by Flannery O'ConnorFinished reading June 14, 2009
I finished reading the rest of the stories in this book. This was O'Connor's last book of short stories. She was working on it at the time of her death at age 39. As I was reading these depressing stories, I wondered if her illness and imminent death influenced the tone of the book. Apparently, this writing is fairly typical of her. I had only read a few stories of hers before this.
The book was great. I enjoyed reading it and it provoked a lot of thought. But this isn't a feel good book. Even while I was thanking God that I don't live in a world of such overt racism as depicted in these stories and even while I was happy that my family life has been much happier than the families in each of these stories I also recognized that we all - me too- are guilty of the sins of these characters. Pride, impatience, superiority... we all feel these things to one degree or another.
Each of these stories featured characters that are deeply flawed. They are often unlikeable but feel that they, themselves, are good, decent and charitable. There's a dark humor in these stories and a satisfaction with the comeuppance that the rotten individuals receive. But the comeuppance often comes at the expense of someone else.
Some of the reoccurring things:
Racism - the one character that comes closest to treating black people as friends is Tanner from the story "The Last Judgement." Coleman is, indeed, his friend. He is the one person that can be trusted to fulfill Tanner's last wishes. But Coleman is also seen as just another "N" that Tanner has well trained.
Even the son in the title story, who wishes to prove to his mother how much superior he is to his mother and his mother's generation, only uses black people as tools. He desperately wants to find a black person to buddy up to, in order to prove how modern and liberal he is. Who is the bigger sinner, the honest racist or the dishonest liberal?
Parent/Child relationship: the relationships in these stories all suffer from disappointment and misunderstanding. Parents have children who have not lived up to their expectations. Or, children have parents who are a burden, a humiliation or who represent everything wrong with society. Maybe O'Connor used familial relationships because they are supposed to be ideal and motivated by unconditional love. Glimpses of such love come through, as with the son at the end of the first story, but for the most part, these are people that don't know what true love is about.
This has made me want to read some more Flannery O'Connor stories and the book of collected letters of O'Connor.
The photo in this post is from Lost, of Jacob reading Everything That Rises Must Converge.