Why Flannery O’Connor Matters Today

On the season finale last year of ABC’s hit drama “Lost,” alert viewers would have noticed that the mysterious character, Jacob (Mark Pellegrino), was reading the book Everything That Rises Must Converge. The tome is a collection of short stories by the American Catholic novelist, Flannery O’Connor who was born in Savannah, Ga. March 25, 1925 and died from lupus in Milledgeville, Ga., outside of Atlanta in 1964.

The book’s title story is about an arrogant young man, Julian, whose bigoted mother cajoles him into accompanying her downtown to her weight loss class because it is evening and she doesn’t want to go alone in the newly integrated South. Things become tense when an African-American mother and son get on the bus, the mother wearing the exact same outlandish purple hat as Julian’s mother. Julian tries to teach his mother a lesson that the world is different now and she must change. His meanness results in tragedy and he races for help for his mother who collapses. O’Connor ends the tale with, “The tide of darkness seemed to sweep him back to her, postponing from moment to moment his entry into the world of guilt and sorrow.”

The book’s title is a quote from “Omega Point” by the French Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who was one of O’Connor’s great influences. For Chardin, the transcendent “omega point” is where the complexity and consciousness of the universe is heading and from whence it originated. O’Connor’s short story applies Chardin’s idea to changing racial realities and attitudes in the American south by the convergence — or collision — of two mother and son pairs, one white and one black. In “Lost,” the appearance of Jacob, the ever-young and seemingly all-knowing authority figure, wakes an unconscious man, and is a signal that things are beginning to converge for the characters; their redemption is at hand, we hope.

Convergence is just one of O’Connor’s favorite themes; in fact it could be argued that the image of literary unity it conjures up could characterize her entire body of work. All her stories are constructed on the idea of sin, grace, and redemption. The sacramental emerges through unexpected encounters, misfits and misplaced persons, journeys, body-parts, the grotesque, dark humor, and violence that are among her mysterious tropes, motifs and symbols.

But who was Flannery O’Connor, does she still matter, and why is Hollywood interested?

Click here for the rest of the NCR article and my interview with screenwriter Benedict Fitzgerald Teaching a chicken to walk backwards Why Flannery O’Connor matters today


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