By Flannery O’Connor
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Tim: Everything that Rises Must Converge makes you uncomfortable in that sort of way that Flannery O’Connor has a reputation for doing. It’s the uncomfortableness that comes from getting out of bed in the morning: the cold shock of water that wakes you up to reality. I feel like the Buddha after I read her: I am awake!
Elizabeth: I just want to say that Flannery O’Connor’s ability to increase tension until it leaves you squirming in your seat is amazing!
Best Podcast Moments:
Is She Dead?
Elizabeth: As I was reading it I thought she was going to die at the end, because I remembered her breaking down. I didn’t remember her going into a childlike state. I was surprised at the end because it wasn’t what I was thinking I remembered.
Tim: That is interesting, especially since she is dead at the end.
Elizabeth: She’s not dead though!
Tim: I think it doesn’t matter so much whether she actually physically dies.
A Condescending Sort of Love
Elizabeth’s: While Flannery O’Connor definitely presents the mother’s view as negative, what’s so odd about it is that the mother has heart about the way that she approaches life. She has love. She has this incorrect worldview, and yet the way that she interacts with the blacks that she sees is with heart, but only so long as they stay in the sphere that she believes they should be in. It’s a condescending sort of love.
Tim: The son has a reactionary egalitarianism. It’s not motivated by the good for the other. He’s very idealistic in the sense that he has decided that he wants to have black friends, but he doesn’t actually have any black friends. He’s tried to make friends with some blacks, but it hasn’t worked. I think Julian is very stuck inside his own head – he has his ideas about how he thinks that the world is, and how he thinks it should be, and he sees it all in relation to how his mother sees the world, but he doesn’t actually really do anything about it. When he tries, it’s almost always motivated by the same antagonistic desire to teach his mother a lesson, so it’s not genuine. He even has to invent an excuse to speak to the black man on the bus next to him. He asks the guy for a light and then he realizes he doesn’t even have a cigarette so he just mumbles “sorry” and gives it back to the guy, and now this guy is even more irritated with him than he would have been if he just hadn’t done anything.
Themes identified by Elizabeth
- Parent Guilt – “She guilts him about her life choices.”
- ‘Our Kind of People’ – “‘Knowing Who You Are’ I think is a really big theme”
- Sacrifice – “She sacrificed her life for Julian. She’s still doing that because she’s paying for him since he doesn’t have a job, which I think is where the story goes wrong.”
- Racism? – “She believes that segregation should still exist and that whites are inherently better than blacks.”
Let’s talk about the narrative voice for a minute
Tim: I thought it kind of fascinating – it’s not like a-little-angel-perched-on-a-shoulder deal where you get to see the person’s thoughts in italics, but it’s also not written in the first-person narrative from Julian’s perspective. It’s third person omniscient, but the narrator does almost seem to be Julian himself, or almost take Julian’s side and show his point of view.
Elizabeth: We never hear his mother’s name – it’s always ‘his mother.’ Sometimes it’s confusing about who the story is talking about, it’ll bring her in in a very weird way that should have used her name but it doesn’t and leaves me a little confused. At the beginning, I thought Julian was a girl, just because of the way it was worded. It sounded like ‘Julian’s doctor had told Julian’s mother’ which meant that Julian was a girl ‘that she must lose 20 lbs’ so it took me like the whole paragraph to realize that it was a guy.
Tim: Yeah, I had the same reaction.
Elizabeth: I kept rereading it. It says ‘he’ a couple times or ‘his,’ but I totally passed over it because my brain interpreted it as a ‘she.’
Tim: Maybe because you were thinking of Julian of Norwich.
Elizabeth: I mean Julian could be a guy or girl name.
Tim: It’s androgynous, yeah. I just think it’s interesting the way that she uses that narrative voice the way that it feels so authoritarian, very ‘This Is the Way Things Are’ voice of God depiction. It has that authority because it’s not written from the first-person, and yet we see everything from his distorted viewpoint. For example, when he says that he has completely freed himself from his ties to his mother. That’s not true, that’s almost a blatant lie on the part of the narrator, but it happens because the narrator is essentially Julian.
“Someday I’ll start making money” Julian said gloomily. (He knew he never would) “And you can have one of those jokes whenever you take the fit.”
“His eyes widened. The vision of the two hats, identical, broke upon him with the radiance of a brilliant sunrise. His face was suddenly lit with joy. He could not believe that fate had thrust upon his mother such a lesson. He gave a low chuckle so that she would look at him and see that he saw. She turned her eyes on him slowly. The blue in them seemed to have turned a bruised purple. For a moment he had an uncomfortable sense of her innocence, but it lasted only a second before principle rescued him. Justice entitled him to laugh. His grin hardened until it said to her as plainly as if he were saying aloud: Your punishment exactly fits your pettiness. This should teach you a permanent lesson.
“Her eyes shifted to the woman. She seemed unable to bear looking at him and to find the woman preferable. He became conscious again of the bristling presence at his side. The woman was rumbling like a volcano about to become active. His mother’s mouth began to twitch slightly at one corner. With a stinking heart, he saw incipient signs of recovery on her face and realized that this was going to strike her suddenly as funny and was going to be no lesson at all.”
Next week we’ll be reading the second-to-last short story in Everything that Rises Must Converge, “Parker’s Back.”
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Listen online – This reading is fantastic, and shows the original humor and insight of O’Connor’s story. How it could tickle an audience’s fancy when they knew the types of people in the story. For us, it is mainly tragic, on account of the racism, and it’s hard for us to see the characters as varied or real – only prejudiced and black-hearted, but life is never quite so black and white, and this reading shows that well!
Image Credit: Purple Hat Lady by MDanette Smith