Themes and Concepts in Flannery O’Connor’s Work

1682 words (7 pages) Essay in Literature

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The impact of an author’s writing is often influenced by their childhood, which helped lead them to the successful position they are in. Flannery O’Connor, an author to many short stories, is very popular to numerous people in the American literature society. O’Connor is known to many  for her twisted sense of violence and irony she uses. She exerts her distinct memories and features from her childhood and applied them to her characters throughout her short stories. Many also know her as a “Southern Gothic” writer because of her southern heritage, but also for her obsession with the dark mysterious style she portrays when writing. As White stated “The rationale for evil’s appearance in these authors’ works has wider implications than I shall deal with here, but I would point to gothic horror’s honorable bloodlines in the history of American literature from Poe through Hawthorne and James” (White 1). In two of her short stories, A Good Man is Hard to Find and Good Country People, O’Connor uses faith, grace, hopelessness, and  evil as themes that appear throughout these stories. Flannery O’Connor was able to use the changes America was going through during the mid 1900s to channel her inner thoughts on society and share through her own philosophies. As Flannery O’Connor provided the readers with a grotesque style and perceptive questions throughout her short stories, she centered them on a mixture of religion, life experiences, and irony.

 One of the big concepts O’Connor portrayed throughout her stories is her belief in religion. As author Harold Bloom stated “The American Religion—an original but unstable blend of Orphism, gnosticism, and Enthusiasm—is as powerfully portrayed by O’Connor as by any other of our storytellers, from Hawthorne to Cormac McCarthy” (Bloom 9). Flannery O’Connor was born and raised in Georgia with a strong Catholic background, which helped her include her religious beliefs into her stories. O’Connor displayed a religious view through her story A Good Man is Hard to Find as she attempted to turn people to welcome the idea of Christian faith. However, although she used religious views in this short story, she also used a grotesque view that left the readers in a suspenseful state. In the majority of O’Connor’s stories, quite a bit of her characters never appear to discover redemption until they discover God towards the end of the story. In A Good Man is Hard to Find, the characters go through a change which allow them to view and have a new perspective about life and death. As Bloom stated:

Dead is precisely the condition in which a number of O’Connor’s characters end up, most

of them having been shocked out of their complacent everyday existence by some act of

intense violence that propels them to a complete acceptance of Christ—an acceptance so

overwhelming and pure that their spiritual houses are indeed in order, freed from any

taint of doubt or unrest (Bloom 26).

Throughout that story, there is a scene where the evil man, also known as The Misfit, appeared and turned the family’s lives upside down. He found no purpose in life except when he tortured others. He can be seen as a grotesque figure or interpreted as God’s biggest rival, Satan. However, the grandmother in the story is seen as this confident woman, that is until she meets The Misfit. The Misfit felt as if he was rejected by God; however, the grandmother chose to treat God as if he is something that she can accept or ignore, it just depended on her situation. O’Connor made her characters challenge God’s redemption and decide whether to embrace it or ignore it. Through O’Connor’s characters, she proves the idea that having a belief can be discovered through different ways in order to prove that God’s grace can be disclosed to the world.

