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

Saturday, December 24, 2011

"The Displaced Person" by Flannery O'Connor

"The Displaced Person" by Flannery O'Connor (1955, 30 pages)

My Prior Posts on Flannery O'Connor

1925 to 1965
"The Displaced Person" is one of Flannery Connor's longest short stories.    I am currently reading through the stories in her posthumous collection The Complete Short Stories of Flannery O'Connor.   O'Connor is on many greatest of all time short story writer lists and is for sure now on mine.

O'Connor (from Savannah, Georgia, USA-the heart of the old south)is the very epitome of  a Southern Gothic writer with grotesque characters,  very dysfunctional families and deep as it gets symbolism.    That combined with her fearless depiction of the climate of pervasive racism and white supremacy of the time makes her hard to read or even take to some readers.   Most of her stories are told through conversations or the thoughts of her characters.   There is extensive use of "dialect" in the stories that will slow most readers down.  (I for sure needed to slow down for "The Displaced Person").

The white residents of the world of the south in the 1940s were not just prejudiced against blacks (there is constant use of very unacceptable language that may make these stories hard for teachers to use), but against Europeans, Catholics (O'Connor was a devout Catholic), any body that "talks funny", and anybody that just stands out at all.   This is a world where people would nod in agreement when someone said Poles and Germans were all the same (and right after WWII ended be real confused about what it was about and who fought who) and that "Italians" were white "technically speaking".

The story takes place on a farm in rural Georgia around 1947 or so.   The farm is owned by Mrs McIntyre, once a widow and twice divorced.   She runs her farm with the help of near no account white trash and shiftless blacks (of course she does not call them that!).   She has heard about the many displaced persons all over Europe and has a vague idea of concentration camps and such.   She contacts a local Catholic priest and asks him to get her a displaced man to work on her farm.   He gets her refugee from Poland.   He turns out to be an incredibly hard worker, has great intelligence and at once learns how to repair tractors and things like that.   At first Mrs McIntyre is thrilled by him then she gets worried about why he works so hard and what his private agenda might be.   Also he does not seem to understand the way relationships between blacks and white are supposed to work.    There is a lot of great plot action and conversations in the story.   Then Mrs McIntyre is completely shocked when she finds out he wants to bring his sixteen year old niece to Georgia as the bride for one of the black men on the farm.   This is just way too much.   There is much more in this story but I will leave it unspoiled.

I will not now explore the religious symbolism of this story.  As I read the remainder of her stories I may pick one of them and focus on the theological aspects of her story.

Please share your experience with O'Connor?

Mel u

1 comment:

@parridhlantern said...

Great post & liked the way you explained her lack of understanding of not only her fantastic worker, but her understanding of all other " non-whites". Just reread Jun'ichiro Tanizaki's In praise of Shadows & the subject of skin tone is raised there slightly spoiling (to my 21st century sensibilities) a perfect meditation of aesthetics. Great thought provoker & can't wait for the theological angle.