A Month of Flannery O’Connor: Week 1

Welcome to the first week (May 1st – 7th) of A Month of Flannery O’Connor! To follow along, check out the full schedule for reading Flannery O’Connor’s collection The Complete Stories.

This week’s stories:

  • The Geranium
  • The Barber
  • Wildcat
  • The Crop
  • The Turkey
  • The Train
  • The Peeler

Some context:

According to the introduction, written by Robert Giroux of the publishers Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, the first book Flannery O’Connor wrote was a collection of stories to fulfill her thesis requirements to earn an MFA at the University of Iowa (later the Iowa Writers Workshop) in 1947. I learned from the section of O’Connor’s biography by Brad Gooch that I read that she felt strange, a Georgian women in Iowa, and Giroux reiterates in the introduction to The Complete Stories that her teacher, Paul Engle, couldn’t even understand Flannery’s accent at first. She wrote all the time, attended Catholic mass every day, and was a vigilant manuscript reviser. In fact, the novella-length Wise Blood took her five years to complete. Giroux notes that The Complete Stories are not all of equal merit, but a collection meant to preserve O’Connor’s work, which was published in various magazines during her lifetime.

After her MFA was completed, O’Connor spent time at a writer’s colony and then in New York City. However, she was then diagnosed with lupus and spent most of her time on a farm in Georgia that her mother ran. Her father had died nine years before of the same disease. Born in 1925, there were some treatments for Flannery that did exist when her father passed. Her bones began to soften, and she relied on crutches. Despite medical care, Flannery O’Connor died in 1964.

Given her context — the American South before the Civil Rights Act was signed — the use of racial slurs in O’Connor’s writing makes sense but is nonetheless shocking to contemporary readers. Robert C. Evans notes the following:

O’Connor herself claimed that she wrote most effectively about the people she knew best, conceding that she knew little about African Americans in any intimate ways. Yet her works repeatedly explore racial issues, often in ways suggesting sympathy for blacks, support for gradual integration, and, especially, contempt for deep-seated racism.

O’Connor herself, however, has sometimes been accused of racist views. The N-word appears repeatedly in her fiction, making some of her works increasingly difficult to teach or read. Usually the word reflects the real speech of her era; avoiding it might have opened her to charges of whitewashing the uglier aspects of contemporary culture.

When I proposed a month of O’Connor, I hadn’t realized just how often she would use racial slurs and tense situations between black and white Americans. Then again, I see value in exploring these stories, especially what they say about race, gender, and location.

Examining the first seven stories:

The stand-out themes are loss of manhood, city/liberal vs. country/conservative, and looking for signs and symbols. One thing to note is that most stories in this collection were written while O’Connor was in her MFA program. Later, several stories she’d had published were combined into Wise Blood. A confusing point may be that O’Conner kept changing the characters’ last names, e.g. Hazel Wickers in “The Train” is the same Hazel Weaver in “The Heart of the Park” who ended up Hazel Motes in Wise Blood.

“The Geranium” (1946 published in Accent, and submitted as part of her 1947 MFA thesis) — in this story, the metaphor of a geranium representing the main character’s life before he was taken in by his daughter is a little too clever and spelled out. And yet, his encounter with his daughter’s neighbor, a black man in a nice suit whom the father first believes is hired help, demonstrates a white man’s loss of control. His life has been hijacked by his daughter (younger, female) and he is called “old-timer” by someone he believes inferior (a black man, younger). Even trying to navigate the unfamiliar big city makes him appear enfeebled: “People boiled out of trains and up steps and over into streets.”

“The Barber” (included in her 1947 MFA thesis, published in New Signatures 1948: A Selection of College Writing, and 1970 in The Atlantic) — a story whose ending I read twice pits academics against the working class. The narrator is voting for a liberal candidate while the barbershop customers who gather are conservative. Much like the geranium serving as a symbol, the barber’s shaving knife on the protagonist’s neck represents the danger of sticking out in a homogenized place. Is this why the philosophy professor, a colleague of the protagonist, never argues with anyone? O’Connor does not suggest the protagonist is correct or incorrect. Surprisingly, the barber’s cleaning person, a young black man, listens to racist talk all day, though the barber knows his employee hears everything, suggesting the black man is never underestimated for his intelligence.

