But more often it is not nature itself which 
is ugly here but, rather, what man has made of nature. In 
The Violent Bear It Away, as Tarwater approaches the city, he 
sees 

... a hill covered with old used-car bodies. In the indistinct 
darkness, they seemed to be drowning into the ground, to be about 

39 



half-submerged already. The city hung in front of them on the 
side of the mountain as if it were a larger part of the same pile, 
not yet buried so deep. 

And at least one critic has noted that the sordid winding streets 
of Atlanta in "The Artificial Nigger" suggest the labyrinthine 
circles of Dante's Hell. 

One image pattern recurs again and again in Miss O'Connor's 
fiction, "like a signature," as Robert Fitzgerald has pointed out 
in his introduction to Everything That Rises Must Converge, 
a quotation which Miss O'Connor appropriated, apparently with 
some irony, from the works of the French Jesuit, Teilhard de 
Chardin. It is the recurring "fortress" or "sentinel" line of 
trees, usually surrounding some bit of pasture — an image 
which suggests perhaps some fierce spiritual arena where her 
characters wrestle now with the Devil, now with God. (In 
"Greenleaf" it is a "green arena encircled almost entirely by 
woods.") But always in such an instance, perhaps by virtue 
of some form of the pathetic fallacy, it is not the trees them- 
selves — or nature itself — which are sinister or hostile but the 
spiritual disposition of the "wrestling" characters which makes 
them so. Surely, Miss O'Connor would have agreed with Pope 
that all seems infected that the infected spy. 

Some of Miss O'Connor's more villainous characters, especial- 
ly those self-sufficient women, are apt to look on nature as 
something which can be controlled and mastered, finally per- 
haps even exploited. To them, it may be just one more commod- 
ity, it certainly holds no particular mystery for them. In "A 
Circle in the Fire," to the strong-willed Mrs. Cope (surely the 
name is significant here), "her Negroes were as destructive and 
impersonal as the nut grass." And this same impiety toward 
nature may, as the foregoing quotation impHes, carry with it 
an impiety towards others of God's creatures. 

A quite different view is represented in the old priest of 
"The Displaced Person," who marvels at the transfigured 
beauty of a peacock's raised tail: 

The cock stopped suddenly and curving his neck backwards, he 
raised his tail and spread it with a shimmering timbrous noise. 
Tiers of small pregnant suns floated in a green-gold haze over 
his head. The priest stood transfixed, his jaw slack. Mrs. Mc- 
Intyre wondered where she had ever seen such an idiotic old 

40 



man. "Christ will come like that!" he said in a loud gay voice 
and wiped his hand over his mouth and stood there, gaping. 

But to Mrs. Mclntyre it's just a peacock; and the sooner the 
flock dies off, the better she will like it. 

Then in "A Temple of the Holy Ghost," the natural order 
itself seems gone haywire. Two giggling convent-school-girls and 
their "big dumb Church of God ox" escorts attend a side show 
at the fair and see a hermaphrodite. But the hermaphrodite's 
words, spoken in turn to each section of the sexually segre- 
gated audience, are, for Miss O'Connor, right on key. 

"God made me thisaway and if you laugh He may strike you 
the same way. This is the way He wanted me to be and I ain't 
disputing His way. I'm showing you because I got to make the 
best of it. I expect you to act like ladies and gentlemen. I 
never done it to myself nor had a thing to do with it but I'm 
making the best of it. I don't dispute hit." 

f 
It would seem that the hermaphrodite's very existence violates 

the natural order and presumably calls into question belief in 

an all-good, all-loving God and His whole Creation, which, we 

are told. He looked on and found good. But Miss O'Connor 

doesn't "dispute it" either; she "makes the best of it" too. And 

the last sentence of the story may be highly significant: "The 

sun was a huge red ball like an elevated Host drenched in 

blood and when it sank out of sight, it left a line in the sky 

like a red clay road hanging over the trees." 

