Wednesday, August 19, 2009

191. Everything that Rises Must Converge – Flannery O’Connor

History: The title of the collection and of the short story of the same name is taken from a passage from the work of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. The collection was published posthumously in 1965.
Plot: "Everything That Rises Must Converge": In the story an arrogant young man takes a fateful bus trip with his bigoted mother. The mother doesn’t like to ride the recently racially integrated bus alone. Their relationship shows tensions when a black mother and son enters the bus. The stress of their argument leads to Julians mother collapsing on the sidewalk, possibly a stroke.
"Greenleaf": Mrs. May has a farm in which the neighbor’s bull keeps getting out and eating her shrubbery. Mr. Greenleaf, her helper, tries to please her but she is impossible to please. In the end, Mr. Greenleaf shoots the bull, and I think Mrs. May gets shot too. Mrs. May's false pride is typical of many of the characters in O'Connor's work, and if there is a common humanistic moral in O'Connor's stories, it is that those who think too well of themselves generally get their just desserts in the end.
"A View of the Woods" : The grandfather of Mary Fortune owns land in which he sells to build a gas station. Mary Fortune was beaten by her father, and did not stand up to him, which angered the grandfather. In the end, the two argue, and Mary Fortune begins beating the grandfather, who loses his temper with the child, and hits her with a rock three times, killing her.
"The Enduring Chill": Asbury, a young man who fancies himself as a writer but who is convinced he is going to die young. As the story proceeds it centres on the relationships between Asbury, his mother and Dr Block who attends Asbury and Asbury's growing conviction that he is shortly going to die.
He becomes obsessed with figures through the watermark or the water stain on the ceiling of his bedroom, that become images of the Holy Ghost, and also doom.
"The Comforts of Home": Thomas is jealous of his mothers new friend, Sarah Ham, a young woman who he feels is trying to get her money. It is revealed that he was correct, however, his mother continues to attempt to help her. Thomas puts a gun in her bag, to frame her, so that the sheriff will arrest her. The two struggle, Thomas snatches the gun and shoots her dead.
"The Lame Shall Enter First": A father, Sheppard, wants to help a boy in the town, Rufus Johnson who is intelligent but makes wrong decisions. In his quest to help Rufus, he impairs the relationship with his son. In the end, his son commits suicide.
"Revelation": Mrs. Turpin is waiting in a doctors waiting room, and is chatting with a woman next to her, with her college graduate daughter who is reading, ignoring them. The girl gets fed up with Mrs. Turpins superior attitude and racist remarks, and throws the book at her. Then she has a seizure, but before going on the ambulance, she whispers a powerful message to Mrs.Turpin. Just loud enough for her to hear, she says, "Go back to hell where you came from, you old wart hog." Mrs. Turpin finds this comment very unsettling, and she wonders if it may have been a message from God, who may be trying to intervene in her life. Still anxious, she returns home. While working on her farm she questions God aloud. As she contemplates the "message" he has sent her, she has a vision of the souls of the characters from the waiting room walking up to Heaven, and her soul last of all.
"Parker's Back": Throughout his life, when Parker becomes restless, he fills the front of his body with tattoos, seeking to achieve the Garden-of-Eden style beauty he viewed at the age of 14 on the skin of a tattooed circus performer. By comparison, his own body art disappoints him.
Once married, Parker takes a job as handyman for a wealthy elderly woman, who looks down on him. After accidently destroying the woman's tractor and setting one of her trees on fire, he flees to the city, where he stays for several nights. While there, a tattoo artist works on a significant new tattoo, intended to please his disapproving wife, who has consistently dismissed his body art as vanity. This time the tattoo will appear on his still untouched back.
When he comes home, Sarah Ruth does not appreciate the tattoo, a Byzantine image of Jesus. Instead she beats Parker wildly with the broom, until the face on his back is distorted by welts. The story ends with Parker crying by a pecan tree outside the house.
"Judgement Day": Tanner is living with his daughter, but is unhappily contemplating the changes that have occurred in his day regarding the relationships between Blacks and whites in the newly desegregated south. In the end, he fell down the stairs and died, his daughter buried him in New York City.
Review: The flawed characters of each story are fully revealed in apocalyptic moments of conflict and violence that are presented with comic detachment. The stories were written in the recently desegregated South, where "enlightened" whites are condescending, and blacks resent the efforts of well-meaning whites.
Opening Line: “Her doctor had told Julian’s mother that she must lose twenty pounds on account of her blood pressure, so on Wednesday nights Julian had to take her downtown on the bus for reducing class at the Y.”
Closing Line: "Now she rests well at night and her good looks have mostly returned."
Quotes: “If he had known it was a question of this – sitting here looking out of this window all day in this no-place, or just running a still for a nigger, he would have run the still for the nigger. He would have been a nigger’s white nigger any day.”
Rating: Very Good.

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