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March 8, 2006

O'Connor "A Temple of the Holy Ghost"

O'Connor, '''A Temple of the Holy Ghost'' -- Jerz: American Lit II (EL 267)

"The child decided, after observing them for a few hours, that they were practically morons and she was glad to think that they were second cousins and she couldn't have inherited any of their stupidity."
Interesting that "the child" doesn't have a name. Obviously she is young and yet intelligent. I'm guessing her age around 7-9 however not sure. But she considers herself as a relative but distant and that she did not acquire Joanne's or Susans stupidity and called them morons. Her age is technically told when she ask the "Temple one" and "Temple two" (Joanne & Susan). Joanne and Susan told her what they meant by the "you-know-what" thinking "the child" knew how rabbits were born. This is funny "They spit them out of their mouth" "six of them". Even though she made this up I am assuming that they believed her. Interesting to note is that the "Temple One and "Temple two" meaning that their body was the temple of the holy spirit and that they nun told them to say no to intercourse. Good advise however Joanne and Susan obviously were not intelligent nor acted their age. Girls around their age do not dress up and look at themselves in the mirror. Usually, little kids do this. Maybe that's why "the child" saw them as foolish and morons because she realized they were acting like little girls and not teenagers.

Posted by LisaRandolph at March 8, 2006 10:41 AM


I can't believe how these two girls acted. They seemed to me to be Devil children. i guess if you would look were they came from and how they were brought up that would have alot to do with it.

Posted by: Melissa Lupari at March 20, 2006 11:19 AM

Nice observation Lisa. These children do seem to spawn from pure evil. What I don't understand is what is O' Connor trying to teach us about religion as a whole? She's headed in a completely different direction that I find myself being confused about. Why are the children not focused on the seriousness of religion? Why do they seem so evil? Questions, Questions....

Posted by: Jason Pugh at March 23, 2006 10:41 AM

I'm french and I've read this short-story. you're right Melissa. Is Flannery O'Connor making a criticism about catholicism or just showing us that it existed Devil children?

Posted by: mel at April 1, 2006 3:49 AM

O'Connor was herself catholic, so I don't think she was necessarily criticising catholicism. I think more likely, she was trying to communicate the idea that sexuality is holy. The hermaphrodite in the tent solemnly proclaimed that his/her condition is the act of God-In a larger sense, showing that sex as a whole is likewise something that is ordained by God. The two frivolous teenage girls treat sex as a joke, and don't understand this message, and are portrayed unsympathetically by O'Connor.

Posted by: CW at July 24, 2006 7:51 PM

Flannery O'Connor is having fun with what it means to be a Temple of the Holy Spirit. She loves Catholicism, but sees where its teachings fall short.

Read this story alongside Philip Roth's "The Conversion of the Jews." Catholicism is essentially a faith that hates the flesh, despises its needs and tries to spiritualize everything. This doesn't work. It will never work. We are spirit and flesh, and children are engaged in the quest of discovering integration, much to their formal teachers' dismay.

These are not Devil children; they are the soul's intuitive self that alone should be our guide.


Posted by: Dale Beaulieu at May 7, 2007 11:40 AM

Dale, you got the whole story and the Catholic worldview backwards.

O'Connor IS making fun of the nun's teaching, which has at its core the truth ("You are a Temple of the Holy Ghost") but reduces it to mere sexuality, specifically, the possibility for sexual sin. Read "The Habit of Being" for her numerous and scathing attacks on the state of Catholic education.

I don't think that O'Conner would be calling the girls--Temple One and Temple Two--devil children. They're just silly teenage girls.

The point of the hermaphrodite at the circus is to throw the nun's (and a lot of Catholics') oversimplification of things on its head.

If the hermaphrodite was a human being made in the image of God (as O'Connor would empathatically say), he/she must ALSO be "a Temple of the Holy Ghost" as much as the two sex-crazed girls are. In other words, possessing a physical body IS a good, dignified, God-given thing, and it means something more than just possessing the possibility of sexual sin.

Read "Parker's Back." O'Connor said of this story that the real heretic is Sarah, for insisting that God is pure spirit, thus denying the Incarnation.

Hardly "a faith that hates the flesh, despises its needs, and tries to spiritualize everything."

Posted by: Leeandra at June 5, 2007 7:03 PM

Leeandra - wonderful answer. My favorite story about Flannery was that she was at a dinner party amongst those she referred to has her "betters" and the discussion came up on the Eucharist. The "betters" seemed ready to allow that one might express some reverence toward the "symbol" of the Eucharist.

To which Flannery responded, "if it's just a symbol, to hell with it."

Love her.

Posted by: Mari at March 16, 2009 1:30 AM

I just bumped into your conversation. Here's a bit of F O'C theory which doesn't totally match mine but might make your reading more interesting.

F O'C saw no faults in Catholicism. She felt there was a single 'right' and one 'wrong' learned after centuries of church scholarship. Humanity has the freedom to use or ignore it but she saw no legitimate alternative to this source of learning. The church has learned what it means to be 'good' or 'pure' or 'evil' and there is no alternative meaning in her mind. The learning is beyond the limitations of a culture or a time or a sensibility. It's valid because it doesn't vary. One either knows it or doesn't know it and it's available to us all. Whether we use it is our use of personal freedom.

That's the basis of the "Temple" story. Do the girls want to take advantage of the learning and knowledge offered to them? The nun is teaching that Catholicism thinks purity is truly being pure (sex before marriage is just one tenet) without regard to teenage hormones or whatever. Sex is just a metaphor because its a perfect case where a religious experience (marital intimacy) can also be turned into evil (prurience).

Temples A/B represent typical modern day Dr. Phil types who attempt to find middle-ground or modernize or make relevant that definition to today. The child is the typical human being confronted by this argument. How the child looks at these girls is how Flannery expects the reader to be looking at flashier, more 'sophisticated' people who are both confusing and act like they know more than us. Modern life often forces us to expound on details of life we don't understand and when we do we sound as silly as the child does saying bunnies are spit from mouths.

F O'C referred to her characters as 'stick figures for the legally blind' so don't try to interpret too much. The girls think the nun is silly when Flannery believes the nun is just the mouthpiece of God talking to them. Flannery believes totally the opposite of the person above who says 'the self alone should be our guide'. Quite the opposite.

Posted by: Tim at April 28, 2009 3:26 PM

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