The natural world is mysterious and strange. Miss O'Connor 
implies, sometimes baffling, ugly, even disgusting. In any case, 
it's surely a "fallen" one. And it is for her very much as it 
was for Hopkins: bleared and seared by man, wearing his 
smudge and sharing his smell. But always over this brown bent 
world there broods the Holy Ghost, with His warm breast and 
bright wings, blessing and sanctifying our smudged world and 
lightening our darkness, whether in rest and quietness or in 
the blinding revelation of the Damascus Road. 

Perhaps, to sum it all up, no sentence Miss O'Connor ever 
wrote better embodies her attitude toward the Creation than 
one Robert Fitzgerald has pointed out in "A Good Man Is 
Hard to Find": "The trees were full of silver-white sunlight 
and the meanest of them sparkled." Surely, surely the operative 
word here is meanest. Miss O'Connor's view then of both man 

41 



and nature is thoroughly sacramental. If man's body, no matter 
how warped or deformed, is a temple of the Holy Ghost, the 
earth also is the Lord's and the fullness thereof. And man 
violates neither with impunity. 

Miss O'Connor's awareness of the ugly, the perverse, and 
the grotesque is further reflected in her prose style, which at 
times seems deliberately plain and graceless, sometimes even 
cacophonous. One might almost say that she had a healthy 
respect for the ugly — for all that had not been lightened, 
brightened, and de-odorized by secularism and by de-human- 
izing "efficiency" and "progress." For her, the Old Adam is 
still a pretty hairy creature. But ughness, like vulgarity, for 
which she once observed that she had a "natural talent," is 
often a sign of vitality, even if it's vitality gone wrong. And, 
for Miss O'Connor, ugliness was usually preferable to the 
desiccated decorum of death — and damnation. (Her lady- 
villains insist particularly, as a rule, on decorum.) But such 
"decorum" represents not so much a clean, well-lighted soul as 
it does a whited sepulchre. 

Occasionally, also. Miss O'Connor's deliberate awkwardness 
and cacophony of style remind one of Donne or Hopkins — a 
stylistic comparison which may suggest a further, thematic re- 
semblance to those two poets of the warped and the skew. 
They, also, knew a freaK wnen they saw it; ana they, also, knew 
something of the terrible speed of mercy. 

Perhaps, finally, it is with such major-minor figures in our 
literature that Miss O'Connor will be ranked. Her range was 
narrow, and perhaps she had only one story to tell. (But 
then didn't Hemingway?) But each time she told it, she told 
it with renewed imagination and cogency. From some of her 
remarks in conversation a year before her death, one might have 
gathered that she had grown tired of her one story, was even 
perhaps desperately trying to find another one — or perhaps 
some new way of re-telling the old one. Speculation about 
what the result of this search might have been is, of course, 
profitless. But one feels almost certain that, whatever form her 
possible "new" story might have taken, her fundamental assump- 
tions — and perhaps her methods — would have remained 
substantially unchanged. 

What is important is that she remains absolutely unique in 

42 



American fiction, more skilled perhaps as a short story writer 
than as a novelist. (She does seem to lose some depth or 
density of texture in the longer fictional form.) But her vision 
and her methods were distinctively her own; and her rage for 
the holy — and the whole — has left its indelible mark on our 
literature and our literary consciousness. 



VII 



What then about those readers who do not — or can not — 
share Miss O'Connor's "Christian concerns"? How far can 
they enter into both the substance and the shadow of her work? 
There does seem a point beyond which such readers, even with 
the best will in the world, finally cannot go: they cannot honest- 
ly share the theological assumptions which are part of her 
donnee. Some tension in that quarter does seem inevitable, and 
perhaps finally does deny her the complete acceptance of some 
very discriminating readers. 

