Three Common Themes


Three Common Themes Essay, Research Paper

Three Common Themes

Flannery O=Connor tends to use similar themes in her short stories. There are three common themes in her short stories AEverything That Rises Must Converge@, AGood Country People@ and AA Good Man is Hard to Find”. The transition between the old south and the new is present in each of Flannery O=Connor=s three short stories discussed. Flannery O=Connor also strongly emphasizes the mother-child relationship in her three short stories. Finally in Flannery O=Connor=s work, there is a common theme where there is a form of evil that changes the lives of the main characters in her stories forever. Themes help a story flow and Flannery O Connor choose to use similar themes in each of her short stories. These interpretations fit into how O’Connor chose to write her pieces of work.

The short story AEverything That Rises Must Converge@, by Flannery O=Connor tells the story of Julian, the main character and his thoughts and feelings toward his mother. Julian is a college graduate who has a fair understanding of the world he lives in, and because of this finds difficulty dealing with his mother and her views of the world. The plot of the story revolves around a bus trip that Julian and his mother take. Once a week, Julian=s mother goes to the local Y for her “reducing” class. Julian accompanies her on the bus ride over and back because she is uncomfortable riding alone since the buses have been integrated. The ride is nothing more than a necessary evil to him; it is seen as a time in which he would be “sacrificed to her pleasure.” In Good Country People , by Flannery O Connor, Manley Pointer, a traveling Bible salesman, visits the Cedars, home to Mrs. Hopewell and her daughter Joy, who has renamed herself Hulga to spite her mother. Pointer s visit brings the arrogant, disdainful young woman to a climactic point in her life where she must acknowledge that she isn t as smart as she thought. A Good Man is Hard to Find is about a grandmother, her son and his wife, and their son and daughter arguing about their ultimate destination for a car trip. A brutal killer, the Misfit, is at large. As the result of a side trip urged by the grandmother and the cat she has smuggled along, the car crashes, and the family falls into the killer s hands. As each family member is executed, the killer talks about his history and philosophical and religious beliefs. The grandmother tries to convince the killer to believe in Jesus until she, too, is shot.

The transition between the old south and the new is present in each of Flannery O=Connor=s three short stories discussed. In “A Good Man is Hard to Find” and “Good Country People,” a change from the old south to the new south is quite evident. O’Connor uses these stories to show the differences between the old and new south and to voice her disapproval as to what the south was becoming. What upset O’Connor about the new south can be shown by carefully examining and interpreting these stories. In the story “A Good Man is Hard to Find”, O’Connor uses many different characters as representatives of different generations in the same family and uses these generations as examples of the change from the old to the new south. O’Connor uses the main character of the grandmother to represent what the south once was. One of the characteristics of the old south that the grandmother displays, is the need to keep herself looking like a lady. For instance, O’Connor writes; Her collars and cuffs were white organdy trimmed with lace and at her neckline she had pinned a purple spray of cloth violets containing a sachet. In case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady. By giving the grandmother the great need to be dressed like a lady, O’Connor makes this character a throwback to a time of white gloves, flowered hats, and women always wearing dresses. Situations like this firmly place the grandmother in a very old south role.

