Things you need to know about Flannery O’Connor:
She died young of Lupus.
She was a devout Catholic.
She was Southern as hell.
She lived with her mother and chose a writer’s life instead of anything personally intimate.
So that said, here’s some thoughts of her stories in this collection.
“Everything that Rises Must Converge”
Flannery O’Connor is fascinated by the relationship between sons and mothers, especially liberal-minded sons who hold the vulgarities of the world against their poor mothers. In this story, among other scenes, we see Julian want to befriend a Black man on the bus because it will irk his mother and prove what a good liberal he is. But is he shocked and disgusted when his mother offers a penny to a small Black child. He reads this act as condescending because the mother of the child and his mother are both wearing the same hat. He finds out it’s not clear what separates him from his mother.
In Greenleaf, Ms. May runs a farm and is very concerned about a rogue bull running amok in her fields, Mr. Greenleaf her hired hand, and why his sons married that French girls living off the fat of the American land. Privileging her own feelings and wealth over their safety, she comes face to face with her own failures.
“A View of the Woods”
In destroying his grand-daughter’s love of the woods across from her cow pasture a grandfather his hates his offspring attempts to force a loving relationship with his grand-daughter simply because she shares his mother’s name.
“The Enduring Chill”
My favorite of the stories in this collection. Poor Asbury Fox left his mother’s overbearing embrace in order to pursue a life of art in New York City. Now penniless and despondent, he returns home to die young and unsung. It just turns out that his mother is perfectly loving, he’s a hack, and probably not dying.
“The Comforts of Home”
In this story, we have another son and mother relationship, but it also focuses on weird misogynistic opinions about “sluts” and murder mysteries.
“The Lame Shall Enter First”
This long story takes place revolving around a boys’ reform school and a literal application of Bible verses.
Another mother and son sit around and toss off racist commentary, this time in a waiting room.
Parker is tattooed from head to foot, minus his back. A sailor, now ashore, he’s married a church girl who it turns out he hates and is stuck in her cold chilly embrace. In order to appease her, he decides to get a giant Byzantine Christ portrait tattooed on his back. Guess how that works out.
Tanner has come home to die and speak on his mind on Southern versus Northern Black people. They have a say in this too.
Here’s my favorite passage. From “The Enduring Chill”:
“While he was still in New York, he had written a letter to his mother which filled two notebooks. He did not mean it to be read until after his death. It was such a letter as Kafka had addressed to his father. Asbury’s father had died twenty years ago and Asbury considered this a great blessing…..
….If reading it would be painful to her, writing it had sometimes been unbearable to him—for in order to face her, he had had to face himself. “I came here to escape the slave’s atmosphere of home,” he had written, “to find freedom, to liberate my imagination, to take it like a hawk from its cage and set it ‘whirling off into the widening gyre’ (Yeats) and what did I find? It was incapable of flight. It was some bird you had domesticated, sitting huffy in its pen, refusing to come out!” The next words were underscored twice. “I have no imagination. I have no talent. I can’t create. I have nothing but the desire for these things. Why didn’t you kill that too? Woman, why did you pinion me?” Writing this, he had reached the pit of despair and he thought that reading it, she would at least begin to sense his tragedy and her part in it. It was not that she had ever forced her way on him. That had never been necessary. Her way had simply been the air he breathed and when at last he had found other air, he couldn’t survive in it. He felt that even if she didn’t understand at once, the letter would leave her with an enduring chill and perhaps in time lead her to see herself as she was”