Flannery O’Connors


4 Characteristics: O’Connor


In a culture milk-fed on fairy tales and happy endings, Flannery O’Connor’s work is a brutal splash of reality. The purpose in her work was not to give false hope, but rather to shock the reader into examining the truth. Her stories are webs disguised in distinct but complex themes. Religious overtones, absurd situations, southern racial issues, and extreme amounts of mental, emotional, and physical violence are illustrated in many of her pieces.


The carnage in O’Connor’s work can be misleading. While it’s true intent is to serve as a vehicle to the religious and moral messages that O’Connor heavily alludes to in all of her stories, some could mislabel it as sadism. Her characters often face an internal and unconscious struggle for self-actualization, and ironically many are not aware of the struggle until second before their impending death, like in the short story “Greenleaf”. “…the bull had buried his head in her lap, like a wild tormented lover, before her expression changed. One of his horns sank until it pierced her heart…she had the look of a person whose sight has been suddenly restored but who finds the light unbearable.” (Greenleaf 52).


Make no mistake; the sufferers in her stories are not victims in the slightest. Each character brings the pain onto their own hands through greed, dishonesty, selfishness, and pride. Flannery O’Connor was fiercely religious, so it is no surprise that moral teachings from her faith found their way into her writings.


“The Comforts of Home”, “A View of the Woods”, “Revelation”, and “Everything That Rises Must Converge” all exemplify the adage “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.”(Proverbs 16:18). In “Everything That Rises Must Converge”, a mother who is too proud to associate herself with a black woman suffers a stroke and dies. Her self-righteous and intellectual son, who previously treated her with contempt, spirals into the world of regret and shame (Everything That Rises Must Converge 23).


In “A View of the Woods”, a old man who feels he is too good for his family smashes his niece’s head on a rock when she reveals personality characteristics similar to that of his hated son-in-law (A View of the Woods 77). O’Connor then uses vivid imagery to imply the man’s descent into hell.


“He perceived that there would be a little opening there, a little place where he could escape and leave the woods behind him. He could see it in the distance already, a little opening where the white sky was reflected in the water…He realized suddenly that he could not swim and that he had not brought the boat…On both sides of him he saw that the gaunt trees had thickened into mysterious dark files that were marching across the water and away into the distance. He looked desperately around for someone to help him, but the place was deserted…” (A View of the Woods 80). Other pieces of O’Connor’s writing are more straightforward in terms of religious overtones, like in “The Life You Save May Be Your Own”, when a corrupted man cries out “Oh Lord! Break forth and wash the slime from this earth!” and suddenly a torrent of rain falls on his head. The religious insinuations are often coupled with bizarre settings and situations.


Out-of-the-ordinary circumstances play a role in most of the short stories, contrasting the character’s internal struggles and adding to the shock value of O’Connor’s tales. Characters continually find themselves in bizarre situations, like in “Revelation” where a haughty woman is verbally and physically attacked in a doctor’s waiting room, and “The Comforts of Home” where a man’s overly sympathetic mother brings home a trashy nymphomaniac.


While the scenes play out unusual and fantastic, it is the raw human nature in each character that makes the stories real. The characters showcase the most abhorrent of personality traits, and it is to this the reader relates. The repulsive characters represent the darker side of humanity that is found in every person. As if the self-identification the readers face isn’t enough of a shock, the violent ends endings of O’Connor’s work jolts readers into evaluation of the characters, morals, plots, and even the readers themselves.


O’Connor’s stories play out like a car crash, horrifying