Contrary to the role of the grandmother, O’Connor uses the person she recognizes as the children’s mother to show what the south was becoming; Bailey didn’t look up from his reading so she wheeled around then and faced the children’s mother, a young woman in slacks, whose face was as broad and innocent as a cabbage and was tied around with a green head-kerchief that had two points on the top like rabbit’s ears. The main characteristics of the new south are shown in the dress of the children’s mother. A lady of the old south would never wear slacks and tie her hair up in a head-kerchief and go out in public. Under an old south mentality these actions would be considered very unlady like. O’Connor reveals her own dissatisfaction for this new south character in the way that she describes the children’s mother. First, O’Connor only refers to her as the children’s mother, by not giving this character a name O’Connor shows some amount of contempt for her. Second, O’Connor uses the description of a cabbage and a rabbit when describing the children’s mother. The use of such unflattering terms is another way that O’Connor shows contempt for the new south. Finally, the tone of the language that O’Connor uses when talking about the children’s mother must be examined. For example, the grandmother “wheeled” around to face the children’s mother. The use of the verb “wheeled” connotates a negative meaning in the way that the grandmother looked at the children’s mother. O’Connor makes it sound as if the grandmother could have killed the children’s mother just by turning to face her. The third generation in “A Good Man is Hard to Find” is represented by the two children John Wesley and June Star. O’Connor basically characterizes these two children as nothing more than selfish brats. For example, O’Connor writes; When there was nothing else to do they played a game by choosing a cloud and making the other guess what shape it suggested. John Wesley took one the shape of a cow and June Star guessed a cow and John Wesley said, no, a automobile, and June Star said he didn’t play fair, and they began to slap each other over the grandmother. O’Connor’s characterization of the children as brats further reinforces her disapproval of the new south. O’Connor makes these characters so self destructive that it seems impossible for them to survive. This characterization also shows the lack of hope that O’Connor felt for the south. O’Connor gives the children no hope for the future, thus no future.

In the story “Good Country People” O’Connor uses the roles of a mother and her daughter to represent the differences in the old and new south. The representative of the old south in this story is the mother Mrs. Hopewell. In order to portray the old south in Mrs. Hopewell, O’Connor writes; “Mrs. Hopewell could not understand deliberate rudeness, although she lived with it, and she felt she had always to overflow with hospitality to make up for Joy’s lack of courtesy.” Mrs. Hopewell’s intense display of politeness is another way that O’Connor instills her character with a very old south mentality. A much different role is played by the daughter Hulga [Joy]. Several traits of Hulga’s show how O’Connor instills her with ideas of the new south. “When Hulga stumped into the kitchen in the morning (she could walk without making the awful noise but she made it – Mrs. Hopewell was certain because it was ugly sounding), she glanced at them and did not speak. A lady with any regard for old south manners would never “stump around” when walking and even if she had to “stump around” she would at least apologize for her actions. Another trait that separates Hulga from the old south is the fact that she has a college degree. In the time the story was set not many women had college degrees. “Mrs. Hopewell thought it was nice for girls to go to school to have a good time but Joy [Hulga] had ‘gone through. For Hulga to actually get a college degree just reinforces her place in the new south. Another way that O’Connor shows her disapproval for the new south is when Hulga changes her name from Joy to Hulga. The beautiful sounding name Joy represents the old south and the name change symbolizes a change from the old to the new south. Miss O’Connor gives her the very ugly sounding name Hulga to represent a new south that she really does not care for. O’Connor expands on her dissatisfaction for this character through the word usage she uses when describing Hulga. It was said that Hulga “stumped” around the house even though she really didn’t need to. The verb “stumped” once again draws up a negative meaning. Since Hulga is the character that represents the old south in the story and since O’Connor has portrayed her in a very dark manner, it can be assumed that O’Connor does harbor a good deal of ill feelings towards the new south. Another example of the transition of time is evident of Julian’s mother in “Everything That Rises Must Converge.” She glorifies the fact that her grandfather was a plantation owner with one hundred slaves and dismisses the plights of blacks by saying, AThey should rise, yes, but on their own side of the fence@. It is clear that his mother has difficulty dealing with the changes of today=s current society. Evidence that times have changed is given by the fact that the colored woman sitting on the bus was wearing the same hat Julian=s mother was wearing. This indicates that not only white women of statue now wear big hats. Julian=s mother is put in her place when the woman with the big hat refuses her charity of a penny to her little boy. Julian has a lot to offer to his mother in how the new world is changing, and his mother can teach him the history of her life. However because both are so stuck in their ways, they don=t to listen to each other and take learning experiences from each other. Rather than dividing along color lines as does his mother, Julian separates by class. This observation shows two things; one is the connection between racism and “classism” and the other is the connection between Julian and his mother. Flannery O’Connor uses many different ideas to show change between the two souths. In all three stories she uses completely different characters to show the same theories. By interpreting the descriptions of O’Connor’s characters and by analyzing the tone that she takes when dealing with the characters a strong sense of disapproval for the new south can be seen.

