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March 06, 2006

Bevel the baptized

O'Connor, ''The River'' -- Jerz: American Lit II (EL 267)

“’If I baptize you,” the preacher said, “you’ll be able to go to the Kingdom of Christ. You’ll be washed in the river of suffering, son, and you’ll go by the deep river of life. Do you want that?’
‘Yes,’ the child said, and thought I won’t go back to the apartment then, I’ll go under the river.
‘You won’t be the same again,’ the preacher said. ‘You’ll count.’” (37-38)

“Very slowly, his expression changed as if he were gradually seeing appear what he didn’t know he’d been looking for. Then all of a sudden he knew what he wanted to do.” (43)

“Then he left the apartment and caught the car at the corner. He hadn’t taken a suitcase because there was nothing from there he wanted to keep.” (43-44)

“He intended not to fool with preachers any more but to baptize himself and to keep on going this time until he found the Kingdom of Christ in the river.” (45)

I chose these lines as examples of Harry’s growing resoluteness that he didn’t like his own home and wanted to go to a place where he would “count.”
To bolster the divide between Harry and his parents, O’Connor writes lines like “’Tell me’ she whispered and her bitter breath covered his face.” (41)

Not just bad breath, but “bitter breath” as though it’s full of malice. What a word choice! So simple yet very effective! Not only that, but when his mom utters those lines, she has him by the shirt, so the scene has the feel of an interrogation, rather than a simple question.

I also liked “The birds revolved downward and dropped lightly in the top of the highest pine and sat hunch-shouldered as if they were supporting the sky.” (35) What an image! I wish I could think of lines like that.

Furthermore, did anyone notice that when Harry heads back to the river on his own, (pg 44 onward) that O’Connor refers to him as Bevel?

Harry died, presumably, but once he decided he was going somewhere “all his fury and fear left him.” (46) And in doing so, Harry believed he was finally headed to a place where he’d count. So in an odd way, did a healing take place after all?

Posted by MattHampton at March 6, 2006 01:04 AM


Actually, the boy is just "the child" on the first page, and "he" otherwise. He gives the name Bevel on the bottom of the 3rd page (of my edition) and O'Connor refers to him as "Bevel" from then on.

I myself liked the reference to what Bevel thinks is a club, wielded by a man with the convenient name "Mr. Paradise."

You're right -- O'Connor really knows what she's doing.

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at March 6, 2006 05:44 PM

Interesting that I looked and read this passage as well and that what a sad story. Not only did Harry go to the river but he also said before he left home "I don't want anything from here." I did not get the impression that he died. However the current took him slowly. He saw the man with the candy not sure if I understood this wrong. But I thought he was drifting down the river. But your right he died. I really didn't think of it this way until I looked at it again.

Posted by: LisaRandolph at March 6, 2006 10:55 PM

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