Reflections on Flannery O’Connor

“When people have told me that because I am a Catholic, I cannot be an artist, I have had to reply, ruefully, that because I am a Catholic, I cannot afford to be less than an artist.”

– Flannery O’Connor

She wrote of murder, disfigurement, social injustices, tragedy, deceit, and horror.

Flannery O’Connor specialized in shocking us, then pulling us back to reality. It was Christianity meets Rod Serling in overdrive. O’Connor’s pen stroke was akin to a sledge hammer to the skull. She conjured up a warped world all in the name of conversion.

Born in Savannah, Georgia (March 25, 1925), Mary Flannery O’Connor grew up an only child of a Catholic household. Her earliest influences were instilled by the Sisters of Mercy at St. Vincent’s Grammar School. In 1941, O’Connor’s father, Edward, passed away as a result of complications from lupus and she moved in with relatives at their Milledgeville, GA home. As tragic as this was for Ms. O’Connor, she began to find herself as an artist drawing and writing at Georgia State College for Women.

It was in graduate school where Flannery O’Connor truly blossomed as a short story writer. Attending the State University of Iowa, she quickly became a published author. This directly led to a professional relationship with publisher Robert Giroux and the inspiration for more complex writing.

For Flannery O’Connor, spirituality and theology dominated her subject matter. Combined with a flair for the southern gothic style of writing, her dark tales became infamous subject matter for scholars and spiritual leaders.

In “A Good Man is Hard to Find”, O’Connor presents a highly dysfunctional family traveling from Tennessee to Florida. The ‘grandmother’ is a constant source of annoyance to the family and is concerned with an escaped convict called The Misfit who may be in the area. As the family meets its grisly end, the grandmother discovers true conversion. “A Good Man….” is perhaps O’Connor’s most infamous and debated writing.

Other short story classics include the racially charged, “Everything that Rises Must Converge”, her reflective “A Stroke of Good Fortune”, and the puzzling “The Life you Save May be your Own.”

Beautifully, O’Connor provided us with flawed characters in a flawed world. She didn’t offer solutions as much as she did complexity of situations allowing the reader to determine right and wrong, good and bad. It was the mastery in which she accomplished this feat that made her unique.

Sadly, the world lost Mary Flannery O’Connor on August 3, 1964, at the age of just 39. Like her father, she was a victim of lupus. In all, O’Connor published two novels and 32 short stories. Additionally, she left numerous works unfinished.

Though her life did not last long, her literary influence remains strong even today making her one of the great short story writers of the twentieth century.


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