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Background and Class Discussion



Biography



Flannery O'Connor was born March 25, 1925 in Savannah Georgia. Flannery described herself as a “pigeon toed only child with a receding chin and a you-leave-me-alone-or-I’ll-bite-you-complex.” She grew up on her family's farm and was always known to have "a morbid curiosity”. This curiosity lead to her strengths as a writer later on in her life. She attended religious schools throughout grade school and had a strong religious background. While in high school, O’Connor’s father died of Lupus, which would later afflict Flannery as well. After grade school, she went onto Georgia State College for Women. She was an accelerated student and graduated from college in three years. She had many passions throughout school, all revolving around her writing. She participated in newspaper and yearbook club, and was also the editor of her school's literary magazine. She graduated in 1945 with a bachelor's of arts in social science. O'Connor decided to further extend her education by going to the University of Iowa. There she began to attend writer's workshops and wrote the first of her short stories. She graduated from the University of Iowa with a master of fine arts degree in 1947. Flannery went on to write two novels, 32 short stories, and a number of reviews and commentaries. O’Connor’s personal life was a lonely one, with no known love affairs and a very sheltered childhood. In 1951 O’Connor was diagnosed with lupus. For the remaining 14 years of her life, she lived on a farm in Andalusia, raising all sorts of birds including Peacocks, Chinese Geese, and any other exotics she could find. She developed an obsession with fowl at a young age. Once she was in the newspaper for having a chicken that could walk backwards. She said of this, “that was the most exciting time of my life…it was all downhill from there.” Her obsession with birds later surfaced as symbolism in many of her works. She died August 3, 1964 at age 39 due to her Lupus. She won the O. Henry Award in 1957 and the National Book Award in 1972. She will always be remembered as one of the most prominent and important Southern Gothic traditional writers of her time. http://www.cyberpat.com/essays/flan.html



Themes



Integrity/Faith

Flannery O’ Connor’s stories concealed many themes which can be related to the events that occurred throughout her life. Born into a Catholic family, O’ Connors life revolved around her religious upbringing. While most of her novels revolved around a comedic or grotesque plot, she held strong beliefs in religion and integrity and often incorporates her theological point of view in her writings. Being diagnosed with lupus in 1950, O’Connor was forced to live with her mother. Because her father had died of lupus as well, she was under no illusions about her prospects. By focusing on her religious upbringing she states in her novel “Wise Blood” that those people who think belief in Christ is "a matter of no great consequence," O'Connor writes, "Motes' integrity lies in his trying with such vigor to get rid of the ragged figure who moves from tree to tree in the back of his mind," but for her "Hazel's integrity lies in his not being able to." Free will, she says, "does not mean one will, but many wills conflicting in one man," and freedom is a mystery that cannot be reduced to a simple definition. Since this story was written after she had been diagnosed with lupus, one could believe that this underlying integrity she felt could have been involved with her undying resolve to not give up on her life no matter what.

Violence/Despair

"Her short stories routinely end in horrendous, freak fatalities or, at the very least, a character's emotional devastation."
The theme of violence and depair

For example in two of her more famous short stories , " A good man is hard to find" and " Revelations" the theme of violence is obviously present. these themes are thought to be fueled by the sense of depair even early on in her life. O' Connors father died of lupus when she was only 15 and she shortly after was diagnosed as well. She spent the rest of her life with a sense of "impending death". The characters in both stories were irratable and unpleasant; this is thought to mirror the negative personalities of people she has encountered in regards to her desease. Another theory is that her themes are dark and violent to help herseld understand the nature of human desease. O' Connor was recorded saying ; “I have found that violence is strangely capable of returning my characters to reality and preparing them to accept their moment of grace.”

