Religion in the Works of Flannery O'Connor
Religion is a pervasive theme in most of the literary works of the late Georgia writer Flannery O'Connor. Four of her short stories in particular deal with the relationship between Christianity and society in the Southern Bible Belt: "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," "The River," "Good Country People," and "Revelation." Louis D. Rubin, Jr. believes that the mixture of "the primitive fundamentalism of her region, [and] the Roman Catholicism of her faith . . ." makes her religious fiction both well-refined and entertaining (70-71). O'Connor's stories give a grotesque and often stark vision of the clash between traditional Southern Christian values and the ever-changing social scene of the twentieth century. Three of the main religious ingredients that lend to this effect are the presence of divine meanings, revelations of God, and the struggle between the powers of Satan and God.
The divine symbols in O'Connor's works tend to be mostly apocalyptic in nature, exhibiting drastic cases of societal breakdown in a religious context, but occasionally, they show prophetic hope. John Byars states that:
She presents two contradictory images of society in most of her fiction: one in which the power and prevalence of evil seem so deeply embedded that only destruction may root it out, and another in which the community or even an aggregate of individuals, though radically flawed, may discover within itself the potential for regeneration. (34)
In all four of the mentioned stories, this presence of Christian signs-of-the-times can be seen. Set in the early fifties, "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" tells of the murder of a vacationing Georgia family by an escaped felon called the Misfit. ...
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...Norman. "Dostoevskian Vision in Flannery O'Connor's `Revelation.'" The Flannery O'Connor Bulletin 16 (1987): 16-22.
O'Connor, Flannery. The Complete Stories of Flannery O'Connor. New York: Farrar, 1990.
Rubin, Louis D., Jr. "Flannery O'Connor and the Bible Belt." The Added Dimension: The Art and Mind of Flannery O'Connor. Ed. Melvin J. Friedman and Lewis A. Lawson. New York: Fordham UP, 1966. 49-71.
Scott, Nathan A., Jr. "Flannery O'Connor's Testimony." The Added Dimension: The Art and Mind of Flannery O'Connor. Ed. Melvin J. Friedman and Lewis A. Lawson. New York: Fordham UP, 1966. 138-56.
Spivey, Ted R. "Flannery O'Connor's View of God and Man." Flannery O'Connor. Ed. Robert E. Reiter. St. Louis: B. Herder, 1966. 111-18.
Wood, Ralph C. "Flannery O'Connor, Martin Heidegger, and Modern Nihilism." The Flannery O'Connor Bulletin 21 (1992): 100-18.
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Ragen, Brian Abel. A Wreck on the Road to Damascus: Innocence, Guilt, and Conversion in Flannery O'Connor. Chicago: Loyola UP, 1989.
While the naval war is usually known for only little attention in histories of World War I, the Royal Navy's blockade of Germany played a dangerous role in the War. The U.S. Navy linking with the Royal Navy played a significant role in overcoming the German U-boats in the North Atlantic. The Germany Navy while technically effective disastrously diminished the German war effort. Germany's building of a High Seas Fleet was one of the causes that public view on Britain turned against Germany and that Britain come unto the War. Yet, the small U-boat fleet, showed a key competition to the British. In the early war, U-boats drowned three British cruisers, shocking the people of both England and Germany. The U-boat campaign was a major reason that public opinion in America turned against Germany and that America entered the War. Despite the huge investment, the German Navy accomplished nothing in return to counter balance the cost for Germany.
The biographic features of a writer usually have an influence on the development of his or her literary creation. The biographic influence is especially strong on the literary work of Flannery O'Connor. Her life and experiences are reflected through her work in themes, characters, descriptions and style. There are two important features of her life, which had marked the short stories and novels of Flannery O'Connor: The South of the United States and her religion, Catholicism. These two aspects are reflected in her vision of life, society and above all in the vision of the human race.
Kane, Richard. "Positive deconstruction in the fiction of Flannery O'Connor." The Southern Literary Journal 20 (1987): 45.
Flannery O’Connor believed in the power of religion to give new purpose to life. She saw the fall of the old world, felt the force and presence of God, and her allegorical fictions often portray characters who discover themselves transforming to the Catholic mind. Though her literature does not preach, she uses subtle, thematic undertones and it is apparent that as her characters struggle through violence and pain, divine grace is thrown at them. In her story “Revelation,” the protagonist, Mrs. Turpin, acts sanctimoniously, but ironically the virtue that gives her eminence is what brings about her downfall. Mrs. Turpin’s veneer of so called good behavior fails to fill the void that would bring her to heaven. Grace hits her with force and their illusions, causing a traumatic collapse exposing the emptiness of her philosophy. As Flannery O’Connor said, “In Good Fiction, certain of the details will tend to accumulate meaning from the action of the story itself, and when this happens they become symbolic in the way they work.” (487). The significance is not in the plot or the actual events, but rather the meaning is between the lines.
