Welcome to Week #4 of A Month of Reading Flannery O’Connor. We’re almost at the end, and I already know I have a lot to say when I wrap this adventure up in my last post. Weirdly, the stories seemed rather homogeneous this week. Do you agree? Let’s get into it!
THIS WEEK’S STORIES:
- A View of the Woods
- The Enduring Chill
- The Comforts of Home
- Everything That Rises Must Converge
- The Partridge Festival
- The Lame Shall Enter First
- Why Do the Heathen Rage?
Flannery O’Connor died August 3, 1964, meaning these are some of the last stories she wrote. The short story collection Everything that Rises Must Converge was published in 1965, after she passed. These seven stories share a common theme: writers and their work, and mothers and sons. But even deeper, we see misplaced good intentions, after which the subject receives his comeuppance and comes face to face with grace in the religious sense.
EXAMINING THE Fourth SEVEN STORIES:
“A View of the Woods” (published 1957 in Partisan Review and in the 1965 short story collection Everything that Rises Must Converge) — The grandfather who owns property can’t see the forest for the trees, selling off parcels of land to annoy his son-in-law who tends the land. The grandfather’s love for one granddaughter is well-intentioned, but it is misplaced because his love is directed at one child, not her whole family. The girl’s physical anger is almost monstrous in description, as if she were an alligator. One of O’Connor’s most violent stories, in my opinion. He faces his moment of comeuppance after he murders the girl and dies next to a machine tearing up his land.
“The Enduring Chill” (published 1958 in Harper’s Bazaar and in Everything that Rises collection in 1965) — A great story to discuss with others thanks to themes around types of intelligence (academic vs. spiritual vs. common sense), artists and temperament, mental health, love, freedom, and racism. Asbury aims his kindness at the Black farm hands, who do not want to get in trouble with their employer. To gain their faith (or is it twist their arms?) so he, a white man, can write a play about Black lives in America, he drinks unpasteurized milk and must meet grace head on when a Jesuit priest calls him spiritually ignorant. What a great punishment in this story: sickened by the milk he tried to force on others who could be fired for drinking it.
“The Comforts of Home” (published 1960 in Kenyon Review and in Everything that Rises collection in 1965) — Another grown “child” living in his mother’s home, another ungrateful character. This story is odd in that the mother wants to help a self-confessed liar who tries to force herself on the son, and in the end she neglects her son to help a stranger. But is the mother’s love misplaced this time? Her son is an adult and not in need of care. In both “The Enduring Chill” and “The Comforts of Home” we have a man who can’t stand his mother’s love. But in this story, much like “The Displaced Person,” a character decides it’s easier to get rid of those who need assistance than to assist when things feel inconvenient. His moment of grace comes when he is found by police.
“Everything that Rises Must Converge” (published 1961 in New World Writing and in Everything that Rises collection in 1965) — Another educated adult man and his mother, but this character is detached from his mother, barely considering her at all. It’s inconvenient to ride with her to her exercise class — and “inconvenient” people are a theme this week — so to shame her publicly he engages in forced conversation with the Black people riding the bus. Yes, his mother follows racist culture by patronizing a Black boy with a penny, and we know she believes everyone should rise, but “those people” should rise on their own side of a metaphorical fence. By pointing his love at people who don’t want it, the man is brought to grace when his mother suffers a stroke on the street.
“The Partridge Festival” (published in a Catholic journal, The Critic, in 1961) — Funnily, this is one of many stories that mention Margaret Mitchell and Gone With the Wind, a famous novel written by a Georgian writer whom Georgians loved. O’Connor’s biography and letters mention her hatred of being told to write another Mitchell-type novel, and be sure to include war to make it longer. A young man and woman, both snobby academics, admire a convicted murderer after he didn’t conform to festival expectations and buy a badge with the festival logo. Their admiration and praise are misdirected, and they come to their moment of grace when the murderer strips naked and humiliates these young people. I found this story clunky for the way it nearly tells you what to think about conformity, especially the part about the murderer’s stray bullet hitting the town drunk being the only bullet that went true.
“The Lame Shall Enter First” (published in 1962 in Sewanee Review and Everything that Rises collection in 1965) — Sheppard (as if he should care for a flock of sheep) is an academic whose gaze is locked on Johnson, a brilliant teen with a club foot. While Johnson eschews science and focuses on religion, Sheppard attempts to justify Johnson’s rudeness by making excuses relating to Johnson’s disability. Sheppard doesn’t want to feel betrayed when the teen doesn’t appreciate his efforts to be helpful in ways convenient to him. Much like Mrs. Jellby from Bleak House, Sheppard neglects his own son to improve someone else’s. In the end, Sheppard’s moment of grace comes when Johnson admits he’s been bad and lying, and the son hangs himself in the attic to get to his mother in the stars/heaven.
“Why Do the Heathen Rage?” (started in 1963 and published in Esquire) — The shortest story we’ve had. Apparently, this title was meant to eventually be a novel, though O’Connor never finished it. Based on research I’ve done, it sounds like there could have been more work completed than this, but four page is what we get. Flouting gender stereotypes, a young man who seems like he’s waiting for some event and can’t be bothered to do anything until it starts is approached by his mother and told to lead the farm now that his father has had a stroke. In a way, her attention is pointed at her son, and once he thwarts her, a highlighted passage in one of his books causes her to realize that Jesus is asking his followers to pick up a sword and enter a battle. Is this the call for her to lead the farm? Or to lead her lazy son to the path of grace? About two pages were devoted to bringing the father in from the ambulance, so I felt I didn’t have much to work with here.
- Parker’s Back
- Judgement Day
- What was your level of enjoyment of this week’s stories?
- Why might O’Connor write about men and their mothers instead of women and their mothers, given that she was home bound with her own mother?
- Did these stories seem too similar in content and theme? Or did you get something out of each?
- Many book bloggers have completed at least one college degree. How do you feel about O’Connor’s portrayal of academics?