Grotesque
Of the various themes of the writing of Flannery O'Connor, perhaps the most fascinating and certainly one of the most discussed, it that of the grotesque. Critic Gilbert H. Muller compares the grotesque imagery of O'Connor with that of the Millennium triptych of Hieronymus Bosch, going on to state that "for these two artists, the grotesque does not function gratuitously, but in order to reveal underlying and essentially theological concepts." 20 Indeed, the various grotesque characters serve both as an example of the folly of denying the true religion and as, in some cases, Christ figures themselves. O'Connor rejoins with, "In any case, it is when the freak can be sensed as a figure for our essential displacement that he attains some depth in literature." 21 Very often, the grotesque elements of O'Connor's stories are balanced out by anagogical ones. Again, the latter are not specifically symbols, for symbols work contextually to represent interactive story elements, whereas O'Connor's anagogical elements are just there, they wander in and out of the action; they may have symbolic significance, but it never comes directly into play as a plot element. They are there as reminders of the presence of the unseen, mysterious God. "These liturgical objects," says Muller, "whether a peacock in 'The Displaced Person,' a water stain in 'The Enduring Chill,' or a tattoo in 'Parker's Back,' permit Flannery O'Connor to neutralize the world of the grotesque and to clarify those mysteries which serve as an antidote to it." 22 [[http://www.cyberpat.com/essays/flan.html


Important Works


Flannery O’Connor wrote 31 short stories, 2 novels and several famous speeches and letters. The letters are complied in Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose (1969), The Habit of Being: Letter of Flannery O'Connor (1979), Flannery O'Connor: Collected Works (1988).Among her most famous short stories are, well the ones in our anthology: A Good Man is Hard to Find (1953), Revelation(1965), Good Country People (1953). We will attempt to summarize them (although, according to O’Connor, short stories cannot be summarized as they are borne out of inadequacy of conveying of a message by a statement). But we’ll try.“A Good Man is Hard to Find”A well dressed and active minded grandmother sets out on a road trip with her son and his family. The grandmother attempts to coax the family into visiting Tennessee rather than Florida. She forewarns of the serial killer The Misfit which was at the time at large. The family can be best described as apathetic and even rude; the grandmother is ignored. The grandmother does convince the family to travel down a dirt road to visit an old house. Unfortunately the family cat, which the grandmother had stowed away, leaped out of its basket and caused the family car to veer off the road and into a ditch. In a tragic twist of events, a passing car turns out to be The Misfit himself and two “sidekicks”. Each one of the family members (the two children and the baby included) are shot as The Misfit and his “sidekicks” take the family into the woods. Despite her pleading and praying to Jesus the Grandmother is also shot.“Everything that Rises Must Converge”Just one year before her death in 1963, Flannery O’Connor won her second O. Henry Award for ‘‘Everything That Rises Must Converge”. This story is a powerful depiction of a troubled mother-son relationship. This story was published in 1965. This story centers around a boy named Julian and his mother's weekly trip to the downtown YMCA. Every week Julian braces himself for the outing and is compared to Saint Sebastian. The relationship between Julian and his mother is plagued with constant conflict because Julian is described as to self absorbed to appreciate the sacrifices his mother has made for him. He thinks of himself as her savior and he believes that he has to teacher her about her out of date views on the world. However, Julian’s mother is not the oblivious southern racist that Julian thinks he is. In reality Julian’s mother has made many sacrifices for him, including letting her own teeth rot to afford him braces. She works hard so he can attend college and makes excuses to everyone for his unemployment. Julian believes that his mother is too eager to please him and his harsh view of his mother makes him irritating to the reader.“Good Country People”“Good Country People” is, in short, the story of an intellectual cripple who is deceived by a bible salesman. The main character, Joy, lost her leg in a hunting accident when she was ten years old. Her character develops into a staunch atheist who distances herself from others and protects herself with her education. Throughout the story, the reader is lead to believe that an innocent bible salesman has stolen Joy’s heart (or at least her interest); however, this image is shattered when the boy tricks Joy into taking off her synthetic leg and confesses that he has never truly believed in anything in his life. She is left vulnerable physically, emotionally, and mentally; this man to whom she believed she was intellectually superior—a “good country boy”—had beaten her at her own game of cynicism.The Violent Bear it Away"The Violent Bear It Away” was Flannery O’Connor’s second and final novel that she wrote around 1960. The novel was centered on backwoods prophets and Francis Marion Tarwater. It is a symbolic treatment of the soul’s struggle for faith. Critics say that the novel draws on the author’s characteristic Southern grotesque elements. The plot of the story occurs in a period of seven days, but most of the story consists of flashbacks that recall certain incidents in the lives of each main character. There is insight in the characters’ psychological and spiritual natures, reveals the motivations behind each actions and offers religious and intellectual belief. The novel is divided into three sections which talks about Francis Marion Tarwater’s journey of spiritual discovery how he went from a prophet in training into a madman like his great-uncle which then leads to burning his backwoods and death.Some sources:http://www.bookrags.com/studyguide-violentbearitaway/chapanal002.htmlhttp://www.answers.com/topic/flannery-o-connorhttp://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/flannery.htm




