Being Led to the Slaughter

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From Flannery O’Connor’s short story, “The River”:

“The little boy stared at her silently, his nose and eyes running.  He was four or five.  He had a long face and bulging chin and half-shut eyes set far apart.  He seemed mute and patient, like an old sheep waiting to be let out” (O’Connor 25).

As soon as I read the words “like an old sheep waiting to be let out,” I thought that’s not how the saying goes!  My mind immediately rebelled with: “or like a sheep being led to the slaughter.”  O’Connor knows that her readers will be familiar with the saying.  She realizes she does not need to come right out and say “the slaughter.”  Our minds will fill in the gap for her.

Also her description of this “mute and patient” sheep, continues to describe the boy well throughout the story.  The boy does whatever he is told without question.  He lets Mrs. Connin’s sons bully him, even though he realizes they are up to no good.  When he is being led away by her sons, it is almost like he is being led off to the slaughter then.  He knows that nothing good awaits him, yet he seemingly can do nothing about it.

 Ironically, he meets his death the one time he seemingly does his own thing.  However, upon closer inspection, really, he is still following blindly other’s leads.  The boy searches for this happy world in the water.  Does he understand what he is really looking for?  No, he does not.  He follows his confused perceptions that were taught to him by others.     

4 Comments

Angela Palumbo said:

How right you are Greta! I think that this story is O’Connor’s way of telling people that they need to go through life paying attention instead of with their eyes shut or shall I say with their “half-shut eyes?” The people who go to the river really do not seem to know what they are going for. The purpose of religion is to exalt God, not to follow and see what you can get. A lot of the people that attend the Reverend Bevel Summers’ sermons in the hopes of getting something out of it physically but they do not care about what they get spiritually. One person remarked, “ I seen you cure a woman oncet!” And continues to say, “Seen that woman git up and walk out straight where she had limped in!” Bevel’s reply to that was, “You might as well go home if that’s what you come for” (34). Bevel is saying in a round about way that you do not come to get you come to give. All the people of this town seem misguided. Mrs. Connin thinks that if the child gets baptized that he’ll be saved but he doesn’t even know what it means! Mrs. Connin says the Mr. Paradise goes to Bevel’s service to show that he “ain’t been healed.” These people are all walking zombies. O’Connor is trying to warn against walking through life the same way as these characters.

Erica Gearhart said:

Your comments on "like an old sheep waiting to be let out" are very interesting. I like how you made the reference to "sheep being led to the slaughter." These comments made me being to think that perhaps O'Connor was being purposely ambiguous here. Often in the Bible or in church, people are referred to as sheep who are being led by shepherds, or Jesus and God. Bevel could just be viewed as a sheep that follows the guidance of the only references to The Shepherds that he knows of; those of the preacher and Mrs. Connin. Depending on your beliefs the ending could be viewed as, although not exactly happy, not exactly sad either. Bevel will find the Kingdom of Christ in the river, which is good because he can be with someone who loves him, but his death is obviously very depressing. Or this reference could be, as you said, foreshadowing the end of the story where Bevel is a “sheep being led to the slaughter,” or basically a small boy led to his death in the river by misguidance and neglect

Wow, great analysis Greta! The words "like an old sheep waiting to be let out" caught my eye in the story but I did not pursue them any further. Your insight really gave me a new perspective to this story. Thank you for a very informative, in-depth blog entry. :)

You're right on Greta. I cannot say much more about this passage without echoing what Angela, Erica and Lauren already said but this is def. a blog to put in your next portfolio under the depth section. Great work!

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