Flannery O Connor also strongly emphasizes the mother-child relationship in her three short stories. In Everything That Rises Must Converge, the relationship between Julian and his mother is the main focal point of the story. Julian his entire life has been spoiled by his mother. She has done everything in her power to make Julian s life more comfortable, many times sacrificing things for herself even. Julian has taken advantage of his mother his entire life and never has given her the respect she deserved. He makes it a point opposing his mother all the time and trying to bring her head down from the clouds to the harsh reality that she does not live in the plantation anymore with the slaves all around her. In spite of her racism, Julian s mother is not the ogre that her son makes her out to be. She has made many sacrifices so he can have a better life. Her hard work and sacrifice have put her son through school; she even neglected her own teeth so she could have Julian s fixed. In fact, her son is her life. She sees him as a future novelist, even though he knows that he does not have the ability to succeed. It is Julian s own selfishness that turns out to be the true destructive force in this story, not his mother s prejudice. In her dying moments she can only envision her childhood days on the plantation oblivious to world she currently lives in. Julian at that time expresses a love for his mother he d never displayed in the past. In conclusion, Julian and his mother could have learned a great deal from each other. Julian s mother could have taught him where they came from and Julian could have taught his mother what was the current state of the world they were living in. In the end Julian surpassed his disliking for his mother and found a love he was unable to express in the past. In A Good Man is Hard to Find , the grandmother is also not given the respect she deserves from her family. Her family sees her as a nuisance more than anything else. The parents pay little attention to the grandmother and when they do, they are often quite rude. The unruly children are representative of the breakdown of respect, and discipline, and are consequently a forecast of future generations. In Good Country People , the relationship between Hulga and her mother is very week. Actually, Hulga s relationship with everyone is really weak. Ever since her accident where she lost her leg, Hulga has secluded herself from everyone. Her mother has always looked at her differently since then. Mrs. Hopewell thought of her as a child though she was thirty-two years old and highly educated. She realizes that Hulga isn t totally independent even though Hulga believes she is. Due to this, Hulga has never really been given the opportunity to grow up in her mothers eyes and that has caused a lot of tension in their relationship. Hulga does feel as if she is better than everyone and it bothers her deeply that her mother cannot see that. In conclusion with this topic, Flannery O Connor uses similar techniques to write about these families and the relationships within the family.

