Four from Flannery O’Connor

Occasionally I hear the expression “better angels of our nature”.  When I read Flannery O’Connor’s stories, I think of that expression – not because it represents her characters and plots but because she seems to write about characters and situations that reflect the EXACT OPPOSITE of this phrase.

I finished reading the first four stories in her well-known collection A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories.  Her characters are not necessarily likable, but I couldn’t help but get drawn into their thoughts and feelings.

I had read the title story prior to now and remembered the chilling ending.  Knowing how the story ended made everything about the rest of the story a foreshadowing of what would happen – which made the ending even more chilling.  Feeling both sympathy and anger for the grandmother during her continuous yammering made the story unsettling.  I couldn’t help but be intrigued by the Misfit criminal’s own yammering about how Jesus “threw everything out of balance”.  I’ve realized that O’Connor uses a significant amount of Christian imagery in her writing but these are by no means your typical Sunday School stories.  While I was reading “A Good Man is Hard To Find” , I kept thinking that Joel and Ethan Coen could probably make a great film version.

A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories

“The River” continues with more religious ideas as a small boy gets taken by his babysitter to be baptized.  O’Connor weaves themes of blind faith and reasonable doubt into the preacher and the crowd that the boy encounters at the river.  The ending was not unexpected as the boy takes the preacher’s religious language literally with some unpleasant results.

I couldn’t help but like Lucynell, the old woman and Mr. Shiftlet, the vagrant worker in spite of what they did to Lucynell, the daughter, in “The Life You Save May Be Your Own”.  As the story progressed, I’d ask myself “Why would I like these people?”  Maybe O’Connor wants readers to ask that question?

I think one of the longest climbs up a flight of stairs occurred in “A Stroke of Good Fortune” .  Thirty-four year-old Ruby, while she climbs the steps, lets the reader know about her younger brother, Rufus, returning from war, her husband, Bill Hill (I liked that name), and Madame Zoleeta, who has predicted her physical ailment will end in “a stroke of good fortune”.  The reader never fully understands Ruby’s problem; however, several physical conditions are thrown around.  By the time Ruby gets to the top of the steps she is rather winded – and so is the reader.

Of these four, I believe the title story was my favorite.  I’m looking forward to reading more of Flannery O’Connor’s stories in the near future.  Have you ever read any of her stories or novels?  What are your thoughts?  What was your favorite?

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7 responses to “Four from Flannery O’Connor

  1. Hi Dale,
    I read this collection a couple years ago. I liked the title story too, and there was also one about a truly bad person who woos some girl and takes her away from home only to abandon her far away from home. Not sure what. Appealed to me about. The second one other than it was “Vintage O’Connor” 🙂 My favorite might have been the unfortunately titled “The Artificial Nigger.” What did you think of that one?
    -Jay

  2. The one about the abandoned girl was “The Life You Save May Be Your Own”. I couldn’t get that one out of my head. These are the only four I’ve read so far, but I’m planning on reading the rest of them soon. I’m also still reading Moby Dick. I’ve gotten kind of bogged down with it, but I will finish it!

  3. Pingback: A Good Man Is Hard To Find: the rest of the stories | Mirror w/ Clouds

  4. Hi Dale,

    For me, the process of becoming Catholic brought along with it recommendations to read Flannery O’Connor. A few months ago a bought a single volume collection of basically everything she ever wrote, and I stuck it on the shelf. The other day I pulled it down and read “A Good Man is Hard to Find”. My reaction was basically, “Whoa”, haha. I’m intrigued, and glad to see that you’ve paved the way for me in getting into O’Connor.

    From what I understand, O’Connor’s goal was to use rather unorthodox storytelling to convey a larger point from an angle that we might not have otherwise seen

    In “A Good Man is Hard to Find”, the Misfit’s statement toward the end seemed to say that if what Jesus did on earth really happened, then it would make no sense to act this way. But he doesn’t believe. Atheists these days call a belief in Jesus stupid or harmful to society, but I think the Misfit’s reasoning shows a subtle flipside to that coin. Without the book in front of me to double check, that’s at least the overall impression that I walked away with, but it might be because I’ve been encountering atheists a lot lately who seem to recognize moral truths but won’t recognize God.

    I’ll need to check out your other O’Connor posts too, and read more of her stories.

    -Ben

    • O’Connor’s stories-including her novels-just seem to knock me on the ground. I end up closing the book thinking “Did I really just read that?”. I’ve never read any of her essays or non-fiction. I think they would be well-worth it!
      My next order from Amazon is going to include “Best American Catholic Short Stories”. There are some authors included that I’ve heard of and some I haven’t.

  5. I have read each of her short stories at least a half-dozen times. It’s clear to me that she sees the characters who think they are “special” individuals, and thus set apart from the rank and file, as fools, plain as simple. Sometimes they are made aware of this in an epiphany and sometimes they are not.

    • Since this post, I have also read more Flannery O’Connor. Recently I read her story “Revelation” and found it to be a pleasant surprise as one of O’Connor’s typical characters actually comes to understand their foolishness. O’Connor is one of my favorites and am impressed that you have read all of her stories. I’m still working on it but I have her entire collection. Thanks for stopping by!

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