The Unique Style of Flannery O’Connor’s Stories
Flannery O’Connor was one of the most original and provocative writers of the twentieth century. Her work, which includes both novels and short stories, is renowned for its comic shock value as well as its profound insight into human nature. Although O’Connor always insisted that she was a regional writer whose primary concern was to capture the flavor of the American South, her work has resonated with readers around the world.
O’Connor was born in Savannah, Georgia, in 1925. She grew up on a family farm, Andalusia, outside of Milledgeville, Georgia. O’Connor was a devout Catholic and remained so throughout her life. In 1945, she entered the University of Iowa, where she studied journalism and began to write fiction. Her first published story, “The Geranium,” appeared in Accent, a literary magazine, in 1947.
After graduating from Iowa in 1947, O’Connor attended the Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa. There she met and became friends with several other aspiring writers, including John Hawkes and Robert Lowell. She also met and fell in love with another student, Edward Fitzgerald Beale (known as “Fitzgerald”), whom she later married.
In 1949, O’Connor was diagnosed with lupus erythematosus, a chronic autoimmune disease that attacks the body’s organs and tissues. The disease eventually caused paralysis in her legs and hands. Despite her illness, O’Connor continued to write and even completed a novel, Wise Blood (1952), before moving back to Andalusia to live with her mother.
Although Wise Blood was not a commercial success, it did garner some critical acclaim. In 1953, O’Connor was awarded the prestigious “Rising Star” Award from the Southern Literary Festival. She also won a Fellowship from the National Institute of Arts and Letters that same year.
O’Connor continued to write short stories throughout the 1950s. Many of these stories were collected in A Good Man Is Hard to Find (1955) and Everything That Rises Must Converge (1965). In 1960, she published The Violent Bear It Away, her second novel.
O’Connor died of lupus erythematosus on August 3, 1964 at the age of 39. After her death, two collections of her previously unpublished work were released: The Complete Stories (1971) and Mystery and Manners (1969). Today, O’Connor is considered one of America’s most important short story writers.
Flannery O’Connor’s short stories are famous for their often grotesque characters as well as their sharp social commentary. Many of O’Connor’s stories deal with racial issues in the American South during the 1950s and 1960s. In “The Artificial Nigger,” a white man named Mr. head takes his young grandson on a journey into Atlanta ostensibly to see the city but really to teach him a lesson about racial pride. Likewise, “Everything That Rises Must Converge” deals with a son’s efforts to help his racially insensitive mother adapt to the changing social landscape of the early 1960s South. However, perhaps O’Connor’s most famous story is “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” which tells the story of a family’s vacation gone awry when they encounter a sociopathic killer known as The Misfit.
O’Connor’s stories are often comic, even while they deal with serious topics. This is perhaps best exemplified in “Good Country People,” the story of Hulga Hopewell, a young woman who has lost her leg in a hunting accident and now views the world with a cynical eye. Hulga is tricked by a Bible salesman who steals her wooden leg, leading her to realize that she knows nothing about the true nature of people. O’Connor uses dark humor to explore the characters’ sense of isolation as well as the hypocrisy and ignorance that can be found in even the most seemingly pious people.
Although Flannery O’Connor wrote during a time when racial segregation was still legally mandated in many parts of the United States, her stories often deal with the issue of race obliquely. In “Greenleaf,” for example, Mrs. May is a white landowner who hires an African American farmhand named Mr. Greenleaf to work on her property. At first, Mrs. May is uncomfortable with Mr. Greenleaf but eventually comes to see him as a human being, not just a black man. The story ends with a shocking twist that reveals Mrs. May’s own prejudice.
O’Connor’s stories are known for their ability to shock and surprise readers. However, beneath the surface humor and violence, O’Connor’s stories are actually quite moralistic. In many of her stories, characters experience a moment of grace that changes their lives forever. In “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” for example, the killer The Misfit has a moment of clarity in which he realizes that killing is wrong and that he wants to be a good man. However, it is too late for him to change his ways and he ends up killing the family anyway. In “The Life You Save May Be Your Own,” an old man named Tom Shiftlet comes to realize that he does not want to marry the disabled girl he has been living with and abandons her at a roadside café. As he drives away, he has a vision of Christ on the cross and realizes that he has committed a great sin. These moments of grace are often unexpected and serve to highlight the human capacity for change and redemption.
Flannery O’Connor was a master of the short story form and her works continue to be popular among readers today. O’Connor’s stories offer a unique blend of comedy and tragedy, often using shocking or violent events to make profound statements about human nature and the human condition.
What sets Flannery O’Connor’s stories apart from those of other writers is her distinctive style. O’Connor often uses grotesque or comic characters to make serious points about society and human nature. In addition, her stories often end with a moment of grace or redemption that highlights the possibility of change. These elements combine to create stories that are both entertaining and thought-provoking, making them timeless classics of modern literature.