Monday, January 26, 2015

Arguing About Flannery O'Connor

A few days ago, a friend emailed to remark that she had just been reading "Everything That Rises Must Converge", and thought very well of it. I replied describing it as
another of O'Connor's stories of the ineffectual, intellectual son and the embarrassingly good-natured, naive mother: "The Enduring Chill" would be another, and ["The Comforts of Home"].
The situation, I said, if not the execution, wore on me. My friend thought this "harsh".

I found and read the story that evening. It is an excellent story, and I have no trouble understanding why I like it better now than I did thirty-five or forty years ago.

Julian, like Asbury in "The Enduring Chill", like Thomas in "The Comforts of Home", is in fact intellectual and ineffectual, and well aware of his failings. He is, more than either, miserably self-conscious,  No such men are particularly comfortable for a twenty-year-old man to read of. Most of us who were not clearly on the way to glory, or wholly lacking in self-awareness, measured our aspirations against our prospects, and didn't care for the results. But few of can have survived into or past middle age still taking ourselves so seriously.

I suppose that I must have seen on first reading the odd contrast in racism between his mother and Julian, the former regarding "negroes" as persons to be feared or patronized, the latter  wishing to use them as props to demonstrate his distance from his mother. What I find interesting now is how much more trapped in the past Julian is than his mother. For her it is a source of pride, maybe a warrant of gentility. For him, who never knew the lost prosperity, it is something to long for. I don't think I picked up on that all those years ago. There is also his apparent inability to see his mother as a person until she is at the point of death.

1 comment:

  1. O'Connor had very little patience with liberal intellectuals who talked the talk but would not walk the walk (as the hackneyed expression goes). At the heart and soul of her stories is the premise (sometimes expressed but sometimes not) that a human being is more than intellect; to be a full human being, one must embrace (and live) a Christ-like life. In "Everything That Rises Must Converge," Julian fails miserably.