You know when you go to a place and there’s something about it that just saturates the atmosphere? A place where the feeling it evokes is inseparable with the location itself? It could be between the shelves of a bookstore, your childhood home, or perhaps even a favorite teacher’s room: anywhere that has an unmistakable, yet, indescribable aura. Flannery O’Connor’s short stories all have that same sort of inexpressible feeling to them. Each one, while not an exact duplicate of the last, feels familiar, feels sort of like coming home. After devouring more than a dozen of her stories, after venturing to the library to get my hands on more, I can say that I don’t have a single complaint (and after my Faulkner post that’s saying a lot).
Most of O’Connor’s stories follow the same sort of structure. Picture a southern town, probably rural, normally a farm. Picture a property surrounded by woods with a farmhouse and sometimes another house–that of the help’s–also on the property. Picture a main character who is stuck in her ways, obstinate beyond belief, insisting that the way she’s living their life is the right way. Each of her stories is also filled with deliberately chosen character names, recurrent color symbolism, and countless references to the weather. There’s just so much to analyze. I love it.
Of all the stories I’ve read, I have to say that “Revelation” is my favorite. That may have a little something to do with an article I found that left me awestruck. It showed me the true depth of Flannery’s work. While I can honestly say that my reading skills have grown exponentially (as have my writing skills, though neither of which I would credit to myself), I couldn’t ever dream of finding any of the aspects of “Revelation” mentioned in the article on my own. The story centers around Ruby Turpin, a woman who sees herself as righteous and better than both “white trash” and blacks who she sits among. She finds herself being attacked, while in a doctor’s waiting room, which, in my opinion, is her just deserts. After the attack, she contemplates her situation, while cleaning out a pig sty, and has a revelation about her life. The reason that I enjoyed this story so much is not only because it is such a strong representation of O’Connor style and wit, but because it portrays people realistically. It doesn’t idealize the flaws that humans have. Rather, it accepts that everyone, like Mrs. Turpin, is flawed without it being the end of the world. O’Connor’s work shows verily how life is a struggle and a journey, how there’s always more to discover about ourselves.
One detail of Flannery O’Connor’s work that I noticed–and once I did I looked for in every story–is the eye color of characters or, more exactly, how a character’s eye color changes once they have a revelation (or make their “way toward grace“). In the beginning of “Revelation,” Ruby Turpin is described as having “little bright black eyes.” However, after the attack, her eyes “seemed a much lighter blue than before, as if a door that had been tightly closed behind them was now open to admit light and air.” O’Connor uses the eyes of her character’s to represent this journey.
Countless times throughout my reading, I was shocked by how profound some of O’Connor’s prose is. From her descriptive prowess to her humor, there are so many quirks that make Flannery who she is. Here are a few of the times that I was shocked, humored, or taken aback by her prose. First is a quote from “A View of the Woods”; it’s a description that is beyond words:
“The weather was as indifferent as her disposition. The sky did not look as if it were going to rain or as if it were not going to rain. It was an unpleasant gray and the sun had not troubled to come out.”
I love the first sentence of this quote. It’s one of those sentences that after reading it, you immediately think “wow.” The same can be said of this next quote from “Everything That Rises Must Converge“:
“Behind the newspaper Julian was withdrawing into the inner compartment of his mind where he spent most of his time. This was a kind of mental bubble in which he established himself when he could not bear to be a part of what was going on around him. From it he could see out and judge but in it he was safe from any kind of penetration from without. It was the only place where he felt free of the general idiocy of his fellows. His mother had never entered it but from it he could see her with absolute clarity”
I like this quote in particular because it describes something we all do, withdrawing into our minds; after all isn’t one of the motivations of reading to feel understood. One aspect of Flannery O’Connor writing that I can’t overlook is her humor. A prime example of this is found in “Parker’s Back,” when the main character, Parker, wants to get a tattoo that his exceedingly religious wife will approve of. This conversation between the tattoo artist and Parker ensues:
“Who are you interested in?” he said, “saints, angels, Christs, or what?” “God,” Parker said. “Father, Son, or Spirit?” “Just God,”Parker said impatiently. “Christ. I don’t care. Just so it’s God.
While I was going to close there, I just don’t think it’s fair to. I’ve almost finished a post on Flannery O’Connor, yet, I’ve neglected to mention her religious nature. I suppose, while I did so unintentionally, it’s because I feel that labeling her a Catholic writer will make her less appealing to the masses. While looking for a video of Flannery on YouTube, I stumbled across two videos that explain the religious tendencies of her work. If you can get past the man in them asking all of those annoying English-teacher-type, leading questions, I’d definitely suggest taking a view of either the one on “Good Country People” or the one on “A View of the Woods”. Bonus: While also searching, I also found both this short film version of “Good Country People” from the ’60s (which if I’m honest is pretty bad, but interesting) and a pdf of The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor.
Between her humor, wit, religious insights, and astute observations about life, Flannery O’Connor’s work is the stuff that sticks with you. I never really stop thinking about her stories; they never leave me. Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about fate. I mean, if you seriously think about it, aren’t most of our lives left up to fate (or God, whatever floats your boat). I can’t help but think about all the people, books, and ideas that I’ve discovered in the last couple months and feel incredibly fortunate to have been drawn to them. If for some reason, the cards didn’t fall as they did, I know for certain that I would be a very different person right now. Flannery O’Connor has caused me to grapple with my own ideas of grace and of God, which I think is a good thing. After all, isn’t life a beautiful struggle?