“Wildcat” (1947 MFA thesis, 1970 published in The North American Review) — rather than a background character, this story’s protagonist is an elderly black man. Much like the main character in “The Geranium,” he feels weakened in his manhood as he ages. The young boys craft a simple plan to catch a wildcat killing cows in the area, but the wildcat becomes a symbol (like the geranium and shaving blade) to the protagonist: Death incarnate. How will the protagonist handle Death’s arrival, like a man or a coward? Again, O’Connor’s story provides commentary on power through gender. Even when the man reflects on the wildcat that killed someone in his youth, the protagonist remembers he was left in the house with women, reminding readers that black males are stripped of their right to be men in America regardless of age.

“The Crop” (1947 MFA thesis, 1971 published in Mademoiselle) — terribly pleasing to anyone interested in writing craft. A woman is so involved in a story she’s writing that she inserts herself, taking readers into metafictional territory via character murder. The nudge from a housemate to get the writer to go to the grocery store (indicating writing isn’t “work” but wasted time), pulls the woman out of her story. After running into people who look like her characters, except flawed in some aspects of their appearances, she can no longer connect personally with her story. Are these flawed humans a sign that her story should be thrown out?

“The Turkey” (1947 MFA thesis, 1948 published in Mademoiselle) — immediately felt bloated as a boy chases around a made-up bandit and then a real-life turkey. We finally arrive at a place where the boy curses God aloud, including several swear words, in a test of faith. But when the boy sees the turkey dead in the weeds, he thinks of how proud his family will be. Is the turkey an offering from God? A sign? Superstitious, the boy creates if/then statements to prove God loves him. For a writer as devout as O’Connor, her stories of doubt in God confuse me most, especially when the turkey, a symbol of goodness and grace, is stolen from the boy, who is then left to figure out religion without looking for signs.

“The Train” (1947 MFA thesis, 1948 published in Sewanee Review) and “The Peeler” (1949 published in Partisan Review) — both of these stories are excerpts from Wise Blood (1952 published), though “The Peeler” works better as a stand-alone. O’Connor gives little context for who Haze Motes (Wickers in this version, published before the completion of Wise Blood) is in “The Train,” and so his obsession with making a black porter admit he’s a runaway from Haze’s hometown comes off as bullying and confusing. The porter is supposedly related to a man named Cash, whom readers don’t know. “The Train” as a chapter is just as confusing within the novella until you know more about Haze’s rejection of religion, believing there is freedom in atheistic living. Haze’s travel plan is also unclear, though the O’Connor’s ability to latch on to a symbol — in this case Haze’s upper bunk tube as metaphor for his mother’s closed coffin — pleases me.

“The Peeler” is a clearer read because we’re introduced to everyone: Enoch Emery, the blind preacher, the daughter, the potato peeler salesman. With a small cast, O’Connor captures a busy street with various hustlers selling products and ideas. Enoch emery, a sniffy teen who wipes his nose on his sleeve, is such a vivid person. He needs a friend, a mother, a prostitute. The highlight of “The Peeler” is getting a strong feel for O’Connor’s southern dialect in writing. Enoch is “eighteen year old” and “went to thisyer Rodemill Boys’ Bible Academy.” Not only does her word choice reflect the speech patterns, but the way people repeat themselves. For as little as Haze speaks in his efforts to reject religion while literally stalking a religious figure, Enoch will tell the same few facts repeatedly in that lazy southern drawl.

Next week:

We have two more excerpts from Wise Blood coming up, along with O’Connor’s most famous story, taught in English classrooms the United States over: “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” There are some new-to-me stories, but “The Life You Save May Be Your Own” is another famous piece. I’m planning to journal my thoughts after each day’s story, like I’ve been doing, looking for symbols and themes to connect the stories.

Questions:

  • What themes stood out to you within a single story, or across the stories?
  • How did you react to O’Connor’s use of racial slurs and racist characters?
  • Were there any stories with which you struggled or weren’t sure what to make of?
  • Did you have a favorite story or quote?
  • If you haven’t read Wise Blood, what was your experience reading “The Train” and “The Peeler” like?