Criticisms


Flannery O’Connor was a Catholic and a Southerner, a mix that was certainly unusual. Good and evil are easily identifiable in O’Connor’s writing. The people who think they are intelligent and moral are brought down to Earth. Critics have decidedly called her a “wry Georgian writer” (Gretlund). As her publisher Robert Giroux said, Flannery O’Connor’s “work can only be understood in an American setting” (CS xiv). In her time, critics did not understand her strange writing style. Her characters were always complex. Anyone would have to think about the plots and themes of her stories and read them over a couple of times before they could understand them at all.


General criticisms: http://www.literarytraveler.com/authors/flannery_oconnor.aspx
Comparison to another Southern writer: http://books.google.com/books?id=K3i4TXoTdloC&pg=PA1&lpg=PA1&dq=flannery+o'connor+criticism&source=web&ots=9SV9BmZFBj&sig=wUpvXwHh6UrJlhiheAODw9M4vc8&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=10&ct=result#PPA5,M1
Criticism on “A Good Man is Hard to Find”:
http://www.llp.armstrong.edu/reese/courses/4700/alvesjackson/CrossHtml.htm
Positive Criticism: http://www.ransomfellowship.org/articledetail.asp?AID=392&B=Denis%20Haack&TID=2




Block 1 Class Discussion:

Themes:

  • · Lack of God to understand presence of God; amplifying
  • · Religion/Catholicism
  • · Good v. evil
  • · Criticism—not calculating: writes spontaneously
“A Good Man is Hard to Find”

  • · 1950s: perception that it was more idealistic than it actually may have been from movies and TV
  • · Foreshadowing: first sentence – grandma didn’t want to go to FL; short stories don’t waste text/time on something that won’t appear later on
  • · Misfit:


