Flannery Oconnor Essay, Research Paper
Flannery O Connor was a southern Catholic writer known for her sharp explorations of religious themes and southern racial issues through extraordinary short stories and novels featuring bizarre situations and grotesque southern characters. Her stories have had positive influences on the lives of her readers. O Connor s themes of the decaying south, racial relations, and the possibility of religion and spirituality after WWII have all been accepted by the literary and religious worlds.
Flannery O Connor was born in Savannah, Georgia, on March 25, 1925. Her writing focused on the memories of the place she knew best, the rural South. To the inexperienced, the writing of O Connor may seem cold, unemotional, stark, and violent, but in reality, her writing is filled with meaning and symbolism. Her writing contains knowledge that is hidden to all but those who have been instructed as to how and where to look for it. She is ultimately trying to express divine truth and reveal a great deal about humanity s slow participation in the mystery of life (Helmer 1).
When speaking of Catholic writers, O Connor believes that they are too concerned with presenting the Church in a favorable light and tending to their readers spiritual needs. Instead, O Connor stresses that writers must work within the limitations of their occupation to create the best story possible. She says that the audience plays a crucial role in artistic creation and that writers always had to be aware of, and to take account of, their audience. To O Connor, successful writing was not a depiction of the artist s vision, but a depiction of it in such a way that the reader could understand it (Brinkmeyer 165). Flannery O Connor said, The novelist doesn t write to express himself, he doesn t write simply to render a vision he believes true, rather he renders his
vision so it can be transferred, as nearly whole as possible, to his reader (Fitzgerald 204-205). Something that occurs repeatedly in the demands for a Catholic novel is the word positive. In a sense, all Catholic literature is positive, but the Church has never encouraged people to believe that hell is not a going concern.
When talking about her own audience, O Connor feels limited as a writer because of the distance she feels between herself and her readers. She believed that she lacked a supportive audience because the general Catholic reader is so busy looking for something that fits his needs, and shows him in the best possible light, that he will find suspect anything that doesn t serve such purpose (Fitzgerald 182). This lack of audience stunted imaginative growth. Although O Connor and her fiction pressure the reader, she still provides a positive influence on the lives of her readers. Her stories encourage the reader to look for truth in God and to understand the mysteries of life (Brinkmeyer 194-195).
Flannery O Connor s short stories and novels usually focus on grotesque characters. A good deal of Southern fiction is generally described as grotesque. O Connor noted that anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the Northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic (Fitzgerald 40). In grotesque works, the writer has made alive some experience that the ordinary man may never experience in his ordinary life. In addition to dissonance, the grotesque features exaggeration, distance from some ideal state, and abnormality. The grotesque is the combination of the dissimilar elements of horror and humor (Rath 40-42). Grotesque characters are not considered funny and seen to carry an
invisible burden. A writer who produces grotesque fiction may not consider his characters any more freakish than other ordinary men are. O Connor noted, Whenever I m asked why Southern writers particularly have a penchant for writing about freaks, I say it is because we are still able to recognize one. To be able to recognize a freak, you have to have some conception of the whole man, and in the South the general conception of man is still, in the main, theological (Fitzgerald 44). Flannery O Connor has a way of writing about distortion without destroying the work as a whole.
Flannery O Connor s most outstanding and grotesque character is that of Hazel Motes. He is the tragic figure in O Connor s first published novel Wise Blood. Hazel s tragedy arises out of his dilemma as a man committed to his belief that is condemned to move through an uncommitted world. He is a runaway from God who is seeking to escape his divinely appointed mission. He had planned to become a preacher, but he lost his faith while in the army. Instead, he dedicates his life to anti-Christ. Most often, his first name is shortened to Haze, which suggests mist and clouds, which in turn defines his moral state. Haze is a man at war with himself and society. He assumes that the way to deny Jesus is through a life of deliberate sin. He chooses sexual impurity and open blasphemy as his sins. In the end, Haze is unable to maintain his position as Satan s envoy. When the police officer pushes his Essex over the cliff, Haze recognizes that God has at last given him a sign. Haze then returns to town and blinds himself as an act of penance for his efforts to flee from grace (Walters 43-47). The actions of Haze, such as the suffering for his sins, are striking and suggest many historic parallels. Hazel Motes is ultimately the divine paradox (Walters 60-61).
Flannery O Connor s stories have been greatly accepted by the literary world. In a review of The Complete Stories, Time Magazine comments:
This collection brings together for the first time in one book all of Miss. O Connor s stories. Every one is good enough so that if it were the only example of her work to survive, it would be evident that the writer possessed high talent and a remarkably unclouded, unabstract, demanding intelligence. The best are among the best American short stories ever written (Paulson 129).
In Modern Critical Views: Flannery O Connor, Harold Bloom comments on O Connor s writing by saying that she would have bequeathed us even stronger novels and stories, of the eminence of Faulkner s, if she had been able to restrain her spiritual tendentiousness (8). Not all of O Connor s reviews were positive. In her short story collection A Good Man Is Hard to Find, the critics called it brutal and sarcastic. O Connor fought back by saying The stories are hard [ ] but they are hard because there is nothing harder or less sentimental than Christian realism (Polter 2). Flannery O Connor has been compared to the works of Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner, and Dostoeyevsky because of their character studies of abnormal psychology (Paulson 125). In January of 1995, the magazine Sojourners honored O Connor by focusing on her as the author of the year. The Editors described her as fiercely dedicated to fiction as an incarnational art-capable of revealing the mysterious encounter with redemption only by being true to the blood and dust, delusions and customs of the human condition (Polter 1).
Flannery O Connor was a southern Catholic writer known for her sharp explorations of religious themes and southern racial issues through extraordinary short stories and novels. She belonged to the southern gothic tradition that focused on the decaying south and search for a fuller truth in God. Her grotesque characters serve as an example of Christ-like figures. By the time of her death at the age of 39, Flannery O Connor was recognized as one of the most gifted and original fiction writers of the 20th century. The fiction writer represents mystery through manners, grace through nature (Fitzgerald 53).