A View of the Woods

A View of the Woods

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A View of the Woods


Flannery O'Connor is a very complex writer in terms of her use of symbolism in addition to the elements of the grotesque and blackly humorous. O'Connor’s story, "A View of the Woods," is symbolically complicated. The story focuses on the relationship of Mary Fortune Pitts, a little girl, and her grandfather, Mr Fortune. The story is one of conflict that mounts to tragedy in the end. The conflict is basically between Mary Fortune and her grandfather over the sale of some ground that Mary Fortune finds important for her father's grazing of his cattle and for the view of the woods. You might look carefully at the woods in this story because they assume a symbolic significance similar to the woods in "Greenleaf."

In many ways I think the woods can be seen as the Garden of Eden. When they are sold, they are sold to a man called Tilman, and he is represented as a serpent:

Tilman was a man of quick action and few words. He sat habitually with his arms folded on the counter and his insignificant head weaving snake-fashion above them. He had a triangular-shaped face with the point at the bottom and the top of his skull was covered with a cap of freckles. His eyes were green and very narrow and his tongue was always exposed in his partly opened mouth. He had his chequebook handy and they got down to business at once. It did not take him long to look at the deed and sign the bill of sale and Mr Fortune signed it and they grasped hands over the counter. (76)

The idea here would appear to be that in selling the land to Tilman, Mr Fortune is actually handing the Garden of Eden over to the control of the serpent.

There is a lot made of their respective surnames earlier in the story, when the little girl and the grandfather are actually arguing over the land, and this supports this particular reading:

She turned and looked him straight in the face and said with a slow concentrated ferocity, "It's the lawn. My Daddy grazes his calves there. We won't be able to see the woods any more."

The old man held his fury as long as he could. "He beats you!" he shouted. "And you worry about where he's going to graze his calves!"

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"Nobody's ever beat me in my life," she said "and if anyone did, I'd kill him."

A man seventy-nine years of age cannot let himself be run over by a child of nine. His face set in a look that was just as determined as hers. "Are you a Fortune," he said, "or are you a Pitts? Make up your mind."

Her voice was loud and positive and belligerent. "I'm Mary-Fortune-Pitts," she said.

"Well I," he shouted, "am PURE Fortune!" (74)

I think what we are getting in this play of names, if we look at it in terms of the theological setting or context, is that the little girl is acknowledging that she belongs to the Pitts; that is, she belongs to the world which is governed by God, and she accepts being governed by God as indicated by her permitting her father to chastise her. Mr Fortune doesn't believe in this, however: he believes in "fortune," the power of money.

The situation develops into conflict after the land has been sold (79). The little girl takes her glasses off and belts him, and as she belts him, there is a description of five claws going into the flesh of his upper arm so that the little girl almost becomes the figure of the devil. The tragic ending comes when the old man looks up into Mary's face as she sits on his chest, a face which is "his own image", and this image says: "'You been whipped,' it said, 'by me,' and then it added, bearing down on each word, 'and I'm PURE Pitts.'" The old man reverses the situation and belts his little grandchild's head three times against the rock and kills her. He then says: "'There's not an ounce of Pitts in me'" (80).

Suddenly, he becomes edged with doubt. You get the sensation towards the end of the story that he is actually having a heart attack when we're told: "his heart expanded once more with a convulsive motion" (80). He flies off in the direction of the woods looking for an opening, looking to escape, but all he finds is that the place is deserted "except for one huge yellow monster which sat to the side, as stationery as he was, gorging itself on clay" (81).

This is the earthmoving machine that we're told about in the early part of the story which he and his grandchild watch and we get the feeling that, because he has denied the role of God, because he has been led to murder, because he doesn't acknowledge that he is part of the earth, part of the Pitts, he can't really be "saved" for Heaven. All he can actually come back to is the earth, death and destruction. As I said, it is a far more complex story symbolically and one that is very interesting to look at.
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