OConnor attended Georgia State College for women, now Georgia College, in Milledgeville, majoring in sociology. She had showed a gift for satirical writing, as well as cartooning since she was a child. By the end of her undergraduate education, OConnor knew that writing was her true passion. She spent two years at the prestigious School for Writers at the State University of Iowa on scholarship, receiving a masters degree of fine arts in 1947 (Candee 318).
In 1950, she had a near fatal attack of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), a chronic inflammatory connective tissue disorder. hat causes periods of joint pain and fatigue, and can attack the hearts, lungs, and kidneys. Her father died of the disease when she was fifteen (Blythe 49). OConnor would have to walk with crutches for the rest of her life. By her death at the age of 39, Flannery OConnor won a prominent place in modern American literature. She was an anomaly among post-World War II writers, a Roman Catholic from the BibleBelt South, whose stated purpose was to reveal the mystery of Gods grace in everyday life.
Aware that few readers shared her faith, OConnor chose to depict salvation through shocking, often violent action upon characters who were spiritually or physically grotesque (Ryiley 334). Flannery OConnors significance as a writer is her original use of religion. Like no other short story writer, she dramatizes religious themes in her fiction stories. She is established as one of the most gifted and original fiction writers of the 20th century. “Everything That Rise must converge,” and ” Revelation” won first prize in the O. Henry awards for short stories. The Life You Save May Be Your Own” and A “Circle in the Fire” won second prize in the O. Henry awards.
“The Complete Stories of Flannery OConnor” won the National Book Award in 1971 (Bloom 145-146). O Connors work is inspired by the sense of the mystery of human nature. She tends to use good vs. evil and death to shock and startle her readers into an awareness of the theological truth of faith, the fall, the redemption, and the judgment (Riley 367). Some critics describe her writing as harsh and negative while people in the religious community wanted a happier communication of the faith.
OConnor described her characters as “poor afflicted in both mind and body, with little or at best a distorted sense of spiritual purpose”(Harris & Fitzerald 336). OConnor claims she understood the universe created by God as good and evil. In a letter to a friend, she complained about a review that called her short story collection, A Good Man is hard To Find, brutal and sarcastic. “The stories are hard,” she wrote. “But they are hard because there is nothing harder or less sentimental than Christian realism”(qtd. In Harris & Fitzerald 336).
OConnor likes to focus on the rough, often ugly memories of the place she knew best, the rural South. She saw her world as sacrament, brushed with grace, twisted, beaten, but still straining toward her belief in God. The settings of her stories and novels are either Georgia or Tennessee, often backwoods or rural areas. She gives her characters a southern accent because this is the area she knows best. O Connor uses common symbols, such as sunsets that resemble blood drenched Eucharistic host, preening peacocks that represent Christs transfiguration, and the trees themselves writhe in spiritual agony (Bloom 49).
Some critics say that she is trying to convert her readers, whom she assumes are non-believers. The story “A Good Man is Hard To Find” begins with a family planing to take a vacation to Florida. The grandmother who does not want to take the vacat….. ion in Florida is persuading the family. She has read about a crazed killer by the name of the Misfit, who is on the run, heading for Florida. The mambas of her family ignore the grandmother. On the day of the trip, ironically, the grandmother is dressed in her Sunday best. She is decked in white gloves and navy blue dress with matching hat.
She is the first one in the car and ready to go. O’Connor is getting the reader to visualize the Southern culture. The grandmothers purpose of dressing this way is to be recognized as a lady, in case someone saw her dead on the highway. This tells me the grandmothers thoughts of death are shallow. Later in the story, the Misfit says, “There never was a body that gave the undertaker a tip. ” (qtd, in DiYanni 202) The grandmothers readiness for death is an indication that she does not want to go where there is a prisoner on the loose. However, her readiness for death changes when she recognizes the Misfit.
As the trip progresses, the children act like brats. O’Connor is illustrating the lost respect for the family and elders. The family’s encounter with Red Sammy Butts serves as another way O’Connor expresses how trust and respect have begun to wear away. The grandmother makes the mistake of telling the children the story of a nearby house that has a secret panel. The children scream until the father, Bailey, gives in and takes them to see the house. On the way down the long windy road that leads to the house, the cat gets out of his cage and jumps on Bailey’s shoulder, resulting in the car being overturned.
As everyone is getting themselves together, a car with three men approaches. The grandmother recognizes the Misfit at once. The Misfit reveals himself as polite and sociable and even apologizes to the grandmother for Baileys rudeness to her. However, the Misfit does not waste any time as he asks one of his cronies to escort Bailey and John Wesley off into the woods to meet their fate. The grandmother and the Misfit engage in a conversation, which is supposed to have a religious meaning. The grandmother tries to appeal to the Misfit by saying he isnt a bit common.
The Misfit goes on to tell a story about his family, and how he was the type of child to question everything. He continues on to talk about periods of a criminals life. The grandmothers prayer of advice gives evidence that they are on two different levels of understanding the Christian faith. OConnor gives the reader the impression that he is a prophet gone wrong. After the Misfit has the cronies take the mother, daughter, and baby to the woods, the grandmother is left alone with the Misfit, who continues to talk about how Jesus was punished.
However, the Misfit has escaped punishment. The grandmother responds in the only way she knows how to by clinging to her superficial beliefs about “good blood” and behaving as a gentleman would. She has limited understanding of religion and cannot even begin to connect with the Misfit. The grandmother notices the Misfit as he is about to cry. She reaches out her hand and says, “Why youre one of my babies” The Misfit, who is affected by what she says, jumps back and shoots her three times.