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In The Violent Bear It Away, Flannery O’Connor makes use of the doubles motif. The doubles motif occurs when one character looks at another character and sees or senses yet another character’s presence. In this novel, Francis and Rayber not only serve as doubles for each other but also as a double for Mason.
Francis makes Mason Tarwater’s presence felt by the way he talks and the fact that he, like Mason, never removes his cap. After Francis is with Rayber a few days, Rayber feels Mason’s presence. “Rayber had never, even when Old Tarwater had lived under his roof, been so conscious of the old man’s presence” (189).
Mason used baptism to gain control of Francis and to have him carry out his mission after his death. “Using baptism to extend his boundaries of self like a wall around Young Tarwater, Mason simultaneously performs an act of regeneration and murder to be repeated later when Francis baptizes/murders Bishop. Francis then becomes Mason’s immortal self. Francis provides Mason with a sense of existing, but he can only tolerate the boy as a double, not as an independent human being” (Paulson 102).
Mason clings to the idea of being a prophet and Francis “clings to the idea of being born in a wreck, with no father, an orphan, because this makes him unique, gaining epic proportions in order to transcend the anonymous crowd” (Paulson 106). Francis denies the father the way that Mason and Rayber deny the mother.
Rayber tries, as Mason does, to implant his ideas within Francis. “Both Rayber and Mason direct the explosive force of their actions toward Francis, being lost themselves. Their struggle to survive decimates their nephew” (Paulson 106). Rayber condemned the violent act that Mason committed, taking Francis and Rayber both away from reality, but Rayber committed the violent act of trying to drown his own son. Rayber and Mason both use Francis and Bishop as a way to keep the loneliness away. “O’Connor, though, draws a parallel between them by making both men evangelical zealots” (Paulson 102). Rayber is skeptical of religion and Mason has a religious fervor.
Rayber and Mason both try to teach Francis but they do not want to teach him the same things. “It soon becomes clear that not only Rayber’s efforts at ‘reconstruction’ but also Mason’s muddied baptismal waters threaten the freedom of Francis, who weakly perceives the devil prophet within them both” (Paulman 103).
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"The Doubles Motif in Flannery O’Connor's The Violent Bear It Away." 123HelpMe.com. 22 Nov 2019
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Francis brags that he burnt the old man just like Rayber would have done. Not only does Francis finish Old Tarwater’s mission of baptizing Bishop when he drowns him, but he also finishes Rayber’s attempt of killing Bishop. Both men have been warped by Mason Tarwater. In trying to keep from being like Rayber, Francis isolates himself and becomes even more like Mason.
Bishop and Francis are also similar to each other. The descriptions of the two boys are very similar, just put into different words. Both were said to have protruding cheekbones and looked as if they had lived for centuries. They were cousins that tried to make captives of each other in their struggle for power. Rayber, Francis, and Bishop all are deaf at some time in the novel. “Rayber is deaf by Mason’s gun, Bishop by an act of god, and the boy ‘for all the interest that he showed might have been the one who was deaf’” (Paulson 105).
Mason, Francis, and Rayber all have things in common. All three want to rid themselves of something or someone. Francis wants be like neither Mason nor Rayber, though both of them want him to take on their life views. Rayber wants nothing to do with Mason but is like him in more ways than one. Francis and Rayber both were taken from their homes at an early age by Mason and both were corrupted by his ideas, no matter how they tried to escape. Neither of the two wanted to be like Mason but they were more like him than could ever be imagined. Rayber had the same desire that Mason had in making Francis believe his ideas. Mason and Rayber neither had harmful intentions but they both destroyed an innocent boy in the end.
O’Connor, Flannery. The Violent Bear It Away. Three by Flannery O’Connor. New York: Signet, 1983. 121-269.
Paulson, Suzanne Morrow. “Apocalypse of Self, Resurrection of the Double: Flannery O’Connor’s The Violent Bear It Away.” Literature and
Psychology 30 (1980): 100-111.