April 2006 Archives

Foreshadowing at its Finest

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Flannery O'Connor is no doubt a master of many, if not all of the elements required to make a great short story. She has time and time again used effective characterization, foreshadowing, and symbolism to further her works not only as good reads, but as ways to convey a message.
As an English major, I know for a fact that short stories are often tougher to write than novels because you are forced to condense so much information into such a small space, and yet O'Connor generally does this quite nicely. One trait in particular that I had not picked out in many of her other stories is the use of foreshadowing, and it is partially because of this that it stood out so much in "A Late Encounter With The Enemy."
Right from the start we are hit with the sentence "Living had got to be such a habit with him that he couldn't concieve of any other condition." This sets us up right from the beggining to expect his death, and yet it does so in such a way that we are still interested regardless of the predictable outcome. O'Connor drops hints throughout the entire story, both subtle and not-so-subtle, and yet still manages to hold the readers interest. In fact, she uses so much foreshadowing the Sash's death is put up on a pedestal, and we read on to find out how, when, and why he is going to die. This is an incredibly effictive technique, and it culminates perfectly with his death on the stage, one which no one even notices at first. This, to me, was a huge shock even though in retrospect I feel that I should have expected it. Perhaps that is what makes O'Connor's use of foreshadowing truly great: we don't expect the end when it comes, and yet, looking back, we feel that we should have. Gosh I love foreshadowing.

A Prayer of Thanksgiving

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'"Every day I say a prayer of thanksgiving," Mrs. Cope said. "Think of all we have. Lord," she said and sighed, "we have everything," and she looked around at her rich pastures and hills heavy with timber and shook her head as if it might all be a burden she was trying to shake off her back.'

We have, on frequent occasions, brought up how one of O'Connor's key traits as a writer is to never allow one of her characters to be either perfectly good or perfectly bad. There will always be a flaw, or a redeeming quality which allows them not only to become more three dimensional, but more human as well. To me, the quote above is perhaps the best example of this in all of Flannery's works that we've read so far.
Here we see Mrs. Cope outwardly exclaiming how thankful she is for every little thing, talking of how God has given them everything they could want or need, and yet immediately afterward O'Connor describes her gestures as if everything God had given her was a burden. It seems to me that though Mrs. Cope is portrayed as constantly being thankful for what she has, she views it as a job which she must do. She isn't being thankful because there is so much to be thankful about, but rather because she believes she should be thankful. Because of this, she can never be truly thankful for anything, and thus the act of giving thanks in itself becomes a burden.

O'Connor on Hubris

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"She did not steal or murder...[but] she was eaten alive with the sin of Pride, the worse one."
"She could never be a saint, but she thought she could be a martyr if they killed her quick."

Hubris, or excessive pride, is often the cause for the fall of the tragic hero in many Greek and Roman plays, and this theme also permeates the entire story of "A Temple of the Holy Ghost." The story begins with two girls calling themselves temple one and temple two, an obviously prideful, if somewhat mocking display. After this we see the main character saying that even if she was struck "deaf, dumb, and blind," she would still be smarter then some. The girl goes on to say that she feels like she could be a martyr, and even pictures herself converting line after line of ravenous lions. Though excessive pride was the downfall of many tragic heros, O'Connor seems to be trying to convey the point that, if given enough time, all flaws can eventually be seen through, and that, just perhaps, they were all part of God's plan to begin with.

A Stroke of Good Fortune?

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"All those children were what did her mother in-eight of them: two born dead, one died in the first year, one crushed under a mowing machine. Her mother had got deader with every one of them."

O'Connor's preoccupancy with death easily shows through here, but it seems really interesting that in this passage she doesn't seem to have the same disposition towards it as we have previously seen. In class we've discussed how she usually portrays death as something which is not neccessarily bad, and occasionally even something to be strived for, but in this case the character she creates seems to view death as something to be loathed, and perhaps even feared. She even goes so far as to say that her mother only got deader and deader out of "the purest of downright ignorance."
This blog isn't as much a commentary like my usual ones are, but more of a question. Any ideas anyone has on whether or not O'Connor really portrays death differently in this story, or why she does would be greatly appreciated. Thanks. ;-)

Mistakenly thinking it was part of my newly adopted minor, for over two months now, I have been taking a class called "Politics of the 60's." Little did I know that not only did I not need this class for my minor, but I in fact, would probably have been better off taking a class in interperative dance. Don't get me wrong, its a fine class, but history of any sort just isn't my cup of tea.

