Essay, Research Paper: Spirituality Versus Evil By O`Connor

Literature: Flannery OConnor

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Flannery O’Connor’s use of the underlying theme, spirituality-versus-evil,
is represented in the short stories “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”,
“Everything That Rises Must Converge”, and “Revelation”. Flannery
O’Connor’s Success comes from the use of her beliefs in religion and God,
and from the Women’s College of Georgia, where she studied social sciences
(Friedman and Clark 38). O’Connor expresses God in all three of these short
stories, however she also writes about “the intoxication with God…is
Satan” (Hyman, pp.32-37). In this critical essay over the three works by
Flannery O’Connor listed above, I will discuss the formal commonalities of
spirituality-versus-evil and how O’Connor’s background in religion impacts
“Revelation”. In Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”,
one is struck by the unexpected violence at the end of the story. No one would
expect to read “the worst of O’Connor’s tragic events—the extermination
of an entire family” (Pawlson 86). However, if one re-reads the story a second
time, one will see definite signs that foreshadow the grotesque ending. In “A
Good Man Is Hard to Find”, O’Connor demonstrates the natural forces of
spirituality-versus-evil; the grandmother reacts in a kind manner when she is
threatened with sheer terror by the Misfit (Friedman and Lawson 34). O’Connor
uses the symbolic character Jesus Christ, to equal the amount of evil in this
story. “Jesus! You’ve got good blood! I know you wouldn’t shoot a lady!”
(O’Connor 362). The story begins with the typical nuclear family being
challenged by the grandmother who doesn't want to take the vacation to Florida.
She has read about a crazed killer by the name of The Misfit who is on the run
heading for Florida. Unfortunately, she is ignored by every member of the family
except for the little girl, June Star, who can read the grandmother like an open
book. The fact that she admonishes Bailey, her son, of this Misfit and
"what it [the Journal] says he did to these people" foreshadows the
evil actions that will happen to them (O’Connor 352). Additionally, the
morning of the trip the grandmother is the first one in the car ready to travel
as June Star predicted she would be, "She wouldn’t stay at home for a
million bucks. She has to go everywhere we go" (O’Connor 118). This can
be read as a direct foreshadowing of the grandmother’s death. As one reads the
story, one wonders why every time Bobby Lee and Hiram take someone into the
forest, they never come back. Eventually, the whole family is taken to die. June
Star’s comment that the grandmother goes everywhere the family goes can be
read as an indication that she will meet the same end that they did.
Furthermore, although the grandmother did not want to go to Florida, she
ironically dresses in her “Sunday best”. It is ironic because when people
die, they are often buried in their “Sunday best”. She was dressed very
nicely with “a navy blue straw sailor hat with a bunch of white violets on the
brim and a navy blue dress…Her collars and cuffs were white organdy trimmed
with lace.” (O’Connor 353). All of the events that have taken place so far
are foreshadowing evil directly on the family. As the trip progresses, the
children reveal themselves as funny, spoiled brats. O'Connor's desire to
illustrate the lost respect for the family and elders among the young is quite
apparent in her illustrations of the children. One evidently notices another
foreshadowing image when the family "passed by a cotton field with five or
six graves fenced in the middle of it, like a small island" (O’Connor
354). It is not an accident that the number of graves "five or six"
matches the exact number of people in the car. There are 5 people and a baby.
Since a baby is not exactly a full complete person, the obscureness of the
number of graves being "five or six" is appropriate. The
grandmother’s reference to the plantation as "gone with the wind"
can be seen as an image symbolizing the family’s state at the end of the story
(O’Connor 354). Their souls are "gone with the wind" as well upon
death. Similarly, it is almost comical how O’Connor sets her readers up for
the ending of the story. For example, the name of the town where the Misfit
kills them is "Toombsboro" (O’Connor 356). The word Toombsboro can
be divided into two words: Tombs and Bury. Put together with a slight southern
accent gives the word "Tombsbury" which is very close to "Toombsboro".
Another quite interesting imagery is when the grandmother asks the Misfit,
"What did you do to get sent to the penitentiary that first time?"
(O’Connor 361). His answer further foreshadows the death of the family. He
says, "‘Turn to the right, it was a wall,’ looking up again at the
cloudless sky. ‘Turn to the left, it was a wall. Look up it was a ceiling,
look down it was a floor’" (O’Connor 361). This description, although
used for a jail cell, it could also apply to a tight grave. Wherever a soul
looks, they will see a wall, indicating where the grandmother will be once the
Misfit is finished with them. Additionally, another foreshadowing image is shown
in the Misfit and the grandmother’s conversation towards the end. He says
"Does it seem right to you, lady, that one is punished a heap and another
ain’t punished at all?" (O’Connor 362). As readers, we can see that the
Misfit will kill the grandmother. After all she "ain’t punished" for
her crimes of hypocrisy and lying. As shown later in the essay, the Misfit plays
God and inflicts punishment where he deems necessary. Finally, the grandmother
iterates in her conversation with the Misfit about the importance of prayer.
