By Clare Walker, Holy Trinity In-House Writer
Flannery O’Connor is regarded as one of the pre-eminent American writers of literary fiction. Among Catholic literati, she is also revered as one the greatest Catholic authors of the last century.
O’Connor was born in 1925 in Savannah, Georgia, and as a young writer lived in Iowa, New York, and Connecticut. In 1952, she returned to her childhood home near Macon, Georgia and devoted the rest of her life to writing. She was a devout Catholic who went to Mass daily and lived a quiet life, but was an active apostle for the Faith by means of her numerous letters. The depth, fervor, and orthodoxy of her Catholicism are indisputable.
But many who read her work wonder what’s so Catholic about her stories. Few of her characters are Catholic, and those few are just as flawed as her other characters.
For example, her most famous story, “A Good Man Is Hard To Find,” depicts an ill-fated outing to the countryside, near the very region where a serial killer is said to be on the loose. A hapless family accidentally drives their car into a ditch, and the serial killer and his gang fall upon them. The grandmother, obnoxious, opinionated, and incapable of keeping her mouth shut, stupidly announces that she recognizes the man from the paper. The killer and his accomplices murder the whole family, and after an extended dialogue with the grandmother, he shoots her, too.
How can such a dark, shocking tale be considered “Catholic?”
The killer’s final line, in the realistic Southern dialect for which O’Connor is known, gives us a hint:
"She would of been a good woman…if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life."
In other words, if she had gone through life with a keen knowledge of her own mortality, perhaps she would have made an effort to be a decent human being.
O’Connor knew what she was doing. She deliberately peopled her stories with repugnant characters who reach a crossroad in their lives, a moment of grace in which they must make a choice: continue down the wide road to perdition or turn aside from it and get back on the narrow road to salvation. Most of her characters fail the test and something gruesome happens. (These are cautionary tales, after all!) O’Connor meant her stories to be shocking because “to the hard of hearing…[Christian writers] shout, and for the…almost-blind [they] draw large and startling figures.”
The stories of Flannery O’Connor are available in a single-volume collection (The Complete Stories, 1972) and in two shorter collections (A Good Man Is Hard To Find, 1955, and Everything That Rises Must Converge, 1965). She wrote two novels: Wise Blood, 1952, and The Violent Bear It Away, 1960. O’Connor was also a prolific correspondent, and her letters are collected in The Habit of Being. Her nonfiction collections are Mystery and Manners and The Presence of Grace.
O’Connor struggled with poor health throughout her life. She died in 1964 at only thirty-nine years of age.
Clare T. Walker, a Holy Trinity Parishioner since 2003, writes for the National Catholic Register (www.ncregister.com). She is also an independent fiction author. Here are some handy links to her website and her books:
Clare T. Walker
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