And yet, as she herself once indicated, no really good story 
can be ultimately "accounted for" in terms of a right theology 
— even for the deeply committed Christian writer or reader. 
(Such a view as this would certainly set her apart from 
the programmatic writer with "Christian concerns.") If it's 
a good story, it's not the theology as such which makes it 
30, even for the reader who is a professing Christian. Presum- 
ably, then, what makes Miss O'Connor's stories good and at 
times brilliant is that, in her own way, she does seem to have 
man's number — and the world's. People are often as she says; 
and they do often express themselves, in violent words and 
actions, as she represents them, and not just in darkest Georgia 
either. 

Many non-Christian readers would have finally to agree that 
Miss O'Connor's diagnosis of the human condition — or pre- 
dicament — is substantially valid: man does seem "warped" 
away from something, and he does seem to need reconciling 
with that something somehow, perhaps even by violent force. 

43 



Furthermore, it often does appear in this world that those who 
are furthest on the way to some sort of reconciliation, nearest 
to some sort of ruling principle which, after darkness and terror, 
makes for light and order and peace, seem Uke extremely un- 
likely or even unappetizing customers; they truly often seem 
the least of us all. For such readers, of course, the Good 
News that this reconciliation is impossible for man to achieve 
on his own but that it has already been made for him in Christ 
is literally too good (or illogical? or absurd?) to be true. There 
they must finally part company with Miss O'Connor. But 
though they cannot choose here the one thing needful, they find 
nevertheless that she speaks dark home truths to their hearts, 
though often in a language which is foreign to them and difficult 
for them to understand. But Miss O'Connor's Georgia, though 
often terrible and dark, is no foreign country, finally, for any 
of us; none of us, finally, is a stranger there. If it is foreign, 
it is foreign only as this world itself is foreign to those of us 
who feel that our "true country" lies elsewhere. 



THE WORKS OF FLANNERY O'CONNOR 

I. Books 

Wise Blood. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1952. (Re- 
issued in 1962 by Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, with a short preface 
by the author.) 

A Good Man Is Hard to Find. New York: Harcourt, Brace and 
Company, 1955. (Contains "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," "The 
River," "The Life You Save May Be Your Own," "A Stroke of 
Good Fortune," "A Temple of the Holy Ghost," "The Artificial 
Nigger," "A Circle in the Fire," "A Late Encounter with the Enemy," 
"Good Country People," and "The Displaced Person.") 

The Violent Bear It Away. New York: Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, 
1960. 

Everything That Rises Must Converge. New York: Farrar, Straus and 
Giroux, 1965. (Contains "Everything That Rises Must Converge," 
"Greenleaf," ^'A View of the Woods," "The Enduring Chill," "The 
Comforts of Hojie," "The Lame Shall Enter First," "Revelation," 
"Parker's Back," and "Judgement Day"; introduction by Robert 
Fitzgerald.) 

IL Uncollected Fiction 

"The Geranium," Accent, VI (Summer, 1946), 245-253. (Her first 
published story.) 

44 



"The Capture," Mademoiselle, November, 1948, pp. 148-149, 195-196, 
198-201. 

"The Partridge Festival," The Critic, XIII (February-March, 1961), 
20-23, 82-85. 

"Why Do the Heathens Rage?," Esquire, LX (July,^ 1963), 60-61. 
(A fragment from the novel she was working on at the time of her 
death. ) 

(Miss O'Connor's books were also published in Canada and England; 
some of her works were also translated into other languages as 
different as French, Danish, and Japanese. In the United States, 
many of her stories were anthologized, often in the "prize" and 
"best" collections. An especially useful paperback volume is Three 
By Flannery O'Connor, published by Signet Books, New York, in 
1964; it contains her first three published books.) 

III. Principal Essays 

"The Church and the Fiction Writer," America, XCVI (March 30, 
1957), 733-735. 

"The Fiction Writer and His Country" in Granville Hicks, ed., The 
Living Novel: A Symposium (New York: Macmillan, 1957), 157- 
164. 

"Introduction" in Anon., A Memoir of Mary Ann (New York: Farrar, 
Straus and Cudahy, 1961), 3-21. 

