The Race Issue in Flannery O’Connor’s “Everything That Rises Must Converge. ” “Let’s skip it ,” (273) suggested Julian to his mother in Flannery O’Connor’s short story “Everything That Rises Must Converge. ” What authoress says herself is “that the good novelist expresses feelings in symbols (qtd. in Paulson 156)”, and that is exactly what she uses in this story. By writing about fences she suggests us to jump over the differences which divide us and let us live on the same side of the fence. This poses one, very significant, question – are there enough similarities between races to raise them high enough and converge?
Are we ready to skip the fence or we will rather trip over it? Another major symbol used by Flannery O’Connor in her short story was the hat. From what we know about hats they had been used from centuries to keep the head warm, signal profession but also “provided a simple and universally understood device for a protocol of respect” in the world of foreign service (Jansson 26) and “symbolized the honor borne by position and title” (Jansson 32). Moreover, as a symbol, hat also plays an important role in contemporary literature.
One of such examples would be the novel The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger where the hat is a key attribute of the main character (Strauch 13). Also in O’Connor’s “Everything That Rises Must Converge” it is the hat worn by Julian’s mother and the Negro woman that is the key symbol. According to Teresa Balazy, it can be a representation of motherhood (66) and of “the depraved and displaced condition of man” (68). Moreover, it can be symbolic of economical equality of Black and White (Walters 129) or signify the “doubling” of the two women (Walters 129).
According to John May it is also a “shared emblem of human equality” (95), while Suzanne Paulson considers it a symbol of alienation, Julian’s mother buys it in order “to avoid acknowledging her connection to others” (83); to avoid meeting herself “coming and going” (O’Connor 272). We can observe then, that critics ascribed to it many various functions, however, this does not mean we must choose only one of them, as in each there is some grain of truth. The most significant is that all those symbols and their meanings refer to both women, Black and White, in positive degree, which makes the races similar in he eyes of the writer. Furthermore, “Hats exist because the need to preserve, even if only symbolically, the noblest part of man exists: the head and thus thought” (qtd. in Berengan); taking this into account we may find that wearing hats in the short story guides our attention towards the thoughts of the characters and the psychological dimension of the story. What is more, O’Connor writes that Julian’s mother is “surmounted by the atrocious hat” (272). It emphasizes than the psychological denotation of the text.
While choosing symbols for her short story, O’Connor reached also to historical events such as the Montgomery bus boycott which “was one of the first organized and large movements of African-Americans in 20th century America” and “was the beginning of a new era and activism in the black community” (Allen). By dint of it ”not only could the black residents of Montgomery now ride city buses as equals, thanks to their efforts so could many other black citizens throughout the nation” (Hare) but it was also essential for the civil rights movement and black activism movement of 1960’s and 1970’s (Allen).
Taking this into consideration, using a bus as a setting of “Everything That Rises Must Converge” seems to be intentional. For Flannery O’Connor bus was another vital symbol denoting ”sameness” (Paulson 83). It was bus, during the boycott and in the story, where everything started and where the convergence was taking place. Moreover, in O’Connor’s story bus is enlightened, it may denote than a safe place towards which both, Black and White, seek refuge from the dark world in which they live, but also a place where the mental convergence is taking place. Bus Emphasizes the similarities between the races then.
Except the bus, the rest of the setting is also worth mentioning. The world created by Flannery O’Connor is similar to Petersburg from Crime and Punishment of Dostoyevsky. Also in “Everything That Rises Must Converge” the city presented is a symbol. It can be compared to the cave from Plato’s Allegory of the cave. O’Connor often mentions that the surroundings “stood out darkly” (272) or that there was “growing darkness” (273). The world is then like a cave and people like prisoners incarcerated in it by the chains of their own minds and illusions. They see only shadows of things, made by the artificial light of lampposts.