25 comments

  1. Now I wish I had a copy of this so I could read this batch of stories. None of these were in A Good Man in Hard to Find (and other stories.) I’ll have to see if it’s available on Libby through my libraries because I would like to read more by her.

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  2. I’ve never read Flannery O’Connor, so this first week was an interesting dive into new territory for me. I was caught off guard by the racial slurs, but I understand that these are a reflection of the time of the publication of these stories. Knowing that in my head doesn’t make me wince any less, though. Even if they are a product of their time, there are certainly elements of these stories that are relevant today.

    I felt like some of these stories were engaging illustrations. I especially enjoyed the way the narrator fell in to her stories in The Crop. Seeing the story come together in the mind of the narrator and then spring to life for her was a great illustration of a powerful imagination. I feel like The Turkey was an attempt to work with the same kind of fuzzy barrier between story-within-story and the reality of the story itself, but it wasn’t quite as effective and I felt a bit lost in the mind of the young narrator.

    The Barber was frustrating, but effective at making a point. Even in the time of this story, an educated rhetorician can have a carefully built line of reasoning that falls flat around those who don’t see the relationship between reality and facts. I think that barber would have been just as happy with alternative facts if they came from his guy. I think the narrator’s friend the other professor is probably exhausted with trying to work with people who don’t argue in good faith.

    I had a lot of trouble following The Wildcat and The Train. I have listened to some bits from an audio book of Wise Blood and I couldn’t help remembering the voice the reader gave to Haze and Enoch in The Peeler. I did not realize The Train and The Peeler were excepts from a larger work until I was almost finished with The Peeler and I recognized the story. I feel like I would have struggled quite a bit less knowing that was the case and getting a summary of the beginning of the book.

    Either way, I am looking forward to the next stories!

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    • I remember students asking me if I thought we should hold authors to the same sensitivity standards we have today as at the time of the writer’s life. My answer, to some degree, was yes. I find it impossible to believe that we woke up one day and realized the other humans around us were, like, REALLY for REALZ humans too. Based on what I’ve read about Flannery, she tried hard to capture African Americans exactly as she saw them, which was her defense when someone noted how well she wrote. To me, it sounded like she was crediting people with their own words and dismissing her writing skill. When I look at the stories together, I realize people like that barber and the father in the geranium were all over, and then you plant O’Connor in the south where she felt ignored because everyone loved Margaret Mitchell and her old-timey thoughts on slaves. O’Connor was a known fan of racist jokes and apparently would save them up to share with others. Should she have known better? I would think so, especially given than she lived in Georgia, Iowa, and New York — a traveler, that is. Yet, her characters might still be racist. Emily, another blogger, pointed out that racist characters are a representation of who they are and how they feel, not who the author is. That’s possibly true with O’Connor, but I’m speculating. The way the barber gives his black employee credit for careful listening, and that the black neighbor in “The Geranium” was dressed successfully, tells me O’Connor didn’t believe African Americans were stupid.

      Now that you’ve pointed it out, I agree with you that “The Turkey” may have been trying to capture the magic in “The Crop,” but not as successfully. I don’t feel as in the moment in “The Turkey” when the boy is playing cowboy.

      The most disturbing part of “The Barber” for me was that it sounded like people today! A business full of Make American Great Again and one academic who can’t put his words together correctly because what will they matter to the barber and his friends? To what degree have we seen this intentional ignorance and egotism before, and is it going to come back again in our lifetime?

      I also hear Enoch and Haze in Bronson Pinchot’s voice as he rendered them. That snuffly, stuffy, dopey voice for Enoch is both perfect and deceiving. Enoch is not to be trusted, nor is he an innocent like I want to believe. What was it about “The Wildcat” that you struggled with?

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  3. Great post!

    I was not expecting so many racial slurs and I did find that off-putting at first, though it does seem like she’s using them simply because they were part of speech at the time, whereas thematically she often condemns racism. I wonder if anyone would reprint her work at some point with the slurs at least blurred (“n-” for instance) so as to make her work a bit more palatable to the modern reader without completely changing her writing, since they do still seem worth reading otherwise!

