Flannery O’Connor: Why Do the Heathens Rage? (A Short Story Easter Extra)

I find it wonderful and often very funny that so many of the characters in Flannery O’Connor’s stories don’t know what to make of Jesus.

flannery oconnor

Her short story “Why Do the Heathens Rage?” is considered to have been the start of her third novel. A mother is disappointed with her son for not taking responsibility for the family farm when his father has a stroke. The son spends all of his time – you guessed it – reading books:

One passage she found in a book he had left lying on the upstairs-bathroom floor stayed with her ominously.

“Love should be full of anger,” it began, and she thought, well mine is.

The passage goes on to reference a mighty General coming to conquer the world. From reading the back of the book, she determines that the book is a letter written from “a St. Jerome to a Heliodorus”.

Then it came to her, with an unpleasant little jolt, that the General…was Jesus.

An unpleasant little jolt? Is the mother the heathen from the title? Is she raging because her son won’t work? And where does Jesus fit in? All questions that maybe would have been answered in O’Connor’s unwritten novel?

Or maybe not?