“I know you come from nice people! Pray!” (O’Connor 362). Her emphasis on
the importance of prayer symbolizes her realization of death. It is a common
Christian practice for a priest to spend the last hours of a dying person’s
life with them. In “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”, the Misfit represents an
angered priest, or even Jesus. The Grandmother reminds the Misfit of “the
actuality of evil and the need for God” (Farmer 97). It does not say this in
the text, although it is a fact that is understood in the closing lines of the
story. The Misfit murders the grandmother, he says, “It’s no real pleasure
in life” (O’Connor 363). He also plays a judge, jury and executioner to the
grandmother. This short story is a primary reflection upon O’Connor’s
spirituality-versus-evil writings. Flannery O’Connor uses strong imagery to
foreshadow evil to her readers the inevitable ending of "A Good Man Is Hard
to Find." She first gives her readers an inkling of the ending by
mentioning the Misfit’s evil murderous tendencies, peaking her reader’s
curiosity. She then uses numerous images such as the grandmother’s dress, the
graveyard, and the conversation with the Misfit to further feed our curiosity.
Her foreshadowing images are both strong and obscure, so as not to spoil the
surprising ending of the story. Flannery O'Connor seemed to have great time
writing “Everything That Rises Must Converge”. It is very fast moving and a
little satirical. This story reflects on her childhood and beliefs as a
Christian. Unlike “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”, “Everything That Rises
Must Converge” has a few symbolic meaning of spirituality towards God.
Flannery O’Connor says, “I write the way I do…because I am Catholic”
(Wyatt 66). “All her stories are about the action of grace on a character who
is not very willing to accept it” (Wyatt 66). In this story, the mother would
be defined as a person who is “not willing to accept it”, and the same
applies to the grandmother in “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” (Wyatt 66).
O’Connor surprises us at the end of the story with the death of the
protagonist, the mother. There is an underlying understanding of
spirituality-versus-evil in the plot of “Everything That Rises Must
Converge”. First of all, there is a racist bias in which we would consider an
evil trait in our present time. However, Flannery O’Connor wrote all of her
stories and novels in the mid-twentieth century when it was not considered to be
an evil trait. During that time (World War II), it was a commonality between
people to believe in racism. The mother is an overweight lady of some age over
fifty who is very opinionated about everything (O’Connor 340). Her weird hat
that she fusses all over about, is something that seems to get everybody's
attention. “It was a hideous hat. A purple velvet flap came down on one side
of it and stood up on the other; the rest of it was green and looked like a
cushion with the stuffing out” (O’Connor 341). “This hat is symbolic to
the story because later in the story, a huge black woman with a small child sits
in front of her on the bus wearing the same hat” (Magill 735). Realizing this,
she is astonished and feels put down by someone who she downgrades in society.
The mother gives a lot of emphasis on the formal things. She finds it
preposterous to be accompanied into town by a son that is not wearing a tie, and
she cannot show up for her weight loss class if she is not wearing hat and
gloves; for that is the only way that she knows. Those little things seem to be
the ones that give her status, because those are the ones that gave status to
the "ladies" when she was a young girl. We can also compare that the
central character in this story is very similar to the grandmother in “A Good
Man Is Hard to Find”. Her son, Julian, whose aspects and viewpoints on life
dominate the story, considers the black woman’s hat as a humorous insult to
his mother. Julian is a person very unlike his mother. He wants to be different
from his mother because she represents everything from the “South which
affronts his sense of decency and decorum” (Browning 101). He is a college
graduate and is very much in touch with himself. You could also say that he is
also a very open minded person that knows what kind of world he lives in
(O’Connor 341). He makes it a point opposing his mother all the time and
trying to bring her head down from the clouds to the harsh reality that she does
not live in the plantation anymore with the all of the slaves around.
Furthermore, he is always looking for a way to teach his mother a lesson, and he
usually would prefer a cruel one (Brinkmeyer 70). Julian has images of violence
a few times in the story, as he could smack her as he would his own child, only
he would smack her with pleasure (O’Connor 347). Another example of Julian’s
evil is when he gazes at his mother, and describes her as being “purple-faced,
shrunken to the dwarf-like proportions of her moral nature, sitting like a mummy
beneath the ridiculous manner of her hat” (O’Connor 347). “Julian’s gaze
is cruelly reductive, distorting his mother into a thoroughly grotesque figure
(something is made clear throughout the story that she is not) devoid of
humanity” (Brinkmeyer 70). O’Connor presents Julian as the evil one in this
story, which relates to the Misfit in “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”. The fact
that the black lady is wearing the same hideous hat shows us that there is a
mixing of cultures; things are not the same as they used to be. The colored lady
seems to have an attitude on the bus, although the mother does not see it in any
aspect. She soon finds this out when she tries to give the child a penny, and
the black lady swings at her with her purse, knocking the mother down. Again,
O’Connor uses the element of evil to foreshadow that something tragic is about
to happen. Julian feels superior to his mother after this incident, until he
realizes that she is having a stroke. The mother dies shortly after the black
woman knocked her down. Julian feels sorrow and guilt when he realizes the
events that have taken place, and he realizes that what he detests about his
mother, he also “loves and longs for” (Browning 101). O’Connor displays
her remarkable technique in writing by changing Julian to a spiritual character
at the end of this story. An evil sense is present throughout this story at all
times. However, Flannery O’Connor did not use her “consummate skill” when
describing the mother as an ordinary person with narrow thoughts and visions (Magill
736). “Generational Conflict, racial confrontation, and sudden death—are all
there…displaying themselves either as tawdry and mean spirited or as absurdly
comic” (Magill 736). Flannery O’Connor’s short-story “Revelation”,
tells another story about a protagonist woman who has a racial and class bias.