    The Crop was by far my favorite of this bunch- as a kid I was always writing myself into more lively scenarios whenever I was bored, mostly for the fun of the immediate escape. It was very amusing seeing The Crop’s protagonist take her serious approach to writing a story, and then spend her writing time basically imagining herself elsewhere instead of actually producing lines! Can relate, ha. I took her distaste upon seeing those real people at the end to mean that she wasn’t really interested in being in their story, as she’d imagined, it was just the fun of inventing for her, and ultimately the need always to be inventing something new.

    In contrast, I was very frustrated with The Peeler! I’m not even sure I can explain why. For some reason the fact that it was somewhat religious/morally focused just didn’t balance with the more immediate street scenes for me, and I didn’t like any of the characters. I didn’t feel like I knew enough about any of them, except for Enoch Emery. Some of Enoch’s stories coming up for next week’s discussion worked better for me, but I really loathe him as a character. I also felt like Haze was very elusive, though I suppose that’s maybe due to not having read Wise Blood, as you mention. I was actually less bothered by The Train, which is more behavior-focused than soul-searching, but The Peeler seemed to hold up Haze as this already-significant character who at this point in The Complete Stories hasn’t really earned his significance yet. I’m not sure any of this is making sense, ha! It was just a struggle for me.

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    • I always lean toward leaving all racial slurs in books as they are. I know it makes me teeth crawl to read slurs, but that is the response I should have. Whenever I read “the n-word” I don’t feel the same effect, but I know that I should. As I mentioned in my response to Nick, O’Connor apparently condemned racism in her stories, but also loved collecting racist jokes, so it’s almost like she saw black people as people, but wanted to laugh regardless of who could be hurt. I still see that in stand-up comedy, and when comedians talk about their anger at people who are offended, I see that as the same conversation. Basically, do we have a right to laugh at other people, regardless of much that laughter hurts the immediately or long term? It’s an interesting question.

      Is it bad that I laughed when I read “The Crop”? Maybe as a fellow writer you’ll get me, but I thought it was funny that she killed the farmer’s wife so she could insert herself into the story. Is that too dark of me??

      It’s possible the frustrating thing about “The Peeler” is that Enoch is this person who’s character shifts around. We feel bad he is friendless and that his parents don’t want him. It’s sad that he’s so young and has this sniffly nose like a child. But he’s also harassing women, hiring prostitutes, and abusing (verbally, maybe physically?) animals. O’Connor published chapters of Wise Blood individually, suggesting she meant them to feel complete, but she always claimed that they were intended to be part of a novel. I like the dichotomy of the street sellers, who feel like hustlers and liars, vs. the preacher and his daughter, who are also hustlers (of religion). Then, there is Haze. Just reading the story gives us little information about what he’s up to. He’s unkind, but he’s not as disgusting as Enoch.

      Can you tell me more on your thoughts about “The Train” if you have time? That story is difficult for me to wrap my head around.

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      • I think for me slurs in text depend on the situation- if they’re meant as slurs I think it seems disingenuous to remove them (I do believe this can be done to positive affect), but if it’s just the language use of the time when there wasn’t a good alternative in general use then I would prefer having them at least blurred, as long as the tone of the text isn’t lost. (Which is of course arguable, but I don’t think it would be in this case, at least for me!) I hadn’t really noticed racist jokes in O’Connor’s text so far, but that does raise an interesting question about what’s acceptable in humor. So many jokes come at the expense of someone else, which I never really have liked. I think this is why I often struggle with humor in books and films, though I do know that plenty of others who can acknowledge the liberty taken while still getting a laugh.

        I also laughed at The Crop! I was so amused by how carried away the MC was getting, and I thought O’Connor definitely left a bit of room to laugh at her without completely belittling her writing attempt.

        For me Enoch hardly even felt relevant in The Peeler! Until he takes the peeler back from the girl toward the end he really didn’t seem to have a purpose in that story at all. I did feel sorry for him though! And I’m glad that dichotomy of street sellers vs. preacher as different brands of hustlers worked better for you! I don’t even have an intelligent criticism as to why I didn’t like it- the vibe just didn’t appeal to me.

