Creator / Flannery O'Connor

"Anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic."
Flannery O'Connor

Flannery O'Connor lived in rural Georgia in the middle of the 20th century and wrote two collections of extraordinarily realistic short stories and two novels in the course of her very short life (she died in 1964 at the age of 39). From the mindset of her deep Catholic faith; her intimate and perceptive knowledge of the culture, mores, and personalities of the Deep South; and shaded by her long battle with lupus (which eventually killed her), she wove tales replete with deeply dysfunctional, highly flawed, and bizarre characters, many adhering to an unconventional or twisted form of fundamentalist Christianity. And many who died realistic deaths.

Though she was quite the orthodox and theologically sound Catholic believer, and a "fish out of water" in the mostly Protestant (and what she called "Christ-haunted") South, her cultish preachers, itinerant evangelists, and lay people were, in her mind, closer to the unadulterated core of the Christian faith than most "institutional" believers. This has often proved befuddling to more secular readers who tend to see these people as mere buffoons in contrast to the more level-headed liberal and irreligious characters, only to learn that, in O'Connor’s mind, the "freaks" were the "heroes."

Though her stories were full of symbolism and metaphor, O'Connor had little patience for those who tried to over-analyze what she saw as the clear message of her work. She was once asked, about her short story "A Good Man is Hard to Find," "what is the meaning of the Misfit's hat?" The question both confused and amused her. "To put on his head," she replied.

Despite her relatively small body of work, O'Connor is regarded as one of the most influential and talented American writers of the mid-20th Century.

Her novel Wise Blood has its own page.

Associated Tropes:

  • Atrocious Alias: Hulga (née Joy) in "Good Country People" intentionally chooses the ugliest name she can think of as an act of rebellion against her positive thinking mother.
  • Break the Haughty: This is the central trope of nearly every single O'Connor story and novel, and—in her theology—one of God's central missions concerning us. It would be easier to list her works that don't open with a proud, absurdly self-concerned protagonist, and that don't end with the same protagonist broken, pitiful, and ridiculous, maybe even dying or dead.
  • Cosmic Horror Story: Her work suggests that God's grace is vital to human nature and the human soul, but can also be horrifying from a human perspective, even dangerous to one's sanity. It draws on implications in Judeo-Christian scripture (fully orthodox implications, moreover) that can make God seem almost Lovecraftian.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: The Misfit in "A Good Man is Hard to Find."
  • Deadpan Snarker: Flannery O'Connor herself, as well as many of her characters.
  • Death Equals Redemption: From the woman herself: "Lots of people die in my stories, but nobody gets hurt."
  • Deep South: Only one of O'Connor's stories takes place outside the South, and the main characters of that one are transplanted Southerners anyway.
  • Dirty Old Man: George Poker Sash in "A Late Encounter with the Enemy" is one of these, being overfond of the 'beautiful guls' who'd fawned over him at the movie premiere he'd attended years earlier.
  • Dumb Is Good: "Everything That Rises Must Converge" deals with a conflict between an "enlightened" young man and his more down-to-earth mother. The young man turns out to be an infantile hypocrite who justifies his pettiness with his "education." Some Values Dissonance may come into play, too, since the relatively sympathetic mother happens to be pretty blatantly racist.
    • YMMV: The mother's racism is not downplayed or excused, and readers can understand why her son finds her difficult to deal with.
    • "The Enduring Chill" is similar, but Asbury is a fairly obvious poser even within his own social circle and his mother's reactionary attitudes are much less severe. Both are actually a lot more sympathetic than their counterparts in "Everything That Rises Must Converge".
  • Enfant Terrible: There are so many dreadful little monsters in her short stories Steal from you? check. Burn down your farm? check. Talk your son into hanging himself? brrr. check.
  • Esoteric Happy Ending: O'Connor famously insisted that she was a writer of comedies. Yes, her protagonists have a habit of losing everything they ever thought they needed or valued—their possessions, their dignity, their self-image, even their lives. They may end up ridiculous, humiliated, wounded or dying ... but stripped of all false dignity, self-deception, and internal barricades, open at last to the onslaught of God's grace.
  • Hollywood Atheist: There are a few of these in her work, to the point where you know that any character who's got more than a high school education is almost certain to get a serious dose of Break the Haughty by the end.
  • Incurable Cough of Death: Subverted in "The Enduring Chill". Joke's on you, Asbury.
  • Infant Immortality: Though "offscreen," this is subverted in "A Good Man Is Hard To Find." Three times.
    • Also subverted in "A View of the Woods" and "The Lame Shall Enter First".
  • It's All About Me: Julian in "Everything That Rises Must Converge" is a hypocritical version of this. His concern for equal rights is purely about getting back at his mother.
  • Kill 'em All: "A Good Man Is Hard To Find," natch.
  • Know-Nothing Know-It-All: Julian in "Everything That Rises Must Converge" fancies himself to be well-educated, but has a narrow, closed-off view of the world that prevents him from doing anything with that education.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Mrs May in "Greenleaf" is annoyed by her neighbour's bull and when it escapes onto her property, she orders its owner to kill it. He doesn't kill it, and much to Mrs May's surprise, it gores her to death.
  • Man-Child: Julian in "Everything That Rises Must Convierge" and Asbury in "The Enduring Chill." Despite their education, they seem petulant and childishly dependent on the mothers they resent.
  • Meaningful Name: A good many of her characters have symbolic names; some subtle, many blatantly so.
  • My Beloved Smother: Asbury's mother in "The Enduring Chill": so much so that he is disappointed when he learns that he is not mortally ill but will live the rest of his life as a semi-invalid.
  • N-Word Privileges: Prolific use of the n-word in dialogue, but as a realistic depiction of the vernacular of the era and region. Even makes the title of one of her short stories ("The Artificial Nigger").
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: As Tarwater in The Violent Bear It Away will testify.
  • Redemption Equals Death: In "A Good Man is Hard to Find," the grandmother in a genuine moment of kindness calls the Misfit one of her own children and touches him on the shoulder. He immediately shoots her in the chest three times. Seeing as she may have died in a state of grace, however, this may also be an example of Death Equals Redemption.
  • Right-Hand Cat: Pitty Sing, the grandmother's cat, becomes this to the Misfit at the end of "A Good Man is Hard to Find."
  • Proper Lady: Subverted in several stories. A number of middle class matrons such as Mrs. Turpin in "Revelation" and the grandmother in "A Good Man is Hard to Find" sees themselves as this, but they are clearly smug and hypocritical.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Averted in "A Good Man Is Hard To Find". The family introduced at the beginning of the story is all dead by the end of it, but it's implied that the grandmother at least went to her death in a state of grace, so from the religious point of view, the pointlessness implied by this trope is entirely averted.
  • Spoiled Brat: John Wesley and June Starr in "A Good Man is Hard to Find." (Just try to think of two more rude or hateful children in literature.)
  • Talking Your Way Out: How the grandmother tries to save herself in "A Good Man is Hard to Find."
  • What the Hell, Hero?: In "The Lame Shall Enter First", the widowed main character, a cold, unsympathetic, rationalist Hypocrite, brings a charismatic, teenaged, club-footed tearaway Soul Saver into his own home, and treats the kid with more respect than he treats his own numb-with-grief son. Big mistake, pal. The kid with the club foot persuades the protagonist's son to join mommy in heaven.