Small Demon
Dec 212008
 

I’ve just reread O’Connor’s “And the Lame Shall Enter First” and “Everything that Rises Must Converge,” & it hasn’t been so long since I read “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” It’s not my purpose in these notes to produce an analysis, but to catch a sense of my own reactions to various writers’ work. If Chekhov is cool, O’Connor is over-heated. She is celebrated for her unflinching portrayal of life’s cruelty, but what bothers me is that she seems to take pleasure in cruelty. Though she was a devout Catholic, here stories give little evidence that she believed in redemption. Indeed, in “The Lame Shall Enter First,” she parodies the very idea of redemption, punishing the admittedly reprehensible Sheppard beyond justice. If the idea is to schematize the idea that there is no justice in this world, well, we can read the (pre-Christian) book of Job. But, for a Christian, O’Connor seems much more fascinated by evil than by the possibility of good. I’m not looking for simple and uplifting tales of moral triumph here, but I find O’Connor’s pleasure in her characters’ pain unseemly.

Her enjoyment of cruelty makes O’Connor an acute observer of hypocrisy, though. I recognize Sheppard in various Sunday School teachers and Youth Pastors I encountered growing up & I certainly wish I had had Rufus Johnson’s wit in order to respond to them, if not his criminality. But I found the reversal of expected belief — Sheppard the atheist, Johnson the believer — implausible. It’s necessary, of course, for the moral reversal the author wants to pull at the end, but it strikes me as forced and hyperbolic. Come to think of it, she also pulls an unbelievable reversal at the end of ‘Everything that Rises Must Converge.” Not that the boy can’t be conflicted & contrary, but that his resistance to his mother throughout the story, until the very end, is ultimately so weak. His weakness makes him less interesting than he might be. Again, there is a remorselessness in this work that repels me. However insightful O’Connor’s imagination, it is insight gained at the cost of moral tunnel vision.

  4 Responses to “Short Fiction Notes: Flannery O’Connor”

  1. I’ve had that same, lingering reaction to “An Enduring Chill.” It seemed unnecessarily mean spirited. I haven’t read that story in a decade, but I still can feel my reaction.

  2. Hey, Pablo, I just went and read that story. It’s pretty mean, too, but at least it’s funny in places. One thing is sure, O’Connor sure doesn’t like college boys!

  3. Especially those whose god is named “Art.” Maybe the funniest line in all of her work.

  4. I have met over my life more sons that weakened under their mother’s influence than sons that triumphed and got on with their lives. I think women are better at this sad problem with their fathers than men are with their awful mothers. I see and understand the problem. Men leave a smaller mess with their children than mothers do. Even when absent. Mother is the source of life.

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