Interpretation and Confliction in the Analysis of Flannery O’Connor

Some of the best stories ever written are some of the most heavily criticized. Flannery O’Connor raised eyebrows with her controversial stories about religion, race, and humanity, and as a result disapproval did fall. But beyond the surface of O’Connor’s work lays a complex core. Some of her critics could not see past the violence and controversy. Others were able to find depth in her work. Two such people, Danny Duncan Collum and Alice Walker, have been published and reprinted in Sojouner\'s, a magazine whose mission is to “proclaim and practice the biblical call to integrate spiritual renewal and social justice” (Sojourner’s 1). Both writers take an intense look at the multifaceted writings of Flannery O’Connor and both draw separate conclusions.

Alice Walker is an award winning author and poet. In her book In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose, Walker had a piece entitled “Beyond the Peacock: The Reconstruction of Flannery O’Connor.” Besides being a well-respected writer, Walker clearly shows that she can be considered a respected analyst as well. She has the ability to see Flannery’s characters for what they are: “misfits, thieves, madmen, idiot children, illiterates, and murderers, and her black characters, male and female, appear equally shallow, demented, and absurd” (“A Soul Without Myths” 1).

Despite her capacity for the breakdown of O’Connor’s characters, Walker falters in the overall examination of O’Connor. She said, “essential O’Connor is not about race at all…If it can be said to be “about” anything, then it is “about” prophets and prophecy, “about” revelation, and “about” the impact of supernatural grace on human beings who don’t have a chance of spiritual growth without it” (“A Soul Without Myths” 1).

Yes, O’Connor deals with divine truth, with prophets, with spiritual growth. But race IS a factor in the things Flannery wrote. Why else would O’Connor create such dynamic and reoccurring characters that’s race is highlighted? To say her work wasn’t about race is to imply that O’Connor was a shallow writer whose characters were cutouts. She would not have emphasized the issue of race, she would not have written so vividly about the destruction of a person based on their racial prejudices and so disturbingly representative of the underbelly of humanity if she wasn’t making a point about race.

A perfect example of Flannery’s humanity is in the short story “Everything That Rises Must Converge”, where a large black woman clubs a racist and self-important woman, who we know only as Julian’s mother, after being insulted. Julian’s mother then has a stroke and dies in the middle of the street, leaving Julian, the ungrateful and annoyed son, in a state where “the tide of darkness seemed to sweep him back to her, postponing from moment to moment his entry into the world of guilt and sorrow” (“Everything That Rises Must Converge” 23). There are two themes in this story, one that Walker would have found, the theme of revelation. The other theme is race.

Walker saw a great writer in Flannery. One of the best things about literature is that it is open for interpretation. While Walker may have been off on the issue of race, her skill at analysis and the depth of her understanding more than makes up for the difference in her interpretation.

Another writer to be published in Sojourner’s, columnist Danny Duncan Collum also viewed Flannery as a great writer. But instead of praising her to high heaven or condemning her to hell, as many evaluators do, Collum related to her on more than one level. He started by identifying the personal connection between Flannery’s religious themes and his life. He then took that same connection and applied it to the present day south, where “the best indicator of the Southern culture’s geographic boundaries is the preponderance of TV preachers and gospel music in the electronic airwaves” (“Nature and Grace” 1). He saw empathy and identification, he saw prophets like Alice Walker did, he saw from a view that only a southerner would find. “She displays a deep-seated hostility toward Atlanta and all its pomps. In her stories the prosperous and sophisticated city is a place of estrangement and alienation” (“Nature and Grace” 1). Who but