        Hmmm I’m not sure I’m entirely right in my take on The Train, because I have no idea who Cash is and how significant he is. But I took the increasing tension between Haze and the porter to be offense on the porter’s end at being mistaken for another black man- another criticism on racism after Haze says “all them gulch n-s resembled. They looked like their own kind of n-” Haze wants to be comforted by a look-alike but the porter just wants to do his job. Haze is pushing the limits of how far a customer can expect a service person to go for him.
        I also thought Haze’s failure at making a friend with the woman seated near him or the people in the dining car showed he was sort of a loner without many relationships, so the rejection from even the porter (for whom taking care of Haze is basically his job while on the train) makes him conflate his loneliness with death, in the coffin-like bunk.
        That was my interpretation, anyway!

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        • I see your point about censorship. It’s interesting because even if the slurs are removed from a book, they would need to be addressed by a teacher (I know a lot of schools teach Mark Twain).

          Oh! I didn’t mean O’Connor made racist jokes in the stories; she would hear them in real life and save them up to tell other people in person. 😬

          Wow, your thoughts on “The Train” really made me see it differently and make other connections. I like what you said about Haze trying to find comfort in the porter because he could be someone from home. Now I’m thinking about the man in “The Geranium” who would basically find a black man to go fishing with him. Was it because he could bully the black man around? Is this sort of what Haze is doing — demanding friendship from someone who could be fired if Haze says the wrong thing about him? Actually, the way the porter treated Haze (a bit gruff, annoyed) surprised me and was another moment when O’Connor demonstrates black people were not the compliant servants society thought they were. Great stuff, Emily!

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          • That’s a great point, I fully agree that even if certain words or phrasings are ever omitted from older texts they should still be addressed in intros/afterwards and by teachers. I would never advocate for removing slurs in a way that pretends they were never there!

            Thank you! 🙂 I agree about The Geranium- it seemed to me that the black man did not want to go fishing or hunting and only ended up going along because he felt he had to, which the MC was taking advantage of (maybe without fully realizing). I did take Haze’s behavior in The Train to be similar, demanding service/friendship from someone wasn’t in a good position to refuse it. I thought that the porter was only rude to Haze as he was getting in the bunk, where he would be incapable of doing anything to act against the porter, but I guess that does leave the question of what might happen between them when he climbs out!

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  4. I’m glad you supplied the background of each story – and I had no idea degrees for writers were a thing that long ago. I must say I think they are a mistake, a bit like budding politicians learning about politics instead of going out into the world. I read The Geranium and The Barber. I like Nick’s comments about The Barber and don’t think I can add to them. I had a Queensland (our equivalent of the Bible Belt/South) cousin arguing with me yesterday, and it’s pointless even trying.

    The Geranium had more to say, though as you say some of the symbolism is laid on a bit thick. I do think she was arguing gently against racism though I think even back then she could have thought more about the casual racism of her own language. The story of an old man taken from his home and home town out of kindness and duty resonates. As of course is an old man’s reaction to being in the big city for the first time.

    I look forward to seeing O’Connor interrogate her religion and I plan to chase up The Crop which you made sound very interesting.

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    • As O’Connor grew as a writer, she started getting more violent with her characters. I wonder what would have happened to someone like the barber had he been written about closer to O’Connor’s death.

      I hear you about MFA programs, though of course I have an MFA myself. I didn’t find the program terribly helpful; in fact, it did try to do what everyone fears, and that is make me write how other people thought I should. I didn’t. Instead I quit writing for a long, long time. O’Connor also fought against people telling her to change the style and goals of her books (she writes about this in her letters to her friends, editors, and publisher). She’s not against feedback, but if that feedback essentially makes her change what she’s after, she ignores it. You really do need to have lived life to make good use of a writing program, and I wonder if people shouldn’t seek out a program in their 40s or later so that they have a distinct sense of self but can get some writing advice, too. I almost recommend a creative writing class at a small community college, where the focus is more craft — the basics like setting, point of view, dialogue, etc. — instead of an MFA which is all workshopping (feedback on other students’ stories).

      Bill….your kids aren’t talking about rescuing you from your big rig and life on the road, are they? I mean, I confess, I wanted my parents to get a will so I wouldn’t have to decide how to split up their knick-knacks with my brother (or decide if we should bury or cremate them), but they can stay at their house until they’re walking around taking the wrong pills and someone notices. Then, my brother and I will intervene. It’s a very independent family.