The German’s unrestricted submarine warfare was the main reason for the U.S. to enter war. Wilson had tremendous support from Americans. The Germans had to be stopped. The attacks came without warning killing many innocent people (Winter and Baggett, 1996). The Germans sank numerous ships including our own. The most famous ship sunk was the Lusitiania. Aboard that ship 128 Americans were killed (http://www.angelfire.com/in3/wilson/wilson.html). The Lusitania was torpedoed without any notice. The Lusitania sunk in 18 minutes killing a total of 1198 people (http://www.poltechnic.org/faculty/gfeldmeth/chart.ww1.html).
In reality, her writing is filled with meaning and symbolism, hidden in plain sight beneath a seamless narrative style that breathes not a word of agenda, of dogma, or of personal belief. In this way, her writing is intrinsically esoteric, in that it contains knowledge that is hidden to all but those who have been instructed as to how and where to look for it, i.e. the initiated. Flannery O'Connor is a Christian writer, and her work is message-oriented, yet she is far too brilliant a stylist to tip her hand; like all good writers, crass didacticism is abhorrent to her. Nevertheless, she achieves what no Christian writer has ever achieved: a type of writing that stands up on both literary and the religious grounds, and succeeds in doing justice to both.
However dragged by the situation, the U.S. Congress announced war on Germany. As a neutral nation, the U.S. was permissible by international law to trade with all of the nations involved in war; but a rigid British marine barrier meant in reality that only those amiable to the Allies received an advantage from this agreement. Eventually, Germany attempted to stop the circulation of food, arms and armaments to its foes by the means of sinking neutral ships. Germany recommenced unhindered submarine warfare and started preying on U.S. ships in the Atlantic. This strategy caused anger in the United States. That’s why the majority of historians concur that the American involvement in Great War was unavoidable by early 1917, however the involvement to war was undoubtedly hasten by a scandalous letter composed by the
Both sides accepted the United States’ aid but they also sought to cut-off each other’s supply chain. While the Allies barricaded Germany’s ports with the British Navy, Germany began attacking merchant ships using their submarines, or U-boats. While Wilson was angered by the British tactics he was even more infuriated by the German’s. This would be the ultimate end of U.S. neutrality as Wilson would sternly address Germany’s actions and not Britain’s.
An ardent Catholic as she was, Flannery O’Connor astonishes and puzzles the readers of her most frequently compiled work, A Good Man Is Hard to Find. It is the violence, carnage, injustice and dark nooks of Christian beliefs of the characters that they consider so interesting yet shocking at the same time. The story abounds in Christian motifs, both easy and complicated to decipher. We do not find it conclusive that the world is governed by inevitable predestination or evil incorporated, though. A deeper meaning needs to be discovered in the text. The most astonishing passages in the story are those when the Grandmother is left face to face with the Misfit and they both discuss serious religious matters. But at the same time it is the most significant passage, for, despite its complexity, is a fine and concise message that O’Connor wishes to put forward. However odd it may seem, the story about the fatal trip (which possibly only the cat survives) offers interesting comments on the nature of the world, the shallowness of Christian beliefs and an endeavour to answer the question of how to deserve salvation.
On May 7, 1915, during the height of World War I, The RMS Lusitania, a British ocean liner, was torpedoed by a German U-boat. The attack left 1,198 dead including 128 American citizens. The tragedy resulted in American citizens calling for intervention, as they had remained neutral since the beginning of the war. Furthermore, the sinking of Lusitania went against the accepted international war protocols. At the beginning of World War I, the English navy blockaded Germany. As a result, Germany stated the Atlantic was a war zone, and German submarine warfare escalated. Therefore, traveling on ocean liners was dangerous. In fact, the German Embassy placed an advertisement warning travelers not to sail on the Lusitania. On May 7, a torpedo, from
Whitt, Margaret. Understanding Flannery O’Connor. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1995. 47-48, 78. Print.
...sque, and in Flannery O’Connor’s artistic makeup there is not the slightest trace of sentimentally” (qtd. in Bloom 19). Flannery O’Connor’s style of writing challenges the reader to examine her work and grasp the meaning of her usage of symbols and imagery. Edward Kessler wrote about Flannery O’Connor’s writing style stating that “O’Connor’s writing does not represent the physical world but serves as her means of apprehending and understanding a power activating that world” (55). In order to fully understand her work one must research O’Connor and her background to be able to recognize her allegories throughout her stories. Her usage of religious symbols can best be studied by looking into her religious Catholic upbringing. Formalist criticism exists in “A Good Man is Hard to Find” through Flannery O’Connor’s use of plot, characterization, setting, and symbolism.