Tag: flannery o’connor

Flannery O’Connor, “A Temple of the Holy Ghost” (1954)

flannery o'connor a temple of the holy ghost

‘Sleeping Venus/Hermaphrodite’ at the Liverpool Museum. See details.

A 12-year-old girl’s caustic, aggravating, proud, funny observations about her two 14-year-old girl cousins visiting from Mount St. Scholastica, a convent school. The title is taken from Corinthians 6:19 (“Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself) and anticipates in remote ways The Handmaid’s Tale. The younger girl, who takes to the notion that she could be a temple of the holy ghost and becoming a saint but for the tortures she might have to endure, makes fun of the older, seemingly more simple-minded girls. The older girls go to a fair and see a hermaphrodite. The hermaphrodite shows them his genitals and says repeatedly, “God made me thisaway… and I ain’t disputing His way.” O’Connor would like us to think that he represents the acceptance of god’s will. Of course that implies that there’s something wrong with the hermaphrodite–a prejudicial, a priori judgment by O’Connor necessary as a premise for the story to “work.” The judgment is a distasteful construct. This being O’Connor, the girl has an epiphany at the end, accepting grace, letting go of her pride, embracing Catholicism. Drench the ending in sun all you like, it’s a preachy, flimsy story saved by its humor and the girl’s curious insights. But it’s no “Keela.”

Harper’s Bazaar, May 1954

Flannery O’Connor, “A Stroke of Good Fortune” (1953)

a stroke of good fortune flannery o'connor  Stuyvesant Flats, 1935. (NYPL)

Stuyvesant Flats, 1935. (NYPL)

Think of Nicholson Baker’s “Mezzanine” but in 10 pages, and the elevator replaced by many flights of stairs Ruby, a 34-year-old pregnant with complaints, is struggling to climb. She’s tired, she must rest, she speaks with tenants along the way, she fantasizes about moving elsewhere, she complains about her brother, gone to the army two years and back, unchanged–she complains about everyone–and she denies to herself that she could possibly be pregnant (“Bill Hill’s been taking care of that for five years,” she says of her husband’s presumed condoms), though her fortune teller recently told her that she would have a stroke of good fortune. She thinks it’s the chance to move. It’s really her pregnancy. She doesn’t want babies. “And there her two sisters were, both married four years with two children apiece. She didn’t see how they stood it, always going to the doctor to be jabbed at with instruments.” But her specialty is the put-down of everyone but herself. There’s humor along the way, but not enough to let the story take flight as “The Mezzanine” does: it takes itself more seriously than it pretends not to.

Shenandoah, Spring 1953

Flannery O’Connor, “A Good Man Is Hard To Find” (1953)

The story rattles in the brain snake-like long after you’ve read it whatever you may think of it or of O’Connor. It rattles, it shakes you up, it demands attention, but don’t fall into the trap of its theological pretenses: that’s where it fails, as so much seems to fail in O’Connor.

Bailey wants to drive the family from Georgia to Florida for vacation. His mother, who has no name but “the grandmother,” pressures him to go to East Tennessee instead: Bailey’s two children, who are named–John Wesley and June Star–have never been to Tennessee, and The Misfits, a murderous band, is reported to have just escaped prison and was last seen in Florida: the grandmother doesn’t want to run into them. Also, she hides a cat that Bailey told her not to take. The cat will be instrumental in startling Bailey into a crash when the grandmother suddenly realizes that she’s misled her son into driving deep into an isolated dirt road in search of a supposed roadside attraction that’s not where the grandmother thought it was. She was so busy preaching, blabbering, complaining about the younger generation (” I remember the day you could go off and leave your screen door unlatched”), pretending to know it all, that she didn’t realize she’d screwed up her memory’s geography. The car crashes. The Misfits appear. The Misfits shoot everyone dead, leaving the grandmother last. She’s been pleading for her life, not that of her son or grandchildren or the unnamed wife. The Misfit has been in an oddly theological discussion with her the whole time:

“Jesus was the only One that ever raised the dead,” The Misfit continued, “and He shouldn’t have done it. He shown everything off balance. If He did what He said, then it’s nothing for you to do but thow away everything and follow Him, and if He didn’t, then it’s nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can-by killing somebody or burning down his house or doing some other meanness to him. No pleasure but meanness,” he said and his voice had become almost a snarl.

He shoots her. The blood spatters his glasses. “She would of been a good woman,” The Misfit said, “if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.”

Avon Book of Modern Writing, 1953