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      • No. I was thinking more about mum. And my grandparents (now long gone) who moved away from the family farm to make way for their son. My situation is the opposite of the guy in Geranium in that I dont have a home town and will retire to wherever my children and grandchildren are.

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        • I stupidly have never wondered if you have a house you return to, or if your truck has an apartment area in it. Now I just feel like a shoddy friend.

          Last I heard, my granny has been telling people she’s going to sell her house and move in with my folks. She might want to talk to them first. 😬

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  5. I have to say that I’m glad Geranium was the first story, because it made me feel like the collection would be ‘manageable’ in terms of comprehension. 😀 But you’re right, even I could tell that the symbolism was very heavy-handed in that one.

    My favourite by far was “The Crop”. I remember distinctly my surprise and delight when the author didn’t like where her female character was taking the story, and decided to kill her off and insert herself in it instead, ha! It makes me wonder, though, if we are actually learning something about the main character’s life from this self-insert, or if we’re to treat it as a purely fictional exercise—and, on another level, if this sort of thing is also somewhat reflective of O’Connor’s writing process. Most of the lit profs in my uni were great believers in the ‘the author is dead’ line of thought, but I find myself less inclined to believe that.

    A close second favourite for me is “Wildcat”. I appreciate your summary though since the whole time I was imagining Old Gabe as a white man (?!) and so read the story as the emasculation of a white man. Still, I liked the complexity of the wildcat as a symbol. As you mentioned, it wasn’t only about death but also the powerlessness and shame of not ‘proving’ himself as a man at a crucial moment, to the point that he still has to lie about that moment many years afterwards to shore up some masculine pride (if I’m reading it right). It was very poignant for me.

    I felt lost with “The Barber” and “The Train”, though. I found it hard to grasp the point of those stories until you summarized it neatly. “The Peeler” was easier to get into, though the only part I liked about it was Enoch. On a surface level, I understood “The Turkey” better, but wasn’t convinced at the voice being that of a child’s, and the whole religious aspect had me scratching my head. It was kind of endearing, though, how the main character was always thinking something along the lines of, “Does God think I’m weird like my parents do???”

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    • “The Crop” reminded me of how I when I’m writing a story that I KNOW is good, it’s like I’m there, seriously THERE (and that’s how I know it’s good). So the idea that this writer jumps in, kills a character, and takes off, just delighted me to pieces. I’m glad you liked it! I understand what your professors are saying; I took a grad course on literary theory, and there are so many schools of thought on how to access a story. I personally have never read a story that wasn’t enriched by learning more about the author. Then again, I could just be projecting what I want to see on the story based on the author’s life, and I’m giving the story more credit (or even doing the story a disservice) than it deserves.

      I could tell Gabriel in “Wildcat” was a black man due to the way he addressed the four boys (he says he can tell they’re black) and how they treat him in return. If he were white, they would call him “sir” or “mister,” not grandpa. America has a long history of emasculating black men and boys, so I find it interesting that “Wildcat” and “The Geranium” are so close to each other. They’re about the same feeling, but Gabriel’s been feeling it since he was a child. He’s in a country that won’t let him think he’s a man, because if he does, he’ll believe he’s a person, and racism requires that we dehumanize others.

      Both “The Barber” and “The Train” are tough — it’s not just you! I had to really dig to get something out of “The Barber,” and I think I found something in my digging because that division of politics feels pretty much the same now. Emily said she got more out of “The Train,” so check out her comment (I’m not sure if she responded yet)!

      With “The Turkey,” I just kept wondering if she was pointing out the hypocrisy of religious people who easily give up their faith and then turn it into a superstition. Either way, that kid was screwed because he had his turkey taken from him. Your sentence — “Does God think I’m weird like my parents do???” cracked me up because all I could think of was the children’s novel “Are You There, God? It’s Me Margaret.” and how “Does God Think I’m Weird? My Parents Do!” could be a follow-up novel.

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      • Oooh, I didn’t know it actually reflected a writer’s experience! Does that happen frequently when you’re writing a good piece? Personally, I love literary gossip and learning about authors’ lives—one author I loved reading about was Colette—and I also think a piece is enriched by learning about the author.

