In Flannery O’Connor’s short fiction, the id is called onto the carpet. As her readers are ineluctably drawn into the often twisted mindsets of her characters, she exposes selfishness and the consequences that come from acting on it. Each story features a cast that varies widely in age, ethnicity, gender, and social class, and the reader’s glimpse into their lives is all the deeper for its brevity.
“Everything That Rises Must Converge” and “The Comforts of Home” each have a clear lesson: Don’t be a bigot. O’Connor could have gotten on a soap box, but instead she uses her story-telling to get the point across. Each story features an antagonist who is convinced of his or her own righteousness, and each has to face the harsh outcome of their conceit. Far from doling out eye-for-an-eye judgment, though, the author seems to question the sentences— which are dramatic in both stories— even as she imparts them.
O’Connor’s talent for capturing the honesty and the resolve of a child’s mind shines in “The River.” The reader experiences the story through the eyes of Harry, the young son of perpetually-drunk parents. One day he is taken to a religious function by his baby-sitter and baptized in a river. “Now you can go to the kingdom of Christ,” the preacher tells him, and Harry takes this rather well, since he thinks the preacher means he doesn’t have to go back home. The next morning, while his folks recover from last night’s party, Harry returns to the river and drowns in an attempt to find the kingdom of Christ at the bottom.
When O’Connor writes from adult points of view, the stories get even more disconcerting. “A Good Man is Hard to Find” would be just another urban legend (family of five murdered by highway robbers!) if not for the nature versus nurture debate between the leader of the highway gang and the grandmother, which takes place while the old woman’s family is dying around her. “Good Country People” centers around Joy, a queen among cynics, who tries to seduce a Bible salesman to show him the futility of morality. In a perverse plot twist, however, the seemingly innocent young man convinces her to remove her wooden leg and then absconds with it, frankly informing her that he’s a con man and not the Bible-toting simpleton she thought he was.
Dark and always profound, each of Flannery O’Connor’s stories calls for a questioning of assumptions. She delves into the flawed motives and actions of her characters, but never spoon-feeds conclusions or sermonizes. As O’Connor unfolds her characters’ inner lives, her readers are forced to examine themselves, but also to think outside themselves.