This short collection of stories by Flannery O’Connor represents her earliest works. These stories are focused on a few issues and a couple of them were even revised later on to be more complete versions in later publications. They do offer a glimpse into those concerns.
Her biggest concerns throughout all her career are people who choose cruelty and decorum instead of kindness. She also loves to write about hypocrisy. In these stories, all of these different themes show up mostly in dealing with the incredibly messed relationship that white “society” people have with their black neighbors in the South.
The result of course like most young writers’ work is a lack of nuance in the matter. It’s not that Black characters are wholly virtuous and white characters are wholly venal, but there is some of that. Her sense of self as a writer is already too strong to be that black and white with the issues. Instead, she is incredibly harsh toward those figures who exist the margins between goodness and fake goodness, the hypocrites. Flannery O’Connor doesn’t spend a whole lot of time with the abjectly cruel because they are lost, instead she spends her time with those who have a foot too comfortably in the sinful while maintaining the illusion (self-illusion or public illusion) of virtue. It’s liberals who really need to look out for her. It makes for really interesting and really murky reading at times, but it’s something to behold. I just don’t think you get stories like hers as much any more.