        Ah, that’s very interesting—I wouldn’t have caught that nuance between “sir” and “grandpa”, and I also liked how you traced the parallels between two stories but that one goes back to his childhood. Do you think there’s any significance to his being blind? It seems that the other younger black men are more competent and possess more initiative than Gabriel because they’re young, and able to see.

        I’ll wait for her response on that one.

        Ha, that does make for a good title! 😂 It could be that, too, the whole hypocrisy thing, but even if it were I’m not sure what to make of the turkey and the boy’s family thinking he’s weird and him wanting to prove himself that he’s not (by bringing home a turkey). Or did he want to bring home the turkey for another reason? Hmm…

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        • I know sometimes blindness is use as a metaphor for not yet having found Jesus, but I’m not sure that’s the case here. It’s possible that his blindness makes him vulnerable, which allows O’Connor to take a regular wildcat and turn it into a symbol for Death. She also gives Gabriel heightened senses in a mystical way. There’s also a trope of the “mystic” African American, and Gabriel might fit in there.

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  6. I read the intro to your post but didn’t read your thoughts on the stories so far since I need to revisit this collection myself. Haven’t figured out how I want to do it quite yet but I recently finished a good collection from Edwidge Danticat. I think I will share that on the blog soon.

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    • I wonder what your thoughts will be on O’Connor’s writing since you are also a Southern woman. Sometimes the way she phrases dialogue sounds natural to the way I’ve heard it, but it’s still strange to me. Just certain words skipped, that sort of thing. Language feels like the soul of a people.

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  7. Confession: I started to read these stories and realize I just don’t have it in me right now. First, reading on a screen is hard after starting at a computer all day. Second, I need something lighter to read. So, apologies for not participating despite all intentions to do so. ❤

    I like the context. Is this covered in the introduction? (I skipped that when I realized how far behind I was in participating) It's important to know the context in which texts are written – this helps us understand the author's perspective and the world events that have shaped them. Though, I don't know if I agree with your comment above that we should hold authors to the same sensitivity standards no matter when they lived.

    We need to consider the way they were raised by society and the expectations set before them. Sure, I was a bit of a self-centered asshole when I was younger, but no one ever told me I was doing it wrong. If someone had asked me to stop and reflect on what I was doing, with or without intention and guidance, I could have figured it out in the moment. I only figured it out as society changed around me. Does that make me a bad person? Because society expected me to act one way and I did? Because no one ever helped me see I was hurting anyone? If I am never in a situation where I have the ability to see what I'm doing is harmful, will I ever be able to correct my actions?

    In the context of something like the Civil Rights Movement, this argument sounds hollow and weak. But hindsight is 20/20. I believe no one is born good or evil, they learn to be the person they are. If the society they are embedded in touts beliefs which make them evil in the eyes of the enlightened future, how can we ever learn from their experiences?

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    • No problem! O’Connor’s stories are weirdly dense to read through, but then I always come away with a smaller analysis than I think I will. Not sure if it’s a difference of when the stories were written, or her Georgian rhythm of phrasing things, or what.

      Some of the information I shared was from the introduction, but most of it comes from O’Connor’s own letters. A bit is from scholarly essays.

      To be clearer about holding people to better standards, I definitely understand how a person may have learned from a certain environment and held those lessons to be true, such as a black person is lesser, shiftless, dangerous, likes to be told what to do, etc. Black people even pandered to white people’s ideas in order to preserve their lives. But I cannot understand how a human could whip another being, or steal a person from his family — to blatantly ignore suffering when they saw it with their own eyes. That I don’t believe everyone thought was fine, but more that it suited them just fine.

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      • Ahhh. I better understand now. Yes, to blatantly ignore suffering when you see it through your own eyes is definitely something we can hold all people to. But, we also have to ensure they are taught how to fight it when they see it. One of the most valuable things I ever read helped me understand what to do when I witness someone being harassed in public. You don’t confront the harasser, you approach the one being harassed. “Are you okay?” “Do you want me to sit/stand by you or walk you somewhere?” Just being there for the person and helping them escape is the right thing to do — don’t get into an altercation with the aggressor. I have yet had an opportunity to apply this knowledge, and I hope I never have to, but at least I’m prepared now.

        I don’t know what I’d do if I saw someone inflicting physicl violence on another human being. How could I fight that?

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