Flannery O’Connor and The Displaced Person
Described as a strong but humble person and an excellent writer by her most prominent editor, Robert Giroux, Flannery O’Connor exhibits many personal and spiritual conflicts and traits in her stories (O’Connor,1971, p. viii). As a Catholic she inserts some Catholic themes into her stories as well. O’Connor, with extreme talent, utilizes literary devices to obtain the effects she wants on the reader. The characters tend to struggle with spiritual goals and their own sense of morality against their domestic goals. The Displaced Person is no exception.
A few Catholic themes are fiercely referred to within the storyline. The main protagonist, Mrs. McIntyre, is continuously visited by a priest who convinces her to hire a Polish man to work her farm. This man, Mr. Guizac, brings his family with him from a troubled country, Poland, where they had endured great hardship before running to America. But O’Connor reveals that the priest has further intentions for Mrs. McIntyre. With each visit the priest enters doctrines into his conversations with Mrs. McIntyre. A running Catholic theme about Purgatory and death remains at the priest’s side with each visit.
This aggravates Mrs. McIntyre very much. “The priest,…had been talking for ten minutes about Purgatory while Mrs. McIntyre squinted furiously at him from an opposite chair” (O’Connor,1971,p. 224). It is as if he is attempting to convert her. With the comment, “After he had got her the Pole, he had used the business introduction to try to convert her—just as she had supposed he would “ (O’Connor,1971, p. 225), O’Connor makes reference to the stereotype that Catholics are most interested in swelling the congregation. The priest is relentless in his pursuit.
After months of trying he still was “…forcing a little definition of one of the sacraments or of some dogma into every conversation he had…” (O’Connor,1971, p. 229). Even after Mrs. McIntyre falls ill and is confined to her bed, “Not many people remembered to come out to the country to see her except the old priest…he would come in and sit by the side of her bed and explain the doctrines of the church” (O’Connor, 1971, p. 235). So, the priest remained vigilant in saving her soul. However, the priest is also a reminder to make moral decisions.
When Mrs. McIntyre thinks of firing the Pole because she no longer trusts him the priest reminds her that the man is working hard and that he has nowhere to go, further commenting on her character by saying,”…I know you well enough to know you wouldn’t turn him out…” (O’Connor, 1971, p. 225-6). Catholic guilt is another theme that O’Connor exhibits when the priest intends with the previous statement to make Mrs. McIntyre feel guilty about firing the Pole. Then in a later visit when Mrs. McIntyre insists that she has no legal obligation to keep the displaced Pole, the priest agrees but reminds her of moral obligations.
Thus displaying another Catholic theme, choosing God’s greater good over the good. O’Connor further expands on these themes, using literary devices to make the reader aware. She uses several characters to show the different spectrums of human behavior. Each character has a function on the farm, not only a physical function, but a social function. Mrs. Shortley is the informant. She observes, makes conclusions and decides how her family should react. When she overhears that Mrs. McIntyre will fire her husband, she rushes to pack their things and the family follows suit without question.
After all, “Mr. Shortley had never in his life doubted her omniscience” (O’Connor,1971, p. 212). Mrs. Shortley would further make use of her skilled observance and great listening skills by explaining her observations to others when she wanted a specific reaction from them. For example, she attempted to convince Mrs. Shortley to fire Mr. Guizac by revealing information she had extracted from the daughter, that they were going to leave as soon as they could afford an automobile. Mrs. Shortley continues to remark about their untrustworthiness and the fact that they are foreign.
Finally, using words that had been previously spoken by Mrs. McIntyre’s first and revered husband, the Judge, Mrs. Shortley says of the Displaced Person, “The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t” (O’Connor,1971, p. 208). In this Mrs. Shortley knows Mrs. McIntyre will listen since the words are words spoken by her beloved dead husband, and referring to the Pole this way, Mrs. Shortley reminds Mrs. McIntyre to be watchful of the stranger. Mrs. Shortley spent her time listening to everyone on the farm in order to gather information and use it to obtain the life she wanted.
This led to her forming a friendly bond with the matron. After hearing of her death, Mrs. McIntyre realizes “all at once that it had been Mrs. Shortley she had been missing. She had had no one to talk to since Mrs. Shortley left…It took Mrs. McIntyre three days to get over Mrs. Shortley’s death. She told herself that anyone would have thought they were kin” (O’Connor,1971, p. 226-7). In this the reader realizes the depth of the bond Mrs. Shortley had inadvertently created with the farm’s matron. Other characters play important roles too.
The old black man is the long suffering, servant who is loyal to the farm, having remained there longer than any other laborers, mourning when the Judge passed away and celebrating Mrs. McIntyre’s victories when she divorced both of her later husbands. Mr. Shortley is the farmhand that works only as much as he needs to and as slowly as he wishes. Together these characters create unspoken social rules amongst themselves. They perform their duties and do not turn against each other. The Negroes do not expose Mr.
Shortley’s whiskey still near the back reaches of the property, and Mrs. Shortley does not reveal the Negroes when they steal a young turkey or two for themselves. Even Mrs. McIntyre respects this social structure. When the Displaced Person brings the Negro boy to her with proof of a stolen young turkey, she frees the boy and tries to explain to the Pole that that is to be expected. However, by ignoring Mrs. McIntyre’s pleas that he not smoke in her barn, Mr. Shortley gives Mrs. McIntyre cause to consider firing him when she sees that the Displaced Person is such a hard worker.
Mr. Guizac is the stranger who unknowingly creates enemies by working hard and exhibiting extensive knowledge of farm equipment and machinery. Because his work ethics are commendable, Mr. Shortley’s lackadaisical attitude is more prominent and this disrupts the order of the farm as Mrs. McIntyre begins to realize the advantages of firing the other workers and keeping Mr. Guizac, her most profitable employee. These characters and their behaviors that make them who they are all play a role in the balance of the social structure on the farm, which is upset when Mr.
