Suicide? Mercy? Or Just Another Sad Story?

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"He intended not to fool with preachers anymore but to Baptize himself and to keep on going this time until he found the Kingdom of Christ in the river."

-From Flannery O'Connor's "The River," page 45 in "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" and Other Stories


I felt so bad for Harry, a.k.a. Bevel, in this story.  His parents obviously do not care for him enough to provide a supportive and nurturing lifestyle.  He is passed from nanny to nanny (this one doesn't even know his first or last name) while his parents sleep off their hangovers, only to drink themselves to a stupor the next evening.  He has no one to turn to for advice, no routine that would allow him to feel safe.  Near the end of the story, he is even forced, despite his young age,  to get himself breakfast.   Mrs. Connin, practically a stranger, provides him with his first experience with God, which, although well meant, causes his demise. 

I think that this child is so depressed and so un-loved that, as proven by the above quote, he kills himself.  I'm not sure if he knew what he was actually doing because of his limited experience with God and death, but O'Connor certainly seems to write the above quote in such a way as to show the reader that Bevel basically wants to die to be with God.  This story is especially sad because it is true: children so often take their own lives because of a lack of supportive and loving family and friends.  This quote is both so beautiful and so terrible.  Bevel has such a faith in God's love that, despite his limited experience, he knows wants to be with Him; however the only way Bevel knows he can be with God is through death and Rebirth in the river.  Should his death be called suicide?  I'm not sure.  Today, his parent would probably be punished for not watching him closely.  Should it be called merciful?  After all, he didn't have to live a life of neglect anymore.  No matter what his death is called, it is still just another very sad story that could still be viewed in news columns today.



Angela Palumbo said:

If the message in church actually sunk in (although I am not entirely sure that it did) then it is entirely possible that the boy just wanted someone to care so bad that if it meant dying (at the age of five or six I don't think he knew exactly what death meant) he was willing to die. This was so sad I wanted to cry. It did make me thankful however to have parents who do take care of me and do care.

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