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The Ironies of Religious Hypocrisy in O’Connor’s Short Stories

Flannery O’Connor has a distinctive way of shocking readers about the underlying morale of her stories through their dark and unsettling endings. Sources argue that O’Connor’s sense of twisted understanding of receiving grace can be related to her knowledge of her impending death from lupus, at a time of her life when she is also receiving God’s blessings (Folks 107; Galloway). With knowledge of her coming death, O’Connor has become more conscious of people’s humanity and the choices they make to assert or corrode their humanness (Folks 107).

O’Connor’s short stories, “Everything That Rises Must Converge” and “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” narrate two forms of receiving grace or understanding of one’s conditions in unusual conditions. O’Connor uses irony and “less is more” prose as her writing style and symbols of physical appearance, as the standard of one’s culture and social status, to represent the theme of religious hypocrisy that the grandmother and Julian’s mother portray, wherein the ultimate irony is that they receive “grace” at the exact moment of their deaths.

O’Connor uses “less is more” prose as her writing style in “Everything That Rises Must Converge” and “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” although she writes even “less” in the latter. In “Everything That Rises Must Converge,” O’Connor provides the perspective of Julian, a college-graduate and young man, who has had enough of his self-righteous mother. She provides more detail in this story by giving illustrating what Julian thinks about his mother, which he cannot tell her upfront.

Through this firsthand view of Julian’s thoughts, O’Connor allows readers to absorb Julian’s silent rage for a mother, who he cannot entirely despise or love. Even in the beginning, it is clear that Julian is tired of his mother’s bad attitude and immoral values, but he cannot do anything about it, because he is indebted to his mother: “Julian did not like to consider all she did for him, but every Wednesday night he braced himself and took her” (O’Connor). But Julian cannot remain sane and respect his mother at the same time; he also needs an outlet and his creative imagination is his sanctuary.

O’Connor provides great detail on what goes on inside Julian’s mind: “At that moment he could with pleasure have slapped her as he would have slapped a particularly obnoxious child in his charge. ” Julian feels trapped in his life for having a mother he cannot bear to be with, but his conscience knows that he cannot leave her too. He can only slap sense into her in the corners of his mind. In “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” readers cannot grasp the same kind of detailed thoughts from Bailey, the grandmother’s son.

Readers can only infer from Bailey’s words and actions that like Julian, he is angry with his mother’s old world attitude. For instance, when the grandmother asks Bailey to let them see the old plantation with a secret panel, O’Connor describes Bailey’s actions: “Bailey was looking straight ahead. His jaw was as rigid as a horseshoe. ” This statement defines the wild anger seething inside Bailey. He is also upset that his mother is trying to control their journey. When he looks straight ahead, like Justin, he is also trying to mentally block his annoyance with his mother.

For both stories, O’Connor amply applies the terseness of prose in order to relay more meaning about the characters and the stories’ theme. For instance, the childlike actions of grandmother and Julian’s mother reveal their spiritual and psychological immaturity. In “Everything That Rises Must Converge,” O’Connor depicts this as Julian’s mother tries her hat and says: “Maybe I shouldn’t have paid that for it. No, I shouldn’t have. I’ll take it off and return it tomorrow. I shouldn’t have bought it” (O’Connor). This is a woman who cannot make up her mind and stand for it.

This is also the same woman who thinks so highly of herself: “…but I can be gracious to anybody. I know who I am” (O’Connor). The grandmother is also like Julian’s mother who lives in her ancient and “fantastical” world. She often thinks about the past and its beauties: “Outside of Toombsboro she woke up and recalled an old plantation that she had visited in this neighborhood once when she was a young lady…where you sat down with your suitor after a stroll in the garden” (O’Connor). Grandmother is too engrossed in the old world that she has no longer evolved to fit the new world.

O’Connor uses sufficient irony to express religious hypocrisy. The characters embody people who are unbelievable and believable at the same time: “In Miss O’Connor’s vision of modern man-a vision not limited to Southern rural humanity-all her characters are ‘dis-placed persons’… ‘off center, out of place’” (Gordon cited in Friedman 236). In “Everything That Rises Must Converge,” there is dramatic irony in how Julian’s mother keeps on emphasizing that her toil made it possible for Julian to become who he is now.

She even attributes this to her sense of Christianity, wherein she holds herself high. Julian lets the readers know better: “The further irony of all this was that in spite of her, he had turned out so well. In spite of going to only a third-rate college, he…come out with a first-rate education; in spite of growing up dominated by a small mind, he had ended up with a large one” (O’Connor). There is also verbal irony when his mother keeps on saying that she knows who she is, when she does not. She does not know the full extent of her ignorance, which is also a dramatic irony.

