Over the summer and early fall I read five of Flannery O’Connor’s short stories from “The Complete Stories”. I will be taking a look at four of them in detail today.
An interesting tale about an old man uprooted from his home to New York, which contrary to what he thought, has no room for him. The story drew forth both pity and anger from me for the old man; pity for his loneliness and the way the next generation casts him and his outdated ideas aside; and anger for the racism, a trademark of his generation, that he refuses to cast aside. He is both a victim and leading cause of his loneliness.
Once again, Ms. O’Connor vividly portrays the thought process of her Main Character. In this story the central character is Rayber, an intelligent thinker and supporter of an unlikely candidate for governor. Rayber becomes increasingly irritated by the willful ignorance of his barber who regularly harasses him about his political views, finally deciding to draft a position paper to read to the barber shop.
A thrilling, hard-to-put-down tale of an old, blind, black man who has a keener sense of smell than anyone for miles around and can smell an animal from just as far. There is a wildcat coming after him, he knows, though no one believes him. Agonizingly, the story ended with “Ole Gabrul” fearing another attack by the wildcat. Ms. O’Connor seems to like abrupt and “unresolved” endings. I do not. It will take me some getting used to.
“The Crop” is about Miss Willerton, a servant in an unpleasant house who passes away the tedious hours of the day looking forward to her writing time when the work is done. She chooses a sharecropper as her protagonist because it sounds socially aware then adds in an unruly wife that is the tension of the plot.
Almost laboriously–though comically to those of us who have tried our hand at storywriting–we see each development of Miss Willerton’s story as she hammers it out. When the story picks up and takes off like a runaway freight train something peculiar happens that is not immediately apparent to the reader: Miss Willerton enters the story. When I realized what had happened I had to backtrack to discover the precise moment when it occurred.
Miss Willerton burst into the story as the rescuer of the misused husband. The first wife dies in the scuffle, Miss Willerton takes her place, lives in marital bliss and had just born her and the sharecropper’s first child when Miss Wilteron’s mistress suddenly calls, her voice abruptly entering the story from the outside and calling Miss Willerton back. She needs some eggs from the market.
Irritated, Miss Willerton sets off for the market only to be further put off by scenes of domesticity she glorified in her story minutes before but now finds distasteful in real life. She even spots a man and woman exactly resembling her protagonist and antagonist but these blissfully in love to the point of social impropriety and far uglier in feature than she imagined in her story. So now, Miss Willerton decides it is time to try writing about the Irish–they are so full of spirit!
I love Ms. O’Connor’s style of narration. She captures both the thoughts and attitudes of her main characters through a third-person stream of consciousness, transforming what otherwise would be a dull plot line into something that moves and breathes, sparkling with vitality and ringing true to our own experiences.
But there is still much that baffles me about the writing of Flannery O’Connor. Her stories don’t resolve like I expect them to and one of them—“The Turkey”—was very disturbing and apparently lacking in any purpose. So I’ve laid the collection aside and purchased “Flannery O’Connor and the Christ-Haunted South” by Ralph C. Wood to read before proceeding with more of Ms. O’Connor’s short stories.