"[W]hen thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth" counsels the Bible, thus setting the precedent for all well-meaning members of western society concerning their charitable intentions (Matt. 6.3). Humanity's motivation to aid others, regardless of the outcome, is oft times spotted by the subtle struggle between selflessness and selfishness. Flannery O'Connor captures this classic conflict between good and evil in Southern Grotesque fashion through her characters, the protagonist Sheppard and his foil, Rufus Johnson, in [comment2] "The Lame Shall Enter First".[comment3] Challenging the literal paradigm of light and darkness, O'Connor weaves together well crafted characterization, cryptic dialogue, and both biblical and literary allusion in this paradoxical plot and, by way of Sheppard and the antithetical Rufus, blends the black and white of Christian dogma into an ironic grey.
The contrast of light and dark begins with the description and characterization of the apparently angelic [comment4] Sheppard, and continues with the introduction of the obscure and ominous Rufus Johnson. O'Connor is not pretentious in her description and development of either character. Sheppard's white hair and "halo" are obvious references to his protagonistic status as the story's do-gooder [comment5] (Norton 371). The narrator continues on by lauding his charitable contribution to the community as a counselor and weekend volunteer for "boys no one else cared about" (372). The reader's only initial clue toward Sheppard's self-righteous mania is his deliberate, guilt-implying sermon towards Norton, his disconcerted and doomed son. It is n...
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...pherd", only the agony of total defeat. Sheppard's epiphany comes too late and the stark contrast that once distinguished him from the dark object of his alms turns into the faded realization that he is no better than the beleaguered beneficiary. Through O'Connor's strategic literary devices, deft character contrast, and parody of entrenched Christian values, the reader is left to digest and dissect the fact that maybe the entire flock [comment15] isn't worth one black sheep. Between the black and white islands of moral certainty, good and evil, there lies a sea of ironic grey.
The King James Version. Great Britain: Cambridge UP, 1996.
O'Connor, Flannery. "The Lame Shall Enter First." The Norton Introduction to Literature. Eds.
Jerome Beaty and J. Paul Hunter. 7th ed. New York: Norton, 1998. 371-414.
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