What is most paradoxical is that she keeps on stressing who she is by her looks, which is why she buys an expensive hat, even if it looks horrible. For “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” it is also ironic that grandmother is overly concerned of her looks and the environment, but ignores her moral depravity. When she sees a black child, she calls her disparagingly as a “pickaninny,” and yet she has the decency to dress well for travelling and to be environmentally conscious: “…the grandmother ate a peanut butter sandwich and an olive and would not let the children throw the box and the paper napkins out the window” (O’Connor).

Grandmother believes she is a good Christian by doing outward things that do nothing for her soul. O’Connor uses symbols of physical appearance as the standard of one’s culture and social status to represent the theme of religious hypocrisy that the grandmother and Julian’s mother depict, wherein the ultimate irony is that they receive grace at the exact moment of their deaths. Grandmother and Julian’s mother are excessively concerned of their physical appearance. For them, that is how they remind people of their culture and social status.

Grandmother thinks: “In case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady” (O’Connor). Julian’s mother also feels the same way, that she has a higher class over that of the black people: “She entered with a little smile, as if she were going into a drawing room where everyone had been waiting for her” (O’Connor). She feels as if she is still that young lady surrounded by black slaves, ready to be gracious to others. The grandmother also uses her graciousness to look down on people.

She keeps on telling people that they are “good,” because deep inside her, she wants them to recognize that she is the one who is good. She also calls the Misfit a “good man. ” She tells the Misfit, when she realizes that she is next to be shot: “You’ve got good blood! I know you wouldn’t shoot a lady! I know you come from nice people! Pray! Jesus, you ought not to shoot a lady” (O’Connor). Readers know that the Misfit is evil, however, and he would shoot the old lady anytime, but not just so suddenly.

When the Misfit kills grandmother, he says: “She would of been a good woman, if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life” (O’Connor). That is exactly the point- grandmother is not a good woman and when she realizes this, she tells the Misfit: “Why you’re one of my babies. You’re one of my own children! ” This realization is symbolical that she has received the grace that she is also like the Misfit- sinful and a misfit to the new and free society. She has received the grace that she is no better than the black people she looks down on.

The same can be said with Julian’s mother. By the time she realizes that the world has changed, but she has not, she already dies: “One eye, large and staring, moved slightly to the left as if it had become unmoored. The other remained fixed on him, raked his face again, found nothing and closed” O’Connor). At this point, Julian’s mother has realized that she has being living on a fake cloud 9. She is a farce and not a lady. She is the farce of humanity, like the grandmother, because she has not fully understood that black people are human beings too, who can buy the same things that she can.

O’Connor tells the readers about the religious hypocrisy of two Southern women. These are women who evaluate their status and that of other’s by their looks and skin. They believe that they are “ladies” and good Christians. Instead, their sons abhor them and would have nothing to do with them, if not for their sense of gratitude. Their readers will also come to detest them for their moral and spiritual incompetence. Without detailed prose, O’Connor captures the idea of women who mock others, when they are the ones who should be mocked.

Through irony, she portrays caricatures of sanctimonious Christians who forgot their humanity, because of their obsession for their physical looks and ignorant past. Through the symbols of these women’s clothing, they render the importance of receiving grace from inside, not outside. In the end, O’Connor leaves the final and grotesque impression- receiving grace at one’s death is the most horrible kind of death, for it leaves no space for redemption. Works cited Folks, Jeffrey J. “Telos and Existence: Ethics in C. S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy and Flannery O’Connor’s Everything That Rises Must Converge.

” The Southern Literary Journal 35. 2 (2003): 107-118. Friedman, Melvin J. “Flannery O’Connor: Another Legend in Southern Fiction. ” The English Journal 51. 4 (1962): 233-243. Galloway, Patrick. The Dark Side of the Cross: Flannery O’Connor’s Short Fiction. 1996. Web. 3 Aug. 2010 <http://www. cyberpat. com/essays/flan. html>. O’Connor, Flannery. A Good Man Is Hard To Find. Web. 3 Aug. 2010 < http://pegasus. cc. ucf. edu/~surette/goodman. html>. O’Connor, Flannery. Everything That Rises Must Converge. Web. 3 Aug. 2010 <http://wings. buffalo. edu/AandL/english/courses/eng201d/converge. html>.

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