"Living With a Peacock," Holiday, XXX (September, 1961), 52-53, 110- 
114. (This essay on Miss O'Connor's well-known hobby of raising pea- 
cocks contains a number of observations which may throw light 
on some of her fictional preoccupations. A case- in point is the 
following sentence, especially relevant for her story "The Displaced 
Person": "The fact is that with his tail folded, nothing but his bear- 
ing saves this bird from being a laughingstock. With his tail spread, 
he inspires a range of emotions, but I have yet to hear laughter.") 



SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY OF 
O'CONNOR CRITICISM 

(In this selected bibliography, I have included nothing written on Miss 
O'Connor which did not seem pertinent' for this study, nor have I in- 
cluded anything here which seemed downright wrong-headed or absurd. 
The list which follows takes more the form of "Suggestions for Further 
Reading" than a systematic compilation of all significant criticism 
of Miss O'Connor's works. On the other hand, it seems to me that 
little of significance has been written about her which did not take into 
account the major concerns of this study. Except in one or two 
significant instances, reviews are not included here. A number of 
forthcoming publications, which I have not had the opportunity to 
examine, are included because of their potential significance.) 

Bassan, Maurice. "Flannery O'Connor's Way: Shock, With Moral 
Intent," Renascence, XV (Summer, 1963), 195-199, 211. 

Baumbach, Jonathan. "The Acid of God's Grace: The Fiction of 
Flannery O'Connor," Georgia Review, XVII (Fall, 1963), 334-346. 

45 



Cheney, Brainard. "Miss O'Connor Creates Unusual Humor Out of 
Ordinary Sin," Sewanee Review, LXXI (Autumn, 1963), 644-652. 

Davis, Barnabas. "Flannery O'Connor: Christian Belief in Recent 
Fiction," Listening, Autumn, 1965, pp. 5-21. 

Detweiler, Robert. "The Curse of Christ in Flannery O'Connor's 
Fiction," Comparative Literature Studies, III (No. 2, 1966). 

Dowell, Bob. "The Moment of Grace in the Fiction of Flannery 
O'Connor," College English, XXVII (December, 1965), 235-239. 
(Perceptive; especially interesting because of the inclusion of ex- 
tracts from Miss O'Connor's lecture, "Some Aspects of the Grotesque 
in Southern Literature," delivered at East Texas State University in 
the fall of 1962.) 

Drake, Robert. " The Bleeding, Stinking, Mad Shadow of Jesus' in 
the Fiction of Flannery O'Connor," Comparative Literature Studies, 
III (No. 2, 1966). 

. "Hair-Curling Gospel," The Christian Century, LXXXII 

(May 19, 1965), 656. (Long review of Everything That Rises Must 
Converge.) 

"The Harrowing Evangel of Flannery O'Connor," The 




Christian Century, LXXXI (September 30, 1964), 1200-1202. 

"Miss O'Connor and the Scandal of Redemption," Modern 



Age, IV (Fall, 1960), 428-430. (Long review of The Violent Bear 
It Away — on Miss O'Connor's own testimony, the best review this 
novel had received.) 
Duhamel, P. Albert. "Flannery O'Connor's Violent View of Reality," 
The Catholic World, CXC (February, 1960), 280-285. (A very 
sound article.) 

Esprit, VIII (Winter, 1964). (This issue of Esprit, published at the 
University of Scranton, was a memorial to Miss O'Connor. It con- 
tains a number of full-length essays on her work and also a num- 
ber of tributes, some of which had appeared previously in periodicals, 
from distinguished literary critics, both in the United States and 
abroad. ) 

Farnham, James F. "The Grotesque in Flannery O'Connor," America, 

CV (May 13, 1961), 277, 280-281. 
Fitzgerald, Robert. "The Countryside and the True Country," Sewanee 

Review, LXX (Summer, 1962), 380-394. 
. "Introduction" in Flannery O'Connor, Everything That 

Rises Must Converge (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1965), 

vii-xxxiv. (Extremely wise and helpful.) 
Friedman, Melvin J. and Lawson, Lewis A., eds. The Added Dimension: 

The Art and Mind of Flannery O'Connor. Bronx, N. Y.: Fordham 

University Press, 1966. (Contains essays on Miss O'Connor's works 

by a number of literary critics, plus one of her lectures and some 

correspondence, and a bibliography.) 

