Flannery O’Connor’s short fiction hints at the gothic, with quirky, fallen characters who often don’t find redemption or do in unexpected ways. They meet emotional, spiritual, or even physical violence, yet through those stories the reader finds their own redemptive epiphanies. Now, with the publication of her prayer journal, her Catholic faith, life, and writing are examined in “The Passion Of Flannery O’Connor” by James Parker (The Atlantic, Nov. 2013).
I suspect being a Dead White Woman has helped her escape the multi-culti cabal overseeing what is Acceptable To Teach. (Can we have an honest discussion sometime?) Her most famous story, “A Good Man Is Hard To Find” is among several still included in college textbooks. Its blazing ironic fire still rises from the fog of pedestrian reading thought canonical in 1970’s high school classrooms. (Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” still gives me chills, while J.D. Salinger’s popularly baffles me. But I digress.) I included O’Connor in my college Literature class last fall and devoted much time to her Catholicism, the essential root of her art.
O’Connor’s journal describes wanting God as the “greatest bliss.” She longed to know Him, lamenting, “I do not know you God because I am in the way.” Her stories are the outworking of her mysticism. She believed that the Word is supposed to disrupt our preconceived notions of how the world works. Her faith compelled her to portray characters who are “KO’d, dismantled, with a violence that would be absurdist, if the universe were absurd. But the universe is not absurd.”
When I read O’Connor, I feel like I’m watching an accident happen. I can’t turn away despite myself, because I’m sucked into the scene’s imagery and my own emotional response. Objectivity is futile and the tension disconcerting. Such is the state of our world and my place in it.
As an “instrument for His story,” O’Connor doesn’t allow me to remain outside creation in all its horror and absurdity. After all, God didn’t. Because, as O’Connor also says, God decided this world was worth dying for.
Lora Zill is a teaching artist with the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts
and blogs about creativity, faith and the arts at http://www.thebluecollarartist.com.
She teaches writing at Gannon University and to gifted students and
speaks at writers’ and artists’ conferences. Her nonfiction and poetry have been published widely.