Ernest Hemingway, John Stienbeck, F. Scott FitzgeraldThe American Modernist movement has generated some of the most famous authors to date.
Flannery OConnor may not have reached the fame of her modern counterparts, but that does not mean her work is of any less value. OConnor wrote independent of the movement, with an original and controversial flair that others could not achieve. Her philosophies and convictions encompassed an entirely different world, where the ideals of Modernists clashed with her fierce Catholic beliefs. Flannery created her stories on the brink of a turbulent era, and it shows. The influence of important events in the 50s and 60s, such as African American civil rights, were a staple in many of OConnors stories. At first glance, it may appear that OConnor does not share many of the Modernist qualities. While she did take part in the ironic nature of the era, she didnt experiment in the form or voice, or dabble in realist fiction.
Her work was continuously her own, unchanging and reliable, yet shocking. A good example of the contrast and similarity between OConnor and other Modernist is found in the comparison of Hemingways The Old Man and the Sea and OConnors short story The Lame Shall Enter First. In Hemingways novel, an old and feeble man catches a massive fish, but in an ironic twist, sharks eat away at it until he has nothing but a skeleton to prove his fleeting accomplishment (The Old Man and the Sea ##).In The Lame Shall Enter First, a man devotes himself entirely to a disabled hoodlum who backstabs him, while his own son suffers through the painful loss of his mother. In a shocking turn of events, the hoodlum exits his benefactors life and the son kills himself (The Lame Shall Enter First 190). Ironically, the main characters in both stories are left with a skeleton; one of a fish, and one of regrets. The difference lays in Flannerys message.
She intended to comment on intellectualism and relations with God. Modernists often tackled religion in an entirely different way. They used religious symbolism to add dimensions to characters and questioned how our world would be different without God. Most did not try to impart a moral lesson on the reader like OConnor did. The violence she used to make a moral impression on the reader was merely a means to an end. Obviously OConnor sought to contrast the authors of her time by providing an ethical directory, rather than sheer entertainment.
Her religion was not the only influence OConnor lived under. During the time she wrote, America was going through a tumultuous civil rights movement. It started with Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark ruling in 1954 that put an end to segregation between white and black students (Brown v. Board of Education 1). Racial conflicts and themes were the core of many of OConnors pieces, such as in the short story Revelation. A haughty and self-important Mrs. Turpin chats with a well-to-do woman in a doctors waiting room, while mentally criticizing other patrons of the doctor, including white trash woman.
Worse than niggers anyday, Mrs. Turpin thought (Revelation 194). Of course Mrs. Turpin meets an unfortunate end. Another example of a racial theme is in the popular short story Everything That Rises Must Converge, in which an intellectual condemns the racist actions of his mother, who because her prejudiced behavior, is struck by a black woman, which gives her a stroke (Everything That Rises Must Converge 23).In these examples we see that the civil rights movement undoubtedly influenced OConnor.
However, the moral of the stories may not have been as obvious as they appear. While the racist characters often meet sorry ends, they possess an innocence that allows the reader to sympathize with them. Traditionally, Southerners have been more sympathetic to those whose faults stem from innocence. They tend to more judgmental of the liberal sentiments that lead to folly.
Because OConnor mostly dealt with southern issues, the prevalence of the liberalism is not as obvious as that of civil rights. Still, the major increase in liberalism during her time influenced her work. This is showcased in the story The Enduring Chill, where an intellectual man moves from his southern home to New York City, where he struggles as a writer. He eventually gets sick and moves back home, determined to stick it to his racist mother by any means necessary. However, his extremism causes ailing health. He wishes for the release of death, only to find he is trapped in a lifelong battle with an incurable, yet non-fatal, disease brought on by his own folly (The Enduring Chill 113).
Here she comments on how the liberal attitude leads to nothing but torment, and that man must seek God, not himself. OConnor managed to blend together the influences of her Modern counterparts while staying true to her religion and convictions, and at the same time commenting on current events. She did this all while remaining timeless and consistent. It is no secret why her work is famous. Flannery OConnor is truly an American treasure.