Grotesque In Flannery O
’connor Essay, Research Paper
The Grotesque in Flannery O’Connor
Flannery O’Connor, a prolific Southern author, was born in Savannah, Georgia in 1925 during the Great Depression. After her father’s death from lupus when O’Connor was fifteen, she and her mother moved to Andulusia, a rural quail farm outside of Milledgeville, Georgia. O’Connor herself was diagnosed with lupus at the age of twenty-five and suffered greatly from the disease which finally killed her. She was educated in parochial Catholic schools where she learned the basics of literature and grammar. O’Connor began writing at the young age of ten, and her stories were frequently published. Her most prevalent themes include comic violence, the question of redemption, displacement, and religion. Flannery O’Connor’s overriding religious views and perspectives on life were illustrated through the abnormal characters and grotesque figures in her stories, particularly in “Good Country People,” “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” and “The Life You Save May Be Your Own.”
Flannery O’Connor often used grotesque images in her writings to portray the fundamental struggles of human beings. However, she did not limit herself to the simple questions of right and wrong, good vs. evil. O’Connor’s characters struggle in their daily lives to overcome their violent inner conflicts. In “Good Country People,” O’Connor begins with the grotesque description of Joy, also known as Hulga, and her missing leg. Her leg was shot off in an unfortunate hunting accident when she was only ten. For more than twenty years, she has been limping with one leg. Hulga has never experienced those things valued by others growing up; she never danced, never knew what it was like to experience “normal good times” (O’Connor 173). Joy/Hulga’s missing leg becomes the focus for a Bible selling con man who demonstrates artificial faith to get what he needs. In the end, the salesman manages to con Joy out of her prosthetic leg. The grotesque image of the man walking down the street with someone else’s prosthetic leg would frighten anyone. Mrs. Freeman, a woman Joy lives with, has a bizarre interest in the minute details of other people’s infirmities, especially children’s (O’Connor 174). She constantly asks about the blasting of Joy’s leg and wants to hear all the little details of the accident. Flannery O’Connor gives graphic descriptions of her characters’ flaws in order to make her point clear. She said: “You have to make your vision apparent by shock- to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind you draw large and startling figures” (Sanders 2). O’Connor felt that using these freakish characters was the only way to grab the audience’s attention and accurately portray the human condition.
In “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” The Misfit is aptly named. His disfigurement is not physical; however, it is a deformity of his mind. His cruelty results from his need for proof of Jesus’ resurrection. Without proof of Christ’s rising from the dead, he validates his behavior by stating,
Jesus was the only One that ever raised the dead, and He shouldn’t have done it. He thrown everything off balance. If He did what He said, then it’s nothing for you to do but throw away everything and follow him, and if He didn’t, then it’s nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can- by killing somebody or burning down his house or doing some other meanness to him. No pleasure but meanness. (O’Connor 28)
Most people who read her stories would agree that “O’Connor is undeniably a tough writer, and looking through her work the reader must strain to find a healthy family, a loving couple, or a pleasant child” (Mitchell 1). She seems to take discomfort in the reader to a new level and challenge people to understand her characters. Many of Flannery O’Connor’s characters, such as The Misfit, are unlikeable and it is virtually impossible to identify with them as one would in a normal story.
In “The Life You Save May be Your Own,” both Mr. Shiftlet and Lucynell are flawed. Mr. Shiftlet, a carpenter, has only one arm, and Lucynell is profoundly deaf and has never uttered a word in her life. Mr. Shiftlet, like the Bible salesman in “Good Country People” who left with Hulga’s prosthetic leg, ends up getting what he is after by cruel and devious trickery. While she is sleeping at the counter in the restaurant, he abandons poor Lucynell. His cruel and unfeeling behaviors, more than his physical deformity, were grotesque. O’Connor’s characters are tragically flawed, but their afflictions are primarily illnesses of the mind and soul. Their outward appearances seem to reveal blemishes that are more tragic and more intangible than the physical imperfections she portrayed (Bleikasten 3). This story is a prime example of not only the physical infirmities that her characters have, but also the mental deformities as well.
Flannery O’Connor’s religious background and experiences through life reflect clearly in her stories through her grotesque and abnormal characters. The demented minds and impaired bodies of her characters, like that of O’Connor’s lupus-ridden body, struggle through life’s daily conflicts and turmoil. The messages she creates by her characters’ inner conflicts clearly relate back to her need to present the good and evil in all people.