Fortunately though, while reading "The Color of Water," some of the historic background we learned about in the class actually began to have an impact on something in my life. Just last week we had been talking about Black Power, and the huge racial tension and issues. of the 1960's, especially 1965 and 1966. One of the reasons I believe history is so boring to me is that it doesn't pick a single character and focus on him, as a novel or movie would, but instead works in sweeping generalizations, taking in changes involving whole countries and societies. Reading about how Jame's, a single person in a specific situation had to deal with these problems really brought them into a whole new light for me, making me think about the things we had learned in class in a completely different way.

It seems to be a stroke of luck that the book and my class coincided so perfectly, but I have to say that it worked out really well. Even for a diehard cynic like me, it really is nice to get a new perspective on things sometimes, espeically when that perspective makes them this much more interesting.

God Smites Shiftlet.

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'"The boy bent over her and stared at the long pink-gold hair and the half-shut sleeping eyes. Then he looked up and stared at Mr. Shiftlet. "She looks like an angel of Gawd" he murmured."
"Hitch-Hiker," Mr. Shiftlet explained. "I can't wait. I have to make it to Tuscaloosa."'

This may have been the craziest story I've ever read. Shiftlet marries this girl, takes the money, and then leaves her at a truck stop with little feeling of remorse, and yet still feels like it is his duty to pick up hitchikers now that he has a car. (even though it's not really his). He seems like a good guy for most of the piece, then marries a mentally challenged girl for 17.50 and car and then pretends she's a hitchiker. Wow. O'Connor really just can't stand having a good guy in a story I guess. Anyway, he turns out to be a douche, and then at the end he asked God to "break forth and wash the slime from this earth!" Except that he is the slime. Ouch. Anyway, after the story ends he probably gets struck by lightening.

O'Connor and Language

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"The little boy stared at her silently, his nose and eyes running. He was four or five. He had a long face and a bulging chin and half-shut eyes set far apart. He seemed mute and patient, like an old sheep waiting to be left out."

This quote might very well be one of the best descriptive passages I have ever read in a short story, or even a novel. Not only does O'Connor give the reader a coherent picture of what the character looks like, but she gives them a useful foray into the characters personality as well. From this single paragraph we learn that "Bevel's" silence isn't one of spite or anger, but merely the only possible state that seems right for his character. Here we see that silence becomes and suites him, while anything else would be out of character. This somewhat meek persona is continued on when Bevel hides in the folds of Mrs. Connin's coat at the sight of the old man.

Although I have a tendancy to get bored and let my mind wander while reading O'Connor's stories, I have to say that in this story at least, she has mastered the art of characterization perfectly. Kudos, Flannery.

A Good Man is Hard to Find

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'"listen," she said, "you shouldn't call yourself The Misfit because I know you're a good man at heart. I can just look at you and tell."'

This, in my opinion, may be the most important quote in the whole story, because it lets O'Connor show us the difference between a truly good person, and one who merely acts good and is polite. Unfortunately, in the story, the grandmother can't seem to make this distinction, because she pleads to the good side of a man who doesn't one. (or at least not a very large one.) It can be argued that The Misfit may not be such a terrible character because of the grace and courtesy with which he acts, but this grace and courtesy does nothing to assuage the terrible sins he commited. Murdering someone politely is just as bad as murdering them rudely, and does nothing but disguise the act itself. What The Grandmother seems to be doing is a common act even in todays society; assuming people have certain specific traits merely because they have one. A good example of this is assuming that a handsome person is smart, charismatic, and nice, even though you've never talked to them before. By looking at him and knowing he came from a good background, The Grandmother assumes that he must therefore be a "good man at heart," an assumption which ultimately proves not to be the case..

"The Artificial Nigger"

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"Nelson, though he had not had water since some he had drunk out of a paper cup on the train, passed by the spigot,
disdaining to drink where his grandfather had."

This quote really sums up what I believe Flannery O'Connor was trying to convey with her work, "The Artificial Nigger." Though Mr. Head is constantly imparting his own racist ideas to his young grandson, he is finally thwarted by his own ignorance, giving Nelson a chance to see the error of his ways. By refusing to drink from the same waterfountain as his grandfather, O'Connor effectively shows us that he has begun to realise what type of person his grandfather really is, and distances himself from him because of this.
O'Connor does a masterful job of portraying racist characters, not because she herself is racist, but because she can use them to portray the evils racism has caused and is still causing in American society. Although huge amounts of progress have been made in equal rights, her story is no less valid today than it was 50 yeas ago.

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This page is an archive of entries from April 2006 listed from newest to oldest.

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