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Flannery O'Connor - Biography

Flannery O'Connor (1925-64)
Commentary by Karen Bernardo

Flannery O'Connor has the reputation of writing some of the quirkiest fiction in the annals of American literature. Her characters are strange, if not downright bizarre. But there was a message behind O'Connor's madness--and that was contained in her conviction that we are all, even those of us who seem most 'normal,' wanting in the sight of God. A devout Catholic, O'Connor expressed her belief in humanity's need for salvation in every story. 

A number of other influences colored O'Connor's thematic choices as well. Although she was born in Savannah, she called rural Milledgeville, GA home. Milledgeville is part of an overwhelmingly Protestant region in which O'Connor's Catholicism was an anomaly; although she may have taken exception to the South's Protestant beliefs, she was unquestionably affected by its fundamentalism. She also discovered, relatively early in her adult life, that she was afflicted with lupus, a progressive disease of the immune system which eventually restricted her mobility. But even as she found herself with fewer and fewer opportunities to move beyond the physical boundaries of Milledgeville, she opened the doors of her imagination all the wider. Her small-town Southern world became the canvas on which she painted what she saw to be the most essential and universal truth: that each of us needs to make our way to God, and everything that interferes with that quest -- whether it be society or mortal life -- needs to be struck down to clear the path to the one goal that really counts. 

All O'Connor's stories deal with the workings of grace in the everyday world. O'Connor saw grace all around her, but no radiant angels "sent by God" appear in her fiction; rather, she believed that it often takes a rude shock - if not an outright trauma - to jolt people out of their complacency and into an awareness of their need for salvation. In both "Revelation" and "Greenleaf," this comes through the encounter of smug, self-righteous female protagonists with secondary characters they consider to be inferior. Because we tend to read literature from a secular viewpoint, we want the central question in the story to be whether bourgeois propriety gives one the right to demean others.
But that isn't really O'Connor's point. The epileptic girl who attacks Mrs. Turpin in "Revelation," the "common" Mr. Greenleaf who rankles Mrs. May in "Greenleaf," or the serial killer in 'A Good Man is Hard to Find' are not merely symbolic of the world's "have-nots." They are catalysts in the process of spiritual redemption. Like their counterparts in other O'Connor stories, they jar their respective protagonists out of their easy assumptions about life, and catapult them into a new relationship with the Divine.

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Flannery O'Connor : Collected Works :...

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