Feminism, Morality, and Southern Gothicism in Flannery O’Connor’s Short Fiction

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Known for her Southern Gothic style of writing, Flannery O’Connor ensures that she portrays the theme of false reality throughout her work. While reading the work of O’Connor, readers immerse themselves in the gruesome collision of religion and morality. Sometimes seen as religious heroes, others as evil villains, characters display the contrast between evil and innocence. Throughout O’Connor’s stories, additional characters emerge resulting in strong initial beliefs being altered and secret identities being discovered. In addition to the themes of false reality and religion, O’Connor also explores feminist views and provides insight on morality through the use of a unique style.

Specifically, the short stories “Good Country People” and “A Good Man is Hard to Find” can oblige as primary examples containing characters that experience a common problem of having a difficult time viewing their ultimate reality. O’Connor guarantees that she “convinces us of things which are quite outside our experience through means which require considerable aesthetic reorientation”(Friedman 240).

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Feminism believes that women are treated differently than men and is an overarching theme in multiple works of O’Connor. Comparisons between men and women constantly occur in ways that women are less than men. Feminism is present throughout the short story “Good Country People” including in the names given to the characters, the molding of women to be people they aren’t, and Manly, the bible salesman, taking away Hulga’s power to walk. Hulga represents the ideal way a feminist should act; she adopts a masculine persona, is independent, stands up for herself, is well educated, and changes her name “first purely on the basis of its ugly sound and then the full genius of its fitness had struck her” indicating the action of her taking control of her own life (“Good Country People” 4).

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In addition, Manly taking her wooden leg away signifies that she no longer has the power to walk and the concept of a man taking it away contributes to the feminist criticism that men are above women. Manley’s “lust is grotesquely distorted, focused on female deformities” and he overall takes advantage of the all-women atmosphere he is placed in and manipulates the women in the story to think he is just a simple man (Westling 517). Hulga’s new identity allows her to act as herself and not be placed as a feminist as her mother wishes she would be. Furthermore, in “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” the treatment of men and women differ greatly. The females in this story conform to the patriarchal view of how a women should act, are not named, and said to have been a good woman “if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life” (“A Good Man is Hard to Find” 493). O’Connor’s stories reflect the vulnerable position of women in a male dominant society and her overall message supports that women can do exactly what men can do, be treated equally, and make their own decisions.

It is evident that O’Connor believes that every human being comprises of both good and evil parts. O’Connor provides insight that a person’s true colors may be exactly the opposite of what was originally thought. Throughout her short stories, “An individual violently maladjusted in society is urged with childlike naiveté to be governed by the goodness of Jesus” and the influence religion has on those who claim to practice it is certainly questioned (Renner 124). In “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” conversations between the grandmother and the Misfit attempt to undertake questions of morality and what actually constitutes a “good man.” O’Connor “attempts to achieve a kind of spiritual super-realism, since both her experience and orthodoxy taught her that all humans are morally grotesque” which serves to clarify that O’Connor wants to illustrate the results of invocation among her characters (Leonard 1). Her overall goal is to write “spiritually mimetic fiction” and for her readers to understand and recognize the power of grace in their lives by experiencing it through her fiction (Leonard 3). In “Good Country People,” O’Connor readies Hulga and replaces her confidence so that “she be ready in her humility to receive the Word as she had been prepared to receive the Bible’s salesman” (Havird 24). Through the ongoing process of the character’s relationships with religion, readers are able to have insight on what is meaningful and good by unmasking what is not.

Through the use of a descriptive yet simple sentence structure and a conversational tone, O’Connor establishes a simplistic style. In addition to her conversational tone, juxtaposition between comical tones and violent positions also occur; “the comedic method is this story’s way of being serious” exemplifies the general style of “A Good Man is Hard to Find” (Renner 125). Characterized as having a Southern Gothic style of writing, O’Connor writes about strange events that usually take place in mysterious places. In addition, another unique characteristic that separates O’Connor from other writers is that she writes grotesque literature meaning that she writes about very strange or ugly things primarily concerned with the “oddity of character but always within the demands of narrative expression” and character descriptions using words and phrases such as “turkey crying for water,” and “face was as broad as cabbage” (Friedman 240). Furthermore, O’Connor uses situational and verbal irony throughout each short story. Undoubtedly, the title “Good Country People” exemplifies irony in that the story actually turns out to be the quite opposite of what is originally thought based off of the title. O’Connor’s use of point of view contributes to the irony in “A Good Man is Hard to Find”: “Permitting the author to enter her work covertly and obliquely through her characters’ self revelations”(Foster 261). Taken place in 3rd person, allows the story to focus primarily on the grandmother and get a grasp of her thoughts and feelings but in little detail. Lastly, O’Connor frequently uses foreshadowing to add mystery and excitement to her stories such as in “A Good Man is Hard to Find”: “in case of an accident anyone seeing the dead would know that at once that she was a lady” (“A Good Man is Hard to Find”); this foreshadows the later event of her dying. The simplistic, southern gothic style of the work of O’Connor contributes to the success and feasible understanding of her short stories through the use of grotesque language.

Flannery O’Connor, an emblematic writer of the 20th century, surely lived to the fullest, comprising over thirty short stories, two of them being “A Good Man is Hard to Find” and “Good Country People.” The short stories include concepts of morality and feminism through the use of grotesque characters and situations. Her tone, often comical and conversational, allows for readers to engage and realize the hidden comedy in a serious situation. Examining through a feminist and moral lens, allows readers to discern O’Connor’s underlying values, humor, wit, and her eye for the grotesque.

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Feminism, Morality, and Southern Gothicism in Flannery O’Connor’s Short Fiction. (2021, Sep 14). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/feminism-morality-and-southern-gothicism-in-flannery-o-connor-s-short-fiction-essay

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