Friday, March 25, 2011

A Good Man is Hard to Find

...and a good woman, for that matter. And a good writer is even more rare.

I have a candidate for a good writer--and today is her birthday, so recognition is not only merited but timely. Flannery O'Connor.

A prototypical story of hers, one of the best, is "
A Good Man is Hard to Find." If you've never read it, you can go to the link, and read. It is a disturbing story. It centers on a family going on vacation. The son and his wife, along with three children, are accompanied by the matriarch of the family. She is one of the central characters. She is a complaining nagging domineering woman. She complains about their vacation destination. She begins to obsess about an escaped convict called the Misfit.

After a lunch stop, she recalls a house with secret passages that she believes is along the route they are taking. The family diverts to visit the house--and then the matriarch realizes that the house is not even in the state where they are traveling. She becomes flustered, her cat becomes agitated, and in the ensuing ruckus, their car crashes. As they assess their situation, another car approaches, and soon some people begin approaching them. It is none other than the Misfit and his cohorts.

The family is taken captive and the matriarch cannot shut up. Eventually, she begins babbling about salvation, realizing the potential evil of the Misfit, and begging him to turn to Jesus. Of course, he is not persuaded by her newly found grace. I won't characterize the unraveling of the story. But it is indeed a grim tale.

The themes that Flannery O'Connor explores focus on the possibility of redemption. She is always identified as a Christian writer. It may be difficult to discern that strain in her writing, yet it is undeniably there. You can read a fuller treatment of her themes

Her stories are dark--no question. She is sometimes identified as being a Southern Gothic writer. But it is not unreasonable to see how they emerged from the crucible of her own life.

She was an only child whose father died in 1941, of lupus, when she was only 16. Ten years later, when she was 26, she was diagnosed with lupus from which she suffered the remainder of her life.

She never married, continuing to live with her mother on the family farm. She loved birds of all sorts, including peacocks. As a young girl, she had taught a chicken to walk backwards--which garnered her some fame. She wryly noted that "When I was six I had a chicken that walked backward and was in the news. I was in it too with the chicken. I was just there to assist the chicken but it was the high point in my life. Everything since has been anticlimax."

At age 39, she died of complications of lupus.

Her small body of work is extraordinary. I can think of no other writer who wrote the kind of stories she did. The characters are grotesque, yet they are searching for the same thing we all yearn for. Her humor is grim, while her vision is clear-eyed.
While I do love Flannery O'Connor's dark vision in her stories, I have another reason to love her. As someone who taught writing at times in my career, I love what she had to say about that:
"Everywhere I go, I'm asked if I think the universities stifle writers. My opinion is that they don't stifle enough of them. There's many a best seller that could have been prevented by a good teacher."

I am not sure if I did my part, but I hope I dissuaded some from writing best sellers!

Happy birthday, Flannery!


Anvilcloud said...

"There's many a best seller that could have been prevented by a good teacher."

Great quote.

NCmountainwoman said...

I've never heard of her but I will certainly investigate. I must admit I'm guilty of staying away from authors identified as "Christian" writers but given your explanation, I will definitely give her a try.

Always glad to hear of "new" authors I haven't read. Thanks.

Peruby said...

I read the story. It is dark.

Anonymous said...

I love Flannery O'Connor. I loved her even more after I learned she was a woman. :) For years, I thought she was a man. I mean, Flannery?

I'm not a short story reader, but she and Eudora Welty are my exceptions.

I'm putting this one down as another one of my favorites of your posts. The list keeps growing.