    • Foil character to Grandma: more modern, blunt
o Intelligent
  • o Looked scholarly
  • o Doesn’t fall for her sucking up
  • o Deeply confused about religion
  • o There is no real pleasure in life
  • o “Jesus was the only…and his voice had become almost a snarl” (bottom 376-377)
  • o Doubting Thomas—Biblical character; didn’t believe when Christ returned, fell at his feet when he realized it was Him
  • o Picks up on Grandma’s insincerity
  • o Knows why he does things—writes down every crime he does so that he can keep track of what he is being punished for
  • o Mirror/Parallel of punishment of Christ? (no connection after that)
  • o Not used to compassion so when Grandma tries to touch him, the emotional shock (knee-jerk reaction) is to shoot her
        • Grandmother:
        • Appearance: dressed like a lady—“navy blue straw sailor hat with a bunch of white violets on the brim and a navy blue dress with a small white dot in the print. Her collars and cuffs were white organdy trimmed with lace and at her neckline she had pinned a purple spray of cloth violets containing a sachet” (368).
          o Realistic: constant talking/rambling;
          o Racist: “pickaninny”; line 19-20; watermelon with “EAT”–racist story; perpetuating a culture that won’t die with her by telling these stories
          o Personality: Ignorant, simple, racist, concerned about appearance, Difficult , product of time period—set up throughout the story
          o Not spiteful or angry, looked down on others
          o Selfish: tried to save her own life
          o Religion: tried to get Misfit to pray as an expectation, religious hypocrite—instead of looking in herself and prepare herself for death, she was trying to plead with the Misfit to pray
          o Uses Misfit as an excuse to go to TN not FL; tries to justify that Misfit is a good person because of his appearance; she wanted to control the situation
          o Uses kids to further her agenda (ex: secret passages in old house)
          o Sympathize at end because she’s the last one left
          o Family apathetic or annoyed by her
          o Grandchildren rude to her
          o Lives in the past
          o Did she change?
          · Father: kids nag father through persistence of Grandma
          · “Why you’re one of my babies. You’re one of my own children!” (377)—children of God; extreme stress; moment of true acceptance; she’s just doing what she did throughout the story; (his reaction to her touch was to shoot her)
          · Function as typical short story
          o short stories don’t waste text/time on something that won’t appear later on
          o many ways to interpret/analyze the story
          o many ways to look at it: someone who is dying/religious/etc
Block 4 Class Discussion: **
“A Good Man is Hard to Find”
· Title: expecting a story about a woman searching for love, romance
· Foreshadowing:
o “in case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady” (368)
o Constant mention of Misfit—short stories very focused, all details are important no matter how insignificant they seem at the time
o Restaurant owner: if the Misfit knew about her restaurant then he would be there
o Cat: the cat caused the accident which caused them to meet the Misfit
· Themes:
o Development/Decay of society: children lost respect, no good people anymore
o Religious themes/allusions
· Settings:
o Restaurant:
§ last supper? Biblical allusion
§ mentions how things have changed, no good people anymore
· Characterization:
o Misfit:
§ Scholarly look (373)—Grandma thinks that this would mean that perhaps he would listen to reason
§ Kept records of everything he did (crimes) so that he couldn’t be falsely accused
§ Christ parallel: Christ was falsely accused so he doesn’t want to be like that since he was falsely accused (375)
§ He is acting god-like—choosing who he should kill
§ “interactive killer”
§ Well-mannered when speaking to Grandma
§ “I would hate to have to [shoot a lady]” (373)
§ Speaking respectfully up until the end
§ Motive:
· killed them so they wouldn’t turn him in, not in cold blood? (whereas his accomplices do murder in cold blood); kills for enjoyment?
· What’s the point? Numb because he has a record of being a killer even though he thinks he didn’t do it
· “Shut up, Bobby Lee…It’s no real pleasure in life” (377). Bad grammar for ‘nothing is pleasure’ or murder isn’t pleasurable?
§ “She would have been a good woman…”

o Grandma:
§ Appearance: over-dressed for occasion—this way if she is found dead, they would know she was a lady
§ Typical grandma: annoying the young people, forgetful (house with secret rooms); had to bring her cat
§ Treated as luggage
§ Children disrespect her
§ Not intelligent: knew the Misfit but still tried to chat with him; tells son to hurry back; brought the shirt back and she didn’t remember it; didn’t freak out after gunshot right away—optimistic or dumb?; as soon as she verbalized that she knew who Misfit was, he had reason to murder—why didn’t she keep her mouth shut?
§ Selfish: wants to go to TN and says a murderer was lose in FL; when the Misfit is killing the others, she appeals to save her life—survival or selfish?
§ Overly cautious/paranoia: worrying about the murder – or is it just because she wants to go to TN?
§ Nosey: couldn’t leave her behind because she always wants to know what’s going on
§ Excessively social: talks to restaurant owner/wife
§ Stereotypically “Southern” – very well-mannered, social
§ Manipulative: knows how she can persuade (protecting children by talking about murderer); uses the kids to get the father off track (secret room to get the kids to bug the parents); tries to get to the Misfit by saying that he has good in him (good blood)
§ The shirt has birds on it (back to bio)
§ Wanted to look like a good Christian but she never really acted like it
§ Changed? Always about her or she changed by reaching out to Misfit
· How it fits in as a short story:
o Focused
o Dialogue focuses on Misfit
o Foreshadowing—everything mentioned as a purpose
o Very few settings
“Good Country People “
· Mrs. Freeman: she’s like what Mrs. Hopewell thinks she (Mrs. Hopewell) really is
· Mrs. Hopewell: assumes/hopes the best—takes people at face value; shallow; naïve; condescending, thinking that she’s better than them
· Leg as trophy: leg has shaped who Hulga is and now he has it; taking away her core, everything she is
· Selling Bibles=lie=seducing Hulga; he does everything for himself