"Anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic."—Flannery O'Connor
Flannery O'Connor lived in rural Georgia in the middle of the 20th century and wrote two collections of extraordinarily grotesque...er..."realistic" short stories and two novels in the course of her very short life (she died in 1964 at the age of 39). From the mindset of her deep Catholic faith; her intimate and perceptive knowledge of the culture, mores, and personalities of the Deep South; and shaded by her long battle with lupus (which eventually killed her), she wove tales replete with deeply dysfunctional, highly flawed, and bizarre characters, many adhering to an unconventional or twisted form of fundamentalist Christianity. And many who died gruesome deaths.
Though she was quite the orthodox and theologically sound Catholic believer, and a "fish out of water" in the mostly Protestant (and what she called "Christ-haunted") South, her cultish preachers, itinerant evangelists, and lay people were, in her mind, closer to the unadulterated core of the Christian faith than most "institutional" believers. This has often proved befuddling to more secular readers who tend to see these people as mere buffoons in contrast to the more level-headed liberal and irreligious characters, only to learn that, in O'Connor’s mind, the "freaks" were the "heroes."
Though her stories were full of symbolism and metaphor, O'Connor had little patience for those who tried to over-analyze what she saw as the clear message of her work. She was once asked, about her short story "A Good Man is Hard to Find," "what is the meaning of the Misfit's hat?" The question both confused and amused her. "To put on his head," she replied.
Despite her relatively small body of work, O'Connor is regarded as one of the most influential and talented American writers of the mid-20th Century.
Her novel Wise Blood has its own page.
Tropes displayed in her short stories:
- Black Comedy
- Comically Missing the Point
- Cosmic Horror: The ethos behind her work, that Faith can be horrifying and even damaging to Human sanity and yet is vital to the survival of the Human Spirit actually manages to turn Christianity itself into something that's almost Lovecraftian.
- Crapsack World
- Deadpan Snarker: Flannery O'Connor herself, as well as many of her characters.
- Death Equals Redemption: From the woman herself: "Lots of people die in my stories, but nobody gets hurt."
- Deep South: Only one of O'Connor's stories takes place outside the South, and the main characters of that one are transplanted Southerners anyway.
- Dumb Is Good: "Everything That Rises Must Converge" deals with a conflict between an "enlightened" young man and his more down-to-earth mother. Naturally, the young man turns out to be an infantile hypocrite who justifies his pettiness with his "education." Some Values Dissonance comes into play, too, since the sympathetic mother happens to be pretty blatantly racist.
- "The Enduring Chill" is similar, but Asbury is a fairly obvious poser even within his own social circle and his mother's reactionary attitudes are much less severe. Both are actually a lot more sympathetic than their counterparts in "Everything That Rises Must Converge".
- Enfant Terrible: There are so many dreadful little monsters in her short stories Steal from you? check. Burn down your farm? check. Talk your son into hanging himself? brrr. check.
- Eye Scream: See High Octane Nightmare Fuel below.
- Friendless Background: Flannery herself.
- Impoverished Patrician
- Incurable Cough of Death: Subverted in "The Enduring Chill". Joke's on you, Asbury.
- Infant Immortality: Though "offscreen," this is brutally subverted in "A Good Man Is Hard To Find." Three times.
- Jesus Saves
- Karma Houdini
- Kill'Em All: "A Good Man Is Hard To Find," natch.
- Meaningful Name
- N-Word Privileges: Prolific use of the n-word in dialogue, but as a realistic depiction of the vernacular of the era and region. Even makes the title of one of her short stories ("The Artificial Nigger").
- Rape as Redemption
- Shoot the Shaggy Dog: "A Good Man Is Hard To Find" is essentially this.
- Southern Gothic