"Across on the river bank the Lord was waiting
on him with a troupe of angels and golden vestments for him to
put on and when he came, he'd put on the vestments and stand there
with the Lord and the angels, judging life."-from "The Wildcat"
|O'Connor 1948 Iowa|
"The Barber" (written when O"Connor was twenty one-1947-6 pages) will be a bit hard to read for a lot of people. This is partially because the story is almost entirely told through conversations in the rural dialect of Georgia in the 1940s. (When O'Connor attended the workshop some, including the workshop's director, could not at first understand her because of her own spoken dialect.) I have said before I am not over all a fan of dialect but maybe that is just because it takes a master to do it without seeming as if they are condescending to rural "hicks". Henry Green is another master of this. Many will be shocked over the constant use of very politically incorrect racial expressions by the characters in the story and the extremely racist milieu of the story. Basically the story turns around an argument in a barber shop about who one should vote for. One white candidate is seen as coddling the blacks and the white people in the barber shop, but for one man who is a teacher, all hate him. There is a black young man that works in the barber shop that is sadly oblivious to the constant racial comments of the white men.
"Wildcat" (1947, seven pages) also is a story about race relations and shows the extreme contempt and hatred that whites in region by and large had for blacks. One of the characters says several times that he can smell blacks a long way off (only he uses a very ugly term). The story is set like most of her others, in rural pinewoods Georgia. There were still wildcats in the area and one of them had recently killed a cow. Here is a good sample of the prose of the story and it shows what I am talking about pretty clearly.
"How many wildcats you killed, Gabrul?" Their voices, rising to
him through the darkness, were full of gentle mockery.
"When I was a boy, there was a cat once," Gabriel started. "It
come 'round here huntin' blood. Come in through the winder of a
cabin one night an' sprung in bed with a nigger an' tore that
nigger's throat open befo' he could holler good."
The religious themes of O'Connor are also developed in this story.
"The Crop" (1947, six pages) starts out at a meal in a household. O'Connor does a great job in just a few paragraphs of bringing a whole family history to life.
The man character, a young woman, is trying to write a story. She has chosen for her theme the lives of sharecroppers, basically a very poor class of mostly white rural Georgia people. You can see the young woman knows nothing about the people and dehumanizes them into violent troglodytes. It is a brilliant account of prejudice.
"The Turkey" (1947, eight pages) seems the most interesting of the stories. There is nothing immature about it. It centers on a family with two sons. One of the sons seems, according to his father, "destined for the penitentiary". He sometimes listens outside his parent's bedroom at night as they argue about what is wrong with him. I really don't want to tell any of this story. You just need to read it.
"The Train" (1948, eight pages) is the most complex of the stories in terms of narrative action. It centers on a train ride in the old days when people slept on trains and when riding one a long distance was a special event. It tells us a lot about class consciousness and status. Like all of her stories, there is a world of symbolism and meaning in the smallest details.
The next three stories in the collection became part of her first novel Wiseblood. I will post on "The Peeler", "The Heart of the Park" and "A Stroke of Good Fortune" soon. As her stories go on from here her work is considered to become even more brilliant and very rich in meaning. I will post on each one and will decide latter how to do it.
I am very glad I am at last reading through the short stories of O'Connor.
Please share your experiences with O'Connor with us.
O'Connor was a writer of prodigious gifts and a real fearlessness in her work ... she must have known how many of her themes, plots, and characters would be off-putting to many readers. Her letters (published under the title = The Habit of Being), are, I think, a necessary addition to the library of any admirer of O'Connor.
She is one of a very very few writers (Muriel Spark is another -- at least her early works) whose novels I have read and then immediately reread to try to see how she does it.
Also, I think she is one of those writers who has been enormously well served by her publisher, FSG -- the cover art/design for both her novels wonderfully captures the spirit of the text.
Have you seen that Stu (Winstonsdad) is hosting a Henry Green week in 2012, You can also get some of his work on Kindle.
My experience with O'Connor is in buying her books and not reading them. Sigh. I should make room for her in 2012. (There was a quote very similar to the one you've alluded to appearing in "Wildcat" in Margaret Mitchell's 1936 Gone With the Wind, which I recently re-read, and about which I feel completely differently than I once did.)
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