How Religion Has Influenced Flannery O'Connor's Writing

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How Religion Has Influenced Flannery O'connor's Writing


Flannery O'Connor is uncharacteristic of her age. In writing about the pervasive disbelief in the Christian mysteries during contemporary times, O'Connor seems better suited to the Middle Ages in her rather old-fashioned and conventional Catholic and Christian conviction that the central issue in human existence is salvation through Christ. Perhaps the recognition that such conviction in the postmodern world is rapidly fading and may soon be lost makes O'Connor's concerns for the spiritual realm, what she called the “added dimension” in her essay entitled “The Church and the Fiction Writer,” more attractive for a dubious audience O'Connor, p.465).

Discussion and Analysis

O'Connor completed thirty-one short stories and two novels, she is best remembered for nearly a dozen works of short fiction. These major stories may be classified as typical O'Connor short stories for a number of reasons. Each story concerns a proud protagonist, usually a woman, who considers herself beyond reproach and is boastful about her own abilities, her Christian goodness, and her property and possessions. Each central character has hidden fears that are brought to surface through an outsider figure, who serves as a catalyst to initiate a change in the protagonist's perception. O'Connor's primary theme, from her earliest to her last stories, is hubris that is, overweening pride and arrogance and the characters' arrogance very often take on a spiritual dimension (Welty, p.1326).

Closely connected with the theme of hubris is the enactment of God's grace (or Christian salvation). In an essay entitled “A Reasonable Use of the Unreasonable,” O'Connor states that her stories are about “the action of grace in territory held largely by the devil” and points out that the most significant part of her stories is the “moment” or “action of grace,” when the protagonist is confronted with her own humanity and offered, through an ironic agent of God (an outsider) and, usually through violence, one last chance at salvation. O'Connor's protagonists think so highly of themselves that they are unable to recognize their own fallenness because of Original Sin, so the characters typically are brought to an awareness of their humanity (and their sinfulness) through violent confrontations with outsider figures (Martin, p.34).

O'Connor's stories take place in the South and the reader is taken to a time and a place in American history when the Civil Rights movement was at its peak. Flannery O'Connor's stories were, and continue to be criticized for using derogatory language towards African Americans. Whether O'Connor was a racist herself is still being debated among literary circles and scholars alike. While race is a focal point in some of her stories, Flannery O'Connor did not take an apparent stand on the Civil Rights movement that was underfoot. She wrote the South as it was, and her character's emulated racial remarks in their dialogue as her contemporary common-folk did (O'Connor, p.465).

Many people reading O'Connor for the first time don't realize that all of her works are rooted in Catholicism. She comes from school of Catholic writers at the time which ...
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