However, “Revelation” does not involve a death or a sudden surprise at the
end of the story. Ruby Turpin, the protagonist of “Revelation”, is sitting
in a doctor’s lobby waiting for treatment on Claud’s (her husband) leg. As
she is waiting she talks with some of the other patients who are also waiting on
the doctor. Mrs. Turpin talks with a few of the patients, and she becomes
overwhelmingly annoyed with a Wellesley student who has her eyes fixed on her
with an evil look (O’Connor 366). Mrs. Turpin did not think much of the girl,
Mary Grace, thinking to herself how ugly and fat she was (O’Connor 366). She
also classified the lady sitting next to Mary Grace’s mother as white trash,
and was fortunate of how lucky she was to not be a “nigger” or white trash
(O’Connor 366-367). The reader soon realizes that Mrs. Turpin is usually
self-centered, and thinks that she is in an elite class of people. Mary Grace
displays her anger towards Mrs. Turpin by throwing the book in her hands at Mrs.
Turpin, in which it strikes her “over her left eye” (O’Connor 372). Again,
O’Connor displays violence in her writing to give Mary Grace an evil
character. However, this act of evil and violence was brought on by Mrs. Turpin,
who was putting down “niggers” and “white trash” (O’Connor 365-371).
Mary also displays another act of evil by telling Mrs. Turpin to “Go back to
hell where you came from, you old wart hog” (O’Connor 372). As Mrs. Turpin
thinks about this incident later in the story, she becomes angry and cannot stop
thinking about what happened in the doctor’s office that day. This is a strong
showing of the presence of spirituality-versus-evil in “Revelation”. To
explain, Mrs. Turpin is racist and expresses herself to others as a snobbish,
stuck-up woman while being aware of her surroundings and consequences. However,
she is a person that believes in God, which is another commonality in
O’Connor’s works. We have seen the protagonist of every story discussed
earlier as having some sort of spiritual belief in God. Mrs. Turpin has an
underlying trait that takes on an important role in “Revelation”: she
attempts to dominate not only race and class, but also other men and women (Havird
15). This role is important because this gives her character evilness, which is
combined with her spirituality. This causes extreme conflict in her “inner
self”. At the end of the story, O’Connor uses a symbol, in which the reader
thinks to be heaven. O’Connor foreshadows this when Mrs. Turpin talks to God,
asking him why he sent such a message to her when there are so many more people
who are more deserving (377). Furthermore, she visualizes a bridge and sees all
of the black people and the white trash, but she only sees their souls
(O’Connor 377). Lastly, she sees herself at the bottom and begins to question
herself if she is one of God’s chosen ones. As she leaves this vision of
peace, she can only hear the voices of the souls singing hallelujah. Unlike “A
Good Man Is Hard to Find” and “Everything That Rises Must Converge”,
“Revelation” displays O’Connor’s ability to let the reader make up their
conclusion at the end of the story. “Revelation” differs slightly when
discussing spirituality-versus-evil in “A Good Man Is Hard To Find”, and
“Everything That Rises Must Converge” because it has a stronger
“spiritual” side. The main reason for this is because O’Connor wrote this
with “religious implications of O’Connor’s Biblical allusions in the
story” (Schroeder 75). O’Connor has a strong background in religion, and
this influenced almost, if not all of her works. Another spiritually-versus-evil
trait in “Revelation” is the fact that Mrs. Turpin might not be “one of
God’s chosen” (Schroeder 79). This piece was mainly influenced on
O’Connor’s beliefs, which reflect her moral faults (Schroeder 79). In
conclusion, Flannery O’Connor uses many commonalities in her short fiction
articles “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”, “Everything That Rises Must
Converge”, and “Revelation” to show both sides of spirituality and evil.
Although the spirituality-versus-evil theme is not actually written in these
stories, O’Connor makes it very clear through the use of foreshadowing that
the terror of Satan and the good will of God are present. O’Connor’s belief
in Christianity helps us explain why she uses such themes as spirituality and
evil. “Our time concerns not religion so much as religion…but as radical
Christological belief” (Wood 1).

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