The life of Flannery O’Connor can be portrayed through her short story, Good Country People. Reuman states, “[…I]n its portrayal of world without love, ‘Good Country People’ touches the core of O’Connor’s own life” (Reuman 515). This story seems to reflect on her relationship with her mother, Regina Cline. In the story, there is a mother daughter relationship between Hulga and her mother, similar to the one Flannery and her mother have. As Reuman stated, “That O’Connor saw herself in her fiction is clear. As she wrote to one correspondent, ‘My heroine already is, and is Hulga… a projection to myself into this kind of tragic comic action (106)” (Reuman 515). One of the prime examples that relate these relationships to one another are the issues with the daughter’s names. Joy, the daughter in the story, changes her name to Hulga, despite her mother’s wishes. This issue is very similar to how O’Connor changed her name from Mary to Flannery. In Good Country People, Hulga is very similar to O’Connor in multiple ways. She has a PhD in philosophy, she has a wooden leg, and has a heart condition that has kept her at home. However, O’Connor had master’s degree in Fine Arts. She also had lupus,  so her mother wanted her to live with her on the farm in Milledgeville, Georgia. As one can see, Flannery O’Connor also related her life in her short stories as she placed the setting of them in Georgia. In the story, Hulga could be described as self-centered or arrogant. She stayed by herself and could be considered “different” from girls her age. O’Connor was very similar when she was a young girl; she was the type of girl who also did not have many friends and would normally be alone and as she talked to herself. Throughout O’Connor’s short stories, she was able to convey her life experiences very discreetly as she portrayed them through the lives of one or more of her characters. 

In both of O’Connor’s short stories that are being discussed, she gives each story the same central theme, which is irony. As Bloom stated,“And in both stories O’Connor uses conventional language for comic and ironic purposes, emphasizing the meaninglessness of the platitudes in the mouths of her characters, and at the same time using their words to sound the main themes of the story” (Bloom 35). There are three different types of irony that can be used, but throughout this story, all three types are applied. In both of the stories, one distinct example of irony is the character’s names. There is June Star, who is a spoiled little girl who lives up to the stereotypical life like a famous star. Mrs. Hopewell, Mrs. Freeman, and Joy all have names that are examples of irony as they try to live up to the exact meaning of their name; well, except for Joy, who hopes for the complete opposite. An example of dramatic irony in Good Country People is at the end of the story when Mrs. Hopewell calls Manley Pointer a very simple man and talks about how the world would be a better place with more people who were simple like him. Mrs. Hopewell clearly has no idea what really happened, but the readers are able to see what actually happened. There is also a case of situational irony that was used in the story, which is when Manley Pointer stole Hulga’s leg. Hulga not only lost her leg in that scene, but also a part of her heart. This specific scene causes the readers to not only be confused, but also look for the sweet Christian boy who appeared to be very attracted to Hulga. Nevertheless, Harold Bloom states, “This characterization recurs throughout the story to describe various characters, whose ‘good country’ nature comes under the author’s scrutiny” (Bloom 28). Throughout both stories,  O’Connor not only uses irony to showcase her sense of humor, but also to captivate her readers in the process and make them question the main point of the whole situation.

Whether one may agree or not, Flannery O’Connor was a pious Catholic that declared her work through a religious view; although, it can be interpreted in multiple ways. O’Connor provided her readers with several scenarios that make one not only question themselves with reasonable doubt, but also others around them. As White stated,“A dogmatic corollary of grace (O’Connor’s Roman Catholicism being self-evident here) is that it must be free–freely given and accepted” (White 3). Flannery O’Connor brought her religious viewpoints to life as she engaged her characters into grotesque and violent scenarios which allowed not only the characters, but also the readers to test their faith and find grace. As an author, O’Connor reveals the cruel experience one must go through in order to see the bigger picture. Regardless of a person’s religious point of view, O’Connor’s work is worth reading and making one’s own assumptions.

Works Cited

  • Bloom, Harold. Flannery O’Connor. Facts on File, Inc, 1999. EBSCOhost, stacks.tridenttech.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=38614&site=ehost-live.
  • Reuman, Ann. “Revolting Fictions: Flannery O’Connor’s Letters to Her Mother.” The Norton Introduction to Literature, edited by Kelly J. Mays, shorter 12th ed., W. W. Norton, 2017, pp. 513-515.
  • White, Terry. “Allegorical evil, existentialist choice in O’Connor, Oates and Styron.” The Midwest Quarterly, vol. 34, no. 4, 1993, p. 383+.Biography in Context, link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A13999393/BIC1?u=trident_ttc&xid=9f80ba9c. Accessed 14 Aug. 2017.

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