Today, my question is, “Why Flannery O’Connor?” What has intrigued readers and critics for the last sixty years? Why do people continue to talk about Flannery’s stories and novels? And my question is why is she so interesting to people who are not believers? It is clear in her personal letters, in her prayers, and in her essays and speeches that Flannery was writing from a Christian worldview. She explicitly identifies Christian themes that permeate her stories like grace, redemption, and free will. Despite her clearly Christian worldview, she has been respected and admired by people outside of the Church. At the end of “On Her Own Work,” she asserts that “what I write is read by an audience which puts little stock either in grace or the devil” (MM 118). So, why Flannery O’Connor?
For me, Flannery O’Connor shows a different perspective of grace than what is understood in our society today. She demonstrates through her fiction that grace is a natural part of the world around us. She shows that grace is offered to even the worst of sinners like the Misfit in “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” This fits my perspective of grace. God continuously calls us to Him. This is what is called prevenient grace. Before we knew God, He called to us, He wooed us. God never forces Himself upon us. He always invites and extends His love. We have the freewill to choose Him or to walk away. As Flannery explains, even a character like the Misfit “knows what the choice is – either throw away everything and follow Him or enjoy yourself by doing some meanness to somebody” (HB 350). And I love the fact that Flannery says next that “I can fancy a character like the Misfit being redeemable” (HB 350). Even the Misfit is redeemable.
So, why is there this fascination with Flannery’s work outside of the Church? I believe it is because she shows life as it really is. She shows us with all of our distortions, all of our perversions, all of our prejudices, all of our pharisaical beliefs. She saw people as they were, experiencing “disabilities, displacement, discrimination, disorientation, disease, death” (Leigh 365). And in each of her stories, grace is offered. Not all of her characters accept the opportunity for grace, and in fact, many face their own death or the death of loved ones before they will accept grace. However, there are some who move closer to understanding the nature of the mystery of God, the mystery that the world “for all its horror” has “been found by God to be worth dying for” (MM 146). This is grace. This is God’s love. To empty Himself for our benefit. To love us even when we were sinners, even when we were His enemies (Romans 5:8).
I guess the answer to my question is simple. We read Flannery because we hope that her characters will turn toward grace. We read Flannery because we see the mystery of God – He loves us with all of our disabilities, our disease, our death. And I’m sure this is why those outside of the Church ready Flannery, too. They are searching for a love that defies our expectations. That’s the love that God offers. Redemption even for the Misfit.
Leigh, Davis J. “Suffering and the Sacred in Flannery O’Connor’s Short Stories.” Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature, no. 5, 2013, p. 365. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsglr&AN=edsgcl.353645260&site=eds-live&scope=site.
O’Connor, Flannery. The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor, edited by Sally Fitzgerald. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1979.
—. Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1970.