All the Questions You Ever Had About “Parker’s Back”

Another story in Flannery O’Connor’s collection of
short stories Everything That Rises Must Converge,
“Parker’s Back” is the narrative of Parker, a young
man married to a very bitter and ugly wife, who had
an experience of the transcendent when he was
young that he has been chasing ever since. He is finally
confronted by it in an image of Christ that he has
tattooed on his back, and he expects this image to
connect him to his wife, who has always claimed
to be a very religious person. But the story ends,
instead, with her kicking him out the house, him
weeping under a tree, and she sweeping the dust
of him from her broom.

Best Podcast Moments:

A Gentler Story

Elizabeth: I feel that this is a gentler story from last week’s, what do you think? 

Tim: I agree. I think there is more hope for some of the characters depicted in this story than in Everything that Rises Must Converge. I feel like you can really trace the progression of Parker’s interior journey here.

Elizabeth: Because Parker has an interior life.

Tim: Right. Whereas, in Everything that Rises Must Converge, there might be some hope for Julian at the end there, but it’s only the beginning of it.

Child Stealing…

Tim: Parker’s expecting that this new tattoo is going to change his wife, Sarah Ruth. Instead it ends up changing him, and has no effect on her.

Elizabeth: Sadly.

Tim: It is very sad, the way the story ends. You feel like there is hope for Parker, and there definitely is, but if the sight of him weeping under the tree after she thrashes him out of the house for idolatry doesn’t move her, if it even ‘hardens her eyes,’ as Flannery O’Connor tells us, you get the sense that maybe nothing will move her.

Elizabeth: And I think what makes that even more pitiable is the fact that she’s going to have a baby. She’s going to pass on these ignorant and hateful views to the child.

Tim: Unless Parker steals the baby away to raise it for himself! He can probably cook better than she can, anyway…

Elizabeth: Probably!

A ‘Christ Haunted’ South

Tim: Flanner O’Connor once said, and I don’t want to quote this out of context, but I’m going to, that the south is not so much Christian anymore: it’s ‘Christ haunted.’ It has these qualities of Christ there, and you feel like their inescapable, like Christ is haunting the south. Parker is haunted by Christ.

Elizabeth: Parker is open to being confronted; by ANYTHING. Whether it’s Christ, nature, a divine reality – but Sarah Ruth is not. Even at night, when they’re together, she doesn’t want to be confronted by him, but wants the lights off. She refuses to have to look at him.

Relentless Transcendence

Tim: I want to talk about this idea of a ‘relentless transcenence” – that’s a phrase I coined myself that I’m very proud of. 

Elizabeth: Oh, yes. Good job.

Tim: When he’s knocking and she’s won’t let him in, he looks over his shoulder, and that’s the moment of transcendence right there. I was like: “Woah! He’s having a moment of transcendence!” But then I was like wait, his moment of transcendence was when the tractor threw him, I thought. Or wait, was it when he encountered the eyes of Christ? Or, it started when he saw the tattooed man when he was fourteen. So you get this sense that Christ has been pursuing him his entire time and won’t stop. He keeps suddenly experiencing all these moments of wonder and transcendence…

Christ or Obi-Wan Kenobi?

Elizabeth: Pictures of Christ are pretty universal. If we see an image of Christ, we tend to know it’s Christ –

Tim: Or if we see a picture of Obi-Wan Kenobi we think it’s Christ.

Elizabeth: What!?

Tim: It was a picture going around social media a few years ago – this Grandma had set up a shrine in her house, and instead of a picture of Christ, it was a picture of Obi-Wan Kenobi from episode 2.

Elizabeth: It’s the hair, the beard, the noble face, and those eyes! Ewan McGregor has great eyes!

Grand Questions We Inadequately Address:

What is the true reason Parker married Sarah Ruth?

Why is it this particular woman who arouses a longing for the divine in Parker?

What did the experience of the tattooed man mean?

How can any woman be disgusted by tattoos?

Why isn’t Parker fulfilled in life?

Can a man save hisself?

And the one that won’t stop nagging us…

Why did Sarah Ruth marry Parker????

Hear our answers

Quotes of Quotes We Quote:

She was plain, plain. The skin on her face was thin and drawn as tight as the skin on an onion and her eyes were gray and sharp like the points of two ice-picks. Parker understood why he had married her – he couldn’t have got her any other way – but he couldn’t understand why he stayed with her now.
“Naw,” he said, “I ain’t got no use for none of that. A man can’t save his self from whatever it is he don’t deserve my sympathy.” These words seemed to leave his mouth like wraiths and to evaporate at once as if he had never uttered them.
“I ain’t got to look at you.” 
A yellow glow enveloped them. Parker put the match down and began to unbutton his shirt. 
“And you ain’t gonna have none of me this near morning,” she said. 
“Shut your mouth,” he said quietly. “Look at this and then I don’t want to hear no more out of you.” He removed the shirt and turned his back to her.
“Another picture,” Sarah Ruth growled. “I might have known you was off after putting some more trash on yourself.”
Parker’s knees went hollow under him. He wheeled around and cried, “Look at it! Don’t just say that! Look at it!”
“I done looked,” she said.
“Don’t you know who it is?” he cried in anguish. 
“No. Who is it?” Sarah Ruth said. “It ain’t anybody I know.”
“It’s him.”
“Him who?”
“God!” Parker cried.
“God? God don’t look like that!”
“What do you know how He looks?” Parker moaned. “You ain’t seen Him.”
“He don’t look,” Sarah Ruth said. “He’s a spirit. ‘No man shall see His face.’”
“Aw, listen,” Parker groaned, “this is just a picture of Him.”
“Idolatry!” Sarah Ruth screamed.
“Who’s there?” the same unfeeling voice said.
Parker turned his head as if he expected someone behind him to give the answer. The sky had lightened slightly and there were two or three streaks of yellow floating above the horizon. Then as he stood there, a tree of light burst over the skyline. 
Parker fell back against the door as if he had been pinned there by a lance.

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