Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Friday, April 8, 2011

Flannery O'Connor: Two Short Stories

"Revelation"   and "Everything That Rises Must Converge"  both by Flannery O'Connor (1955)

Flannery O'Connor (1925 to 1964, Savannah, Georgia, USA) is best known for her novel, Wise Blood and her short stories.     Connor's work and life was very rooted in the American South, in a time when racial prejudice was just beginning to be challenged.    (I have previously posted on her short story "A Good Man is Hard to Find" and there is some additional background information on O'Connor in that post).   "Revelation" and "Everything that Rises Must Converge" deal directly with the hatred and contempt that white people in Georgia had for blacks.     The stories are about two things which O'Connor weaves together:   the consequences of racial prejudices and the playing out of Catholic theology in the events in the life of characters in  the story.    O'Connor's stories unfold through conversations between the people in the stories.    With just a few words, O'Connor can  bring a character totally to life.  

To help readers relate, if like me you like the HBO TV series True Blood  then the local town characters in the series are straight out of world of O'Connor.     You need to project yourself into the USA South circa 1952 to relate to these stories.     Maybe once you go below that they are universal.    Each story does make a lot of use of horribly offense expressions to refer to African Americans.

"Everything That Rises Must Converge" (which can be read HERE) is about a woman and her adult son, in his early twenties.    I will just give a brief account of the story as I hope some will read it.    As the story begins we can see the mother and her son have had a long running argument about the mother's prejudices and her use of racial insults.   The son is  a college graduate.    The mother  worked very hard to put him through college.    The only problem is there do not seem to be a lot of jobs where they live that call for college degrees.    Under the continual acrimony between the mother and son I sensed a very strong bond and a great emotional mutual dependency.   The son is constantly abusing his mother for her racial views.   O'Connor's stories are all about guilt and something terrible does happen that will send the son into a well of guilt from which he will not escape in this life.

"Revelation".  (The story can be read HERE.)    The action of the story takes place in the waiting room of a doctor.    Keep in mind when reading the story,  that the races had their own doctors.     In this world one of the worst insults a white person can give to another is to say they act like black people.   All sort of attitudes are played out in the doctor's office and afterwards.    This story also deals with the class structure of the society.    There is an amazing action scene also.   The story also has heavy religious underpinnings.    I will leave the plot pretty much unspoiled other than to say it is a lot of crazy fun.    It is also very much involved with Catholic tenants.    The title comes from contemporary Catholic theology.

The great Irish writer, Edna O'Brien said she could relate to short stories about small towns in the American south as the ignorance and prejudices of the people in these stories reminded her of her life in small town Ireland.

These are two good stories, really quite good.    Some people may find the world in these two stories to remote from their own to relate to the people in them.   But really how difference is the hatred in these stories from a million stories played out in real life around the world every day?

I will be posting soon on four more stories by O"Connor.  

O'Connor is on most  lists of best American short story writers.   Once and while you will see her on lists of world's best.      I accept the first listing but not the second.    It maybe her stories will turn out to be  period pieces mainly.  

Mel u


Unknown said...

It's been many years since I read O'Connor and I've been dying to get back to her. Thanks for reminding me why.

ds said...

I spent an entire summer during college reading Flannery O'Connor's stories on the sly at work (shhhh). She has the uncanny ability to be outraged, hysterically funny, and poignant at the same time. Always with Catholic theology as a backdrop (also a rarity in the Georgia of her day). Thank you for featuring her; it reminds me that I must return to her. It has been far too long.

Anonymous said...

I've been thinking of buying The Complete Stories of Flannery O'Connor, but thanks to your post, I just learned that I can read her stories online. Thanks for your discussion about an author whom I've long wanted to read and study more.