Bus is the enlightened thing which may symbolize the world outside the cave. However, people entering it are hurt by the light; hurt by the truth which they cannot comprehend. They remain strangers to each other as they have been raised in the world of shadows. O’Connor’s view is more pessimistic than Plato’s one as there is no philosophers in it, who would become acquainted with the truth and would teach others. O’Connor unveils to us the consequences of entering the illuminated world, quite different from those presented by Plato, namely Julian’s mother dies, being completely unable and unwilling to understand the truth.
Julian notices the light and its importance, he tries to reach it but the shadows are chasing him. In such comparison we can notice another similarity between Black and White as they are all presented as prisoners, equally lost and blinded by the world they live in. One of the most characteristic traits of O’Connor’s writing, mentioned by many critics (Walters 15, May xix, Paulson ix, McClave 141) is her use of irony and grotesque which is also present in “Everything That Rises Must Converge”.
As Harpham notices, the most popular way of using grotesque is through introducing grotesque characters (465) and that is exactly what O’Connor’s uses in her work, ex. description of Julian’s mother and her hat: “It was a hideous hat. A purple velvet flap came down on one side of it and stood up on the other; the rest of it was green and looked like a cushion with the stuffing out” (271 When she mentions the Black woman with a child she writes: “the ponderous figure, rising from the red shoes upward over the solid hips, the mammoth bosom, the haughty face, the green and purple hat” (281).
Also Julian’s mother looks at her: “as if the woman were a monkey that had stolen her hat” (281). As we can see, in O’Connor’s portrayal of characters we can easily find their “cartoon” qualities (Walters 15). However for the purpose of our discussion, the most important is the fact that those traits can be found in both, Black and White characters. We can see similarity between races as O’Connor mocks equally both of them. Another similarity depicted in discussed short story is manifested in evil inclination of all human beings.
According to Pessimists ideas evil is integral part of our life (Sharpe) and O’Connor’s uses it to emphasize that both, Black and White, belong to the same world. Evil is depicted in the story for instance when Julian thinks: “At that moment he could with pleasure have slapped her as he would have slapped a particularly obnoxious child in his charge” (O’Connor 279); and the Black woman with a child, whose face was described as “set not only to meet opposition but to seek it out.
The downward tilt of her large lower lip was like a warning sign: DON’T TAMPER WITH ME” (280). O’Connor shows, as Walters claims, that evil “resides in the souls of all, black and white, young and old” (130). May suggests even more, namely that antipathy of Julian for his mother has been objectified in the Black woman’s violence of the onslaught (96). Such statement indicates even stronger connection between Julian’s and Black woman’s evil inclination, or to speak more metaphorically, White and Black evil inclination. 5] Last but definitely not least is similarity of all human beings in inclination towards alienation, which according to Heinemann, is typical of all human beings and there is always “a limit to our understanding of others” (144) which is also clearly visible in O’Connor’s work. We can observe it on the example of all characters, regardless of race affinity. Julian has his “mental bubble in which he established himself when he could not bear to be a part of what was going on around him” (276). Julian’s mother “lived according to the laws of her own fantasy world” (276).
Also Negroes are separating themselves from the outside world, the Black man was isolating himself behind the newspaper; Black woman with her son, as I have quoted in the former paragraph, was hiding behind the wall of her appearance and hostility. What is more, she was trying to keep her son behind this fence as well, to seclude him from the world outside it. All facts considered I would agree with Dorothy Walters who claims that Flannery O’Connor judges both races equally harsh (135). I reckon, she does it to emphasize that a lot should be done on the both sides of the fence in order to “skip it” (O’Connor 273) and be able to live together.
