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From Finite to Infinite: Flannery O’connor’s Introduction of God’s Grace

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From Finite to Infinite: Flannery O’Connor’s introduction of God’s Grace

“In the greatest fiction, the writer’s moral sense coincides with his dramatic sense, and I see no way for it to do this unless his moral judgement is part of the very act of seeing, and he is free to use it (Mystery and Manners 161).”

  1. Introduction

Flannery O’Connor is a successful novelist known for her Catholic belief and Southern origin. She is known for striking a delicate balance between an authentic transcription of Southern reality and her own extreme way of fulfilling religious affirmation. She attempts to tell a story and something that “transcend” the text as the nature of Grace or fate judgement in the end of the story. By saying that “Often the nature of grace can be made plain by describing the absence (Mystery and Manners 204).”, Flannery O’Connor imparts one of the most enlightening keys to approach her short stories. She makes no intention of depicting a glorified picture of the God’s Grace whereas she is illustrating her conviction with a scenario that argue against it. By making her character recognize its finite and limit, Flannery O’Conner is able to deliver the infinite of God’s grace to her reader that transcends the text.

In this essay, I would give a textual analysis of her short story “Good Country People” to show her pattern of delivering the sense of God’s grace. I will discuss the setting and characterization first then focus on the symbolism she uses in revealing the final conversion in the latter part of the story. In the conclusion part I would discuss her aesthetic choice of using the finite to manifest the infinite.

  1. Analysis

In terms of the fiction writing, Flannery O’Connor agrees with Henry James’s idea that fiction that does not depict a consistently realistic expression of life has no “morality”(York 202). Thus, instead of a mystical and religious South that goes with the symbolic southern customs, the setting of her stories is often the rural area of the American South where she is most familiar with. It is a place where she finds “everybody has his compartment, puts you in yours, shuts the door and departs (CW 943)” and a time when racial prejudice, opinions about “white trash,” freaks, and other unfortunates contribute to the general local culture of the South. The narrow and hierarchal setting of an ordinary and sordid background allows her to produce “the strong sense of rich red clay reality underlying and reinforcing all her work (Hart 216 ).” and give credence to a series of her characters in a slow paced and unhurried mode.

Before any intervention of episodic movement, Flannery O’Connor would assign her characters with preoccupied judgement of value and patiently explain their moral, physical and spiritual construction to prepare the readers. In her story, every character is assigned with a type of enclosed and fixed mindset or judgement of value based on his or her personal likings which may go against with each other. Every character believes that they can control the world to run according to the terms of his or her value. For them, everything and everyone has its own place and they would try their best to make sure the hierarchy remains the same in their vision. In the Good Country People, Mrs. Hopewell firmly believes in a clear hierarchal world that is consisted of “trash” at the bottom and “good country people” in general. She is the defender of the social norm whereas her daughter Hulga believes in nothing but human intelligence and rationality. They both consider themselves to sit on the top of the hierarchy and this notion is reinforced throughout the former parts of the story. Before introducing Hulga as the protagonist of the story, Flannery O’Connor initiates the story with Mrs. Freeman and Mrs. Hopewell which constantly provoke Hulga with their ignorance and hypocrisy. These two characters are served as the effective foils for Hulga’s superiority. Since she is more educated than any of them, Hulga believes that she owns a unique intellectual privilege to see through the truth in everything. Her prosthesis, the symbolic meaning of changing her name and her Ph.D., are constantly referred to in a recurrent pattern like leitmotives, which reinforces her sense of superiority (Friedman 240). Even though she has lost her leg, she could still distinguish herself from other people with her intellectual pride and redefine herself in the way she wants. Before the Bible salesman appears in front of Mrs. Hopewell’s door step, Flannery O’Connor has already built up her character with a fixed setting and create an image of a sullen deformed Ph.D. surrounded by the mundane “good country people” in readers mind.

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