Gordon, Caroline. "Flannery O'Connor's Wise Blood," Critique: 
Studies in Modern Fiction, II (Fall, 1958), 3-10. 

Gossett, Louise Y. Violence in Recent Southern Fiction. Durham: 
Duke University Press, 1965. (See especially pp. 75-97, "The Test 
by Fire: Flannery O'Connor," for some helpful critical insights.) 

Hart, Jane. "Strange Earth, The Stories of Flannery O'Connor," 
Georgia Review, XII (Summer, 1958), 215-222. 

46 



Hawkes, John. "Flannery O'Connor's Devil," Sewanee Review, LXX 
(Summer, 1962), 395-407. 

Hicks, Granville. "A Cold, Hard Look at Humankind," Saturday 
Review, XLVIII (May 29, 1965), 23-24. (A good review of Every- 
thing That Rises Must Converge, plus a tribute to Miss O'Connor and 
an "appreciation" of her works.) 

. "A Writer at Home with Her Heritage," Saturday Review, 

XLV (May 12, 1962), 22-23. (Interview.) 

Hyman, Stanley Edgar. Flannery O'Connor. University of Minnesota 
Pamphlets on American Writers, No. 54. Minneapolis: University of 
Minnesota Press, 1966. 

Jacobsen, Josephine. "A Catholic Quartet," The Christian Scholar, 
XLVII (Summer, 1964), 139-154. (Perceptive comments on Miss 
O'Connor as one member of a modern "Catholic quartet," along 
with Graham Greene, J. F. Powers, and Muriel Spark.) 

McCown, Robert, S. J. "Flannery O'Connor and the Reality of Sin," 
The Catholic World, CLXXXVIII (January, 1959), 285-291. 

Meaders, Margaret Inman. "Flannery O'Connor: Literary Witch," 
Colorado Quarterly, X (Spring, 1962), 377-386. (Memoir by an 
old acquaintance.) 

Rupp, Richard H. "Flannery O'Connor," The Commonweal, LXXIX 
(December 6, 1963), 304-307. (A perceptive article.) 

Sherry, Gerard E. "An Interview with Flannery O'Connor," The 
Critic, XXI (June-July, 1963), 29-31. 

Sister Bertrande. "Four Stories of Flannery O'Connor," Thought, 
XXXVII (Autumn, 1962), 410-426. (Useful, though inclined to 
indulge in Roman ax-grinding.) 

Sister M. Joselyn. "Thematic Centers in The Displaced Person'," 
Studies in Short Fiction, I (Winter, 1964), 85-92. (A very able 
essay on the peacock and the D. P. as symbols in this story.) 

Sister Mariella Gable, O.S.B. "Ecumenic Core in Flannery O'Connor's 
Fiction," The American Benedictine Review, XV (June, 1964), 127- 
143. (Though this article contains some penetrating critical insights, 
Sister Mariella seems to think one of the most important aspects 
of Miss O'Connor's fiction is its "concretizing" of the ecumenical 
spirit of the Second Vatican Council. The possibility that such a 
spirit might have existed before the Second Vatican Council — 
outside the Church of Rome — Sister Mariella takes little note of. 
She implies, further, perhaps without meaning to, that Miss O'Connor 
was a programmatic writer who was using Bible Belt Christianity 
and Christians to reawaken (Roman) Catholics to the importance of 
Scripture. Such argument as this seems to me to betray something 
of a fundamental ignorance of the exigencies of the creative process, 
which may well force a writer to write about what he knows for 
no other reason than that he does know it, though such "blood 
knowledge" does not preclude him passionate "concerns" as an artist. 
But by Sister Mariella's construction. Miss O'Connor had a message 
rather than a theme. Furthermore, though Sister Mariella's observa- 
tions, supported at some points by what Miss O'Connor said, in inter- 
views and correspondence, about the ecumenical movement, may 
well establish Miss O'Connor's personal credentials as a devout and 

47 



\ 



ecumenically minded Roman Catholic, they do her very little service 
as an artist.) 