Despite all differences between races she depicts many similarities manifested by various symbols, such as hat or bus, or by describing traits universal to all human beings, ex. alienation or evil inclination. She also uses grotesque in presenting both, Black and White, to emphasize their equality and, imprisons them in the same world, world which dominates and somehow governs them. All those similarities suggest equality between races and, what is the most important, their ability to rise and converge in order to live on the same side of the fence. Bibliography Allen, A. Why Was the Bus Boycott an Important Movement: Analysis. ” 14 Dec. 2008 . Balazy, Teresa. Structural Patterns in Flannery O’Connor’s Fiction. Poznan: PWN, 1982. Berengan, Giuliana. “Fabulous Hats: History of Hats. ” 16 Dec. 2008 . Dostoevskij, Fedor, M. Zbrodnia i Kara: Powiesc w Szesciu Czesciach z Epilogiem. Krakow: Zielona Sowa, 2000. Gill, Richard. “The Bridges of St. Petersburg: a Motif in Crime and Punishment. ” Dostoyevsky Studies 3 (1982): 146-155. 16 Dec. 2008. . Hare, Ken. “They Changed the World: the Story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott: Overview. Montgomery Advertiser. 16 Dec. 2008 . Harpham, Geoffrey. “The Grotesque: First Principles. ” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 34 (1976): 461-468. JSTOR. 16 Dec. 2008 . Jansson, Maija. “The Hat Is No Expression of Honor. ” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 133 (1989): 26-34. JSTOR. 16 Dec. 2008. McClave, Heather, ed. Women Writers of the Short Story. A collection of Critical Essays. May, John, R. The Pruning Word: the Parables of Flannery O’Connor. Notre Dame: U of Notre Dame P, 1976. O’Connor, Flannery.
Three by Flannery O’Connor. New York: Penguin Books, 1983. Pappas, Nickolas. Plato and the Republic. Ed. Tim Crane and Jonathan Wolff. London: Routledge, 1995. Paulson, Marrow Suzanne. Flannery O’Connor: A study of short fiction. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1988. Sharpe, Alfred. “Pessimism. ” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 16 Dec. 2008. Plato. The Republic. Trans. Benjamin Jowett. The Priject Gutenberg. 16 Dec. 2008 . Salinger, J. , D. Buszujacy w Zbozu. Warszawa: Iskry, 2004. Strauch, Carl, F. , J. D. Salinger. Kings in the Back Row: Meaning through Structure. A Reading of Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. ” Wisconsin Studies in Contemporary Literature. 2 (1961): 5-30. JSTOR. 16 Dec. 2008 . Walters, Dorothy. Flannery O’Connor. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1973. ———————– He was one of the first to use the symbolical possibilities of city (Gill 146) It becomes almost paysage moralise (moralized landscape); symbolizes spiritual condition of characters presented, like Dostoyevsky’s work (Gill 146). Plato draws in his allegory a picture of a den where prisoners are being incarcerated.
They are chained so that they cannot move or look sideways. Behind them there is a fire which casts shadows on the wall in front of them. They can see only shadows of things and people and hear only echoes of voices of guards. Later Plato describes the process of coming out of a cave to the light outside the cave. More information about the Allegory of the cave can be found in Nickolas Pappas Plato and the Republic or Plato’s Republic translated by B. Jowett More information about grotesque and grotesque characters can be found in Geoffrey Harpham’s “The Grotesque: First Principles. May also writes that „Julian and the Negro woman are obviously related through a bond of mutual irascibility and impatience” while „Carver and Julian’s mother, on the other hand, apparently understand each other as mother and son should since they both hale active hearts” (95-96). *PQgkeenoIJPRY`! %8sx?? a? ! $ & ? M uoaOaIA?? §Y? ”‰~s”? k? c? §?? c? mHsH Heinemann claims as well that “alienation cannot be completely eliminated, it can only be reduced to reasonable terms.
All we can do is to remove it from the foreground to the background and deprive it of all central position and of its emotional power, but we have to acquiesce in the fact that alienation somehow belongs to our heritage” (144). Although Walters’s claims that ”convergence in her title implies collision” (127), I would rather agree with McClave and her view that there is no irony in the usage of the title intended (150) and that O’Connor tries to show the possibilities of convergence between races rather than emphasizes futility of such trials.