"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 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
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,"
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.
- Cosmic Horror Story: The ethos behind her work, that Faith can be horrifying and even damaging to Human sanity and yet is vital to the survival of the Human Spirit actually manages to turn Christianity itself into something that's almost Lovecraftian.
- 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.
- 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.
- 8 "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.
- Executive Meddling: One of the only adaptations of her work O'Connor got to view first-hand in her lifetime was a dramatized version of the short story "The Life You Save May Be Your Own" on CBS's Schlitz Playhouse. Between the horrible miscasting of Gene Kelly(!) as the lead, and the revision of the ending to make it more palatable, it was a sure bet O'Connor would be mortified. "The best thing I can say is that it conceivably could have been worse," she wrote to a friend. "Just conceivably."
- Fail O Sucky Name: 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.
- Friendless Background: Flannery herself.
- 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.
- Kill 'em All: "A Good Man Is Hard To Find," natch.
- 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, and instead it gores her to death.
- Meaningful Name: A good many of her characters have symbolic names; some subtle, many blatantly so.
- 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").
- Rei Ayanami Expy: Mrs. Freeman in "Good Country People"
- Shoot the Shaggy Dog: "A Good Man Is Hard To Find" is essentially this.
- Southern Gothic