Book Review: The Complete Stories by Flannery O’Connor


One of my favorite writers is Flannery O’Connor. In this review, I discuss two of her most popular stories, “Everything that Rises Must Converge” and “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” Both can be found in The Complete Stories by Flannery O’Connor, along with many others.

Lesson Learned?

From the beginning of the story, “Everything that Rises Must Converge,” Julian is annoyed with his mother. Frustrated with having to take her on the bus to her weight-loss class, he is even more frustrated with her attitude toward African Americans. In a time where whites have only recently been made to share bus space with blacks, Julian’s mother is slow to adapt. His greatest desire is for her to learn a lesson about her bad attitude. He dreams up scenarios to accomplish this—striking up an intellectual conversation with the African American man next to him on the bus, bringing home a dark-skinned beauty for a love interest—but he never could have dreamt up the actual scenario that took place. When a large African American woman gets on the bus with a young child, he is nearly ecstatic to see that the woman is wearing the very same over-priced, hideous hat that his own mother is wearing. This will be the thing that finally shows her their equality, he imagines. But once again, his mother is a disappointment as she enjoys the small boy and pretends not to notice the matching hats. When all four leave the bus at the same time, Julian’s mother pulls another embarrassing stunt when she digs into her purse for a nickel to give the boy. As if not insulting enough, she can only find a penny—albeit a new, shiny one—and proceeds to try to give it to the boy. The reaction of the African American mother is one of outrage. She exclaims that her boy, “Don’t take nobody’s pennies,” and wallops Julian’s mother with her large purse. Though not physically injured, the mother’s pride and sense of self is greatly damaged. Julian feels the need to make sure she has fully understood the grave error she made and drills the facts into her head until she suffers something like a stroke and Julian is left learning a lesson of his own—that people can’t be forced into change, they must learn to accept it on their own terms.

Good Irony is Easy to Find

“A Good Man is Hard to Find” in this Flannery O’Connor story, but irony is not at all elusive. Scattered neatly throughout the plot are various acts of satire: the granddaughter who is disappointed no one has died in the car accident, only to have her whole family die; the grandmother who won’t stay home and chance missing something interesting, only to be the cause of the most interesting happening—the death of the family; the flowered spray worn by the grandmother in the case of her dead body being found at the side of the highway, which instead ends up dead in a pile of family members, surely stripped from any dignity she sought from someone knowing, “that she was a lady.” The grandmother does the majority of the talking in the story and we are witness to her failed efforts of persuasion when she cannot convince her son, Bailey, to go to Tennessee rather than Florida. Neither can she convince The Misfit not to kill them, but she does manage to convince Bailey to make the detour to see the old house—the very thing that ends up leading to their deaths. In the beginning, the grandmother implies that it would be bad parenting to take the children near the path of the serial killer, yet it is her own bad parenting—her sneaking the cat on the trip, convincing the children through lies that the house must be seen, her refusal to admit she was wrong about the location of the house—that leads to the demise of six lives. In the end, when the grandmother tries to talk The Misfit out of killing them because he comes from “nice people” and has “good blood,” he blames his lifestyle on the fact that he was not there when Jesus walked the earth. The Misfit claims that if Jesus had actually raised people from the dead, there’d be nothing to do but, “throw away everything and follow Him,” but since he was not there, he has no other choice but to enjoy every minute of life by killing people or doing other “meanness” to them. He later turns and says he does not gain enjoyment in killing, that there is “no real pleasure in life.” The grandmother promised that stopping to see the old house would be educational for the children, but it was, in fact, educational for the whole family. They learned the hard way that no matter what “your people” are like, anyone can go bad, and anyone can become a victim.

My rating: 5 out of 5 = it was amazing

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