In Flannery O=Connor=s short stories, there is a common theme where there is a form of evil that changes the lives of the main characters in her stories forever. In Good Country People Manley Pointer is the main protagonist in this story. One of Mrs. Hopewell’s favorite sayings, “Nothing is perfect”, is seen in the very beginning of the novel. Her saying was just that, a saying. The quote acts as foreshadowing for what her attitude towards life will be. We later find out that she is right, but that she does not live by her credo. Mrs. Hopewell, as the name bears, always hopes for the best but bears a weak heart when it comes to those suffering from deadly diseases. Manley Pointer, who in some regards can be considered a devil-like character, exploits her weakness in order to receive a free meal and an invitation to return to the house. Manley Pointer’s name refers to the power that he contains over, not only Mrs. Hopewell, but over Joy-Hulga. The name can also refer to the pointy tail and horns of the devil, a creature who takes advantage of one’s weaknesses for evil purposes. At the end of the story, Mrs. Hopewell considers Manley Pointer “simple. Her ignorance towards the underlying evil in the world turns out to be her greatest fault. As soon as she admits to loving Manley Pointer, the power changes hands. Before Joy-Hulga even knows it, her glasses are off and Manley has removed her leg. Physically she is broken down, but the real damage is done mentally. She knows that all control of the situation is out of her hands, and she once again feels the discomfort felt during her childhood days. “Her face was almost purple” when she discovered the true evil behind the means of Manley Pointer. In Everything That Rises Must Converge racism is the key point of conflict between the two characters. Julian detests his mother=s prejudice, which he is why the bus ride is such a burden to him. When they both board the bus, Julian hopes that an African American will be on it because he knows how uncomfortable his or her presence would make his mother. He is disappointed when the only other people on the bus are white. When an African American does get on the bus, Julian deliberately finds an excuse to start a conversation with him in order to upset his mother. After his attempt to continue the dialogue fails, Julian thinks over other ways to force his mother to come into contact with an African American so he could “teach her a lesson. Another chance arrives soon when a large black woman, wearing a hat almost identical to the one that Julian=s mother has, and her young son get on the bus. The woman seats herself next to Julian, and the young boy takes the seat next to Julian=s mother. This development disappoints Julian because he knows his mother likes all children, no matter what the color of their skin. The only solace he has is the fact that the two women are wearing the matching hats, but his mother=s fondness for the child wipes away the smugness that he feels. When the bus comes to a stop, both sets of mothers and sons get up to depart. Julian=s mother begins to sort through her purse in order to find a nickel to give to the child and panic overtakes her son. She can only find a penny, and despite Julian=s protests, she offers it to the small boy. Angered by the shallow gesture, the woman shouts at Julian=s mother, strikes her with her purse, and storms off. This incident shocks Julian=s mother, and she demands to go home. Julian decides that this is the perfect moment to deliver the stern lecture that his mother needs so she can fully learn her lesson. Before the two of them get very far, Julian=s mother collapses. Thinking that this is just another example of her immaturity, Julian continues to lecture. When she starts talking about people who are no longer alive, Julian then realizes that his mother has had a stroke that has most probably killed her. The evil in this story is the that lack of communication between Julian and his mother and her racism towards the outside world. These problems were eventually the cause of her death. The setting of the story, A Good Man is Hard to Find, shows us how much tragedy can change a person. The grandmothers attitude changes completely when the family s car flips over on the way to the house with the six white columns. First, she is afraid to tell her son that she was mistaken because of her fear of his anger, and later, because they are under the mercy of the Misfit who finds them. The Grandmother s soul fills with fear when she finds out who the Misfit really is, and that their situation is worsening by the minute. She is now worried about her family. All of the racist comments, all comparisons, and the idea of being better than the less fortunate become fear of death. I agree that any human being would do and say the same things she did to try and save her family, but in her case the change significant. As the Misfit orders his friend to kill her family, the Grandmother realizes how powerless and insignificant she is. The world is inherently evil, and whether one knows it or not there is no such thing as a faultless person. Everyone contains a weakness of some sort. The world is not a simple place, and humans are not simple creatures.

Personally I thought the mother-child relationship was the most interesting of the three themes discussed. Flannery O Connor really has a way of expressing her feelings on this subject. I think there might have been a problem with her and her mother while she was growing up and writing about it in her stories is a way for her to express herself and let loose. I feel that she is trying to show readers her life, by portraying it in her stories and by this she also comes to peace with her problems.

Flannery O Connor definitely has a way with writing. She is able to capture a readers mind in such a short amount of time. The way she writes actually allows readers to put themselves into the shoes of the main characters and live out their lives throughout the story. I feel that is the most amazing fact about Flannery O Connor. These stories all had common themes between them. The transition between the old south and the new is present in each of Flannery O=Connor=s three short stories discussed. Flannery O=Connor also strongly emphasizes the mother-child relationship in her three short stories. Finally in Flannery O=Connor=s work, there is a common theme where there is a form of evil that changes the lives of the main characters in her stories forever. The fiction of Flannery O’Connor reflects a Christian perspective on human behavior, as she often uses violence to portray evil and to emphasize the need for redemption. O’Connor’s characters are odd and unsympathetic, but they tend to evoke an uncomfortable acknowledgment of the reader’s own imperfections.

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