Guizac arrives. O’Connor foreshadows the accident that kills Mr. Guizac in the end. While watching him toil on the tractor, Mrs. McIntyre remarks that the work will be done in two days’ time, but Mrs. Shortley remarks, “…if don’t no terrible accident occur. ” (O’Connor,1971, p. 205). With this comment the reader expects a terrible accident, although this accident does not occur until the end of the story. The climax strikes the reader when Mrs. McIntyre approaches the Pole to tell him he is fired and sees him working under a small tractor with tools.
Then she notices Mr. Shortley exiting the barn on the large tractor, and even though he stops and sets the brake, because of the foreshadowing of Mrs. Shortley’s remark, the reader expects an accident and is not disappointed. The symbolism of the peacock is subtle. The peacock and its two peahens are symbols of the fading glorious life Mrs. McIntyre once lived on the farm. The Judge, her first husband “liked to see them walking around the place for he said they made him feel rich” (O’Connor, 1971, p. 218). The Judge had kept thirty of the beautiful birds, but Mrs.
McIntyre had allowed them to die out until there was only the one peacock and two hens. It seems that when the Judge was alive and well her life had been more fulfilling with riches and happiness. After his death as the years went by and she allowed the peacock brood to die out, so did her fulfillments. Mrs. McIntyre attempted love and marriage two more times, each time failing. Her riches also died out as she struggled to keep good hands on the farm who did not steal or leave without warning or demand higher wages. Thirty peacocks have become only three by the time she realizes that her life has become empty.
Once she is made aware that the Pole is not upstanding and he too is planning indiscretions behind her back, convincing the young Negro to give him money to bring back his cousin from Poland, she is flabbergasted and distraught. Mrs. McIntyre retreats to her first husband’s office and upon noticing the empty safe is enlightened to her wanting life, not only financially, but spiritually and socially as well. “When she sat with her intense constricted face turned toward the empty safe, she knew there was nobody poorer in the world than she was” (O’Connor, 1971, p221).
To the priest the peacocks seem to symbolize the magnificence of the Lord Himself. The priest is fascinated with the peacocks and on many visits turns his attention to them seeming to be ignoring Mrs. McIntyre, when in fact he is relating the peacocks to the salvation the Lord has brought the world. Trying to make her see that her moral obligation to her fellow man is most important in order to be fulfilled in Christ, the priest makes remarks about the peacocks comparing them to the Lord’s Transfiguration and the coming of Jesus Christ at the end of the world to bring salvation.
But his attempts to use the peacocks to display the coming of Christ is lost on Mrs. McIntyre. Upon seeing the peacock spread his tail , the priest declares, “Christ will come like that! ” (O’Connor, 1971, p. 226). But this only proves to agitate and embarrass Mrs. McIntyre. “Christ in the conversation embarrassed her the way sex had her mother” (O’Connor,1971, p. 226). The peacocks and the shrinking of the brood are both symbols used subtly by O’Connor in the story. Flannery O’Connor creates a conflict between Mrs. McIntyre’s moral obligation to her fellow man as set by Jesus Christ who asked us to treat others as if they were Jesus Himself.
Mrs. McIntyre would certainly not turn Christ away if He came to her door, so she could not turn out the Pole and his family. However, her strong sense of patriotism and moral obligation to Mr. Shortley who had fought for her freedom and her Country in the War conflicted with this spiritual goal. Once Mrs. Shortley felt that the Pole was not pure in his intentions, she felt it necessary to fire him. The priest however, reminded her of moral obligations to her fellow man which made this a difficult decision to make. Mr. Shortley further complicated the inner struggle by reminding her of her patriotic duty to him.
As a War Veteran and a fellow American he believed he procured rights over the Pole. Mr. Shortley wanted special treatment because he had fought for their Country. Mrs. McIntyre did agree, she felt an obligation to her countrymen and the soldiers that had protected her freedom. So began her inner struggle to choose between her spiritual obligation to God and fellowman and her patriotic and personal obligation to a fellow countryman who deserved preferential treatment because of what he had accomplished in the past. Struggling with this decision to choose between two goods, began to deteriorate Mrs.
McIntyre physically and mentally. “She looked as if something was wearing her down from the inside. She was thinner and more fidgety and not as sharp as she used to be” (O’Connor, 1971, p. 230). She could not sleep and her dreams at night consisted of nothing other than the conflict between the obligation to Christ and her obligation to fellow countrymen. Mr. Shortley’s interference finally forced her to make a decision. He had used his conversational skills to convince anyone who would listen, including the entire town, that Mrs.
McIntyre was slighting him by allowing the Pole and his family to remain. “Mrs. McIntyre found that everybody in town knew Mr. Shortley’s version of her business and that everyone was critical of her conduct….. She could not stand the increasing guilt any longer…”(O’Connor, 1971, p. 233). Because of Mr. Shortley’s interference and the opinion of the townspeople, Mrs. McIntyre chose what she felt was the greater good over the good. She finally decided to fire the Pole, choosing her social goal over the spiritual goal set before her by the priest, a goal not fully embraced by Mrs.
McIntyre, explaining her choice in the end. However, as fate may have it, before she could act upon her decision, the terrible tractor accident took the life of Mr. Guizak and Mrs. McIntyre never did fire him. This irony drove Mrs. McIntyre to a nervous breakdown. She ended her days confined to bed with her sole visitor the one reminder of her decision to choose against the morality of the Lord, the priest. Citations O’Connor, Flannery. (1971). The Complete Stories. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.Sample Essay of Essayontime.com