Sister Mary Alice, 0- P- "My Mentor, Flannery O'Connor," Saturday 
Review, XLVIII (May 29, 1965), 24-25. (Memoir with some cor- 
respondence, interesting mainly for Miss O'Connor's comments on 
fiction-writing. ) 

Sister Rose Alice, S.S.J. "Flannery O'Connor: Poet to the Outcast," 
Renascence, XVI (Spring, 1964), 126-132. 

Spivey, Ted R. "Flannery O'Connor's View of God and Man," Studies 
in Short Fiction, I (Spring, 1964), 200-206. 

Stelzmann, Rainulf. "Shock and Orthodoxy: An Interpretation of 
Flannery O'Connor's Novels and Short Stories," Xavier University 
Studies, II (March, 1963), 4-21. (Fairly good, though somewhat 
pedestrian and, once or twice, inclined to see a tendentious aspect to 
Miss O'Connor's work.) 

Stern, Richard. "Flannery O'Connor: A Remembrance and Some 
Letters," Shenandoah, XVI (Winter, 1965), 5-10. (Memoir, with 
extracts from Miss O'Connor's letters to Stern, most of them in her 
distinctive "Cracker" vein, a blend of the cawnpone and the sardonic, 
as were her letters to a number of her acquaintances, including my- 
self.) 

Sullivan, Walter. "Flannery O'Connor, Sin, and Grace: Everything 
That Rises Must Converge," The Hollins Critic, II (September, 1965), 
1-8, 10. (A good summing up of Miss O'Connor's principal literary 
contributions.) 

Wedge, George F. "Two Bibliographies: Flannery O'Connor, J. F. 
Powers," Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction, II (Fall, 1958), 
59-63. (Wedge's bibliography is especially useful for its listing of 
the initial publication, in periodicals, of the stories in A Good Man 
Is Hard to Find and of individual sections of Wise Blood and The 
Violent Bear It Away. It is also valuable for its listing of the re- 
views of Miss O'Connor's first books. Though Wedge points out a 
number of textual variations in the stories as originally published 
in periodicals and their final appearance in book form, he over- 
looks at least one very important instance. "The Displaced Person," 
as it first appeared in the Sewanee Review for Autumn, 1954, had 
only about half its final length as published in A Good Man Is Hard 
to Find. The earlier version, which is essentially Mrs. Shortley's story, 
ends with her death. The final version, which is Mrs. Mclntyre's 
story, is much superior, I believe.) 



48 



Contemporary Writers in Christian Perspective 

EDITED BY RODERICK JELLEMA 

The first six of a continuing series: 

i 

CHARLES WILLIAMS, by Mary McDermott Shideler 

FLAIUNERY O'COIMNOR, by Robert Drake 

T. S. ELIOT, by Neville Braybrooke i 

ERNEST HEMINGWAY, by Nathan A. Scott. Jr. 

PETER DE VRIES, by Roderick Jellema 

JOHN UPDIKE, by Wesley Kort i 



This series of 48-page pamphlets is being pubUshed in an effort to pro- 
vide readers with a better understanding of a given writer's work as seen 
in Christian perspective, a better understanding of Christianity because 
it has been significantly related to the writer's vision, and a better under- 
standing of human existence because of the interplay between these two. 
The form and contents of the booklets, however, are specifically oriented 
to literary criticism; the point of reference, or perspective, does not alter 
that primary goal. Studies in this continuing series will be released at the 
rate of about six each year. < 



WILLIAM B. EERDMANS PUBLISHIBIG COMPANY 
GRANDRAPIDS, MICHIGAN