Flannery O'Connor belonged to the Southern
Gothic tradition that focused on the decaying South and its damned
people. O'Connor's body of work was small, consisting of only
thirty-one stories, two novels, some prose, speeches and letters.
O'Connor's short stories have been considered her finest work.
With A Good Man Is Hard to Find, and Other Stories (1955)
she came to be regarded as a master of the form.
O'Connor’s writing, often labeled grotesque
and violent, is nevertheless "Christian." On first perusal of her works, the horrific
deaths, the empty, cruel, narcissistic characters and the unresolved
endings might seem at variance with an expression of deep religious
faith. However, Miss O'Connor in referring to a short
story, said, "About this I can only say that there are perhaps
other ways than my own in which this story could be read, but
none other by which it could have been written. Belief, in my
own case anyway, is the engine that makes perception operate." This engine of belief, generating painfully
sharp perceptions of flawed human nature, is present in all her
works. Moreover, the extreme use of violence served her vision
of a greater spiritual reality. In a letter written to Winifred
McCarthy, Flannery O'Connor writes, "There is a moment in
every great story in which the presence of grace can be felt as
it waits to be accepted or rejected, even though the reader may
not recognize this moment."
In an essay in which she discusses "A Good Man is
Hard to Find", O’Connor says: "The heroine of the story,
the Grandmother, is in the most significant position life offers
the Christian. She is facing death."
Critic Carter W. Martin notes, "Most of [O’Connor’s]
short stories are constructed in such a way as to dramatize the
sinfulness and the need for grace... [they]
delineate two different kinds of grace normally received by the
characters, ‘prevenient’ grace- which moves the will spontaneously,
making it incline to God--and ‘illuminating’ grace, by which God
enlightens men to bring them nearer to eternal life."
Commenting on the racism embedded in Southern writing and culture,
novelist Alice Walker adds further analysis of O’Connor’s body
of work: the “essential O'Connor is not about
race at all, which is why it is so refreshing, coming, as it does,
out of such a racial culture. If it can be said to be ‘about’
anything, then it is ‘about’ prophets and prophecy, ‘about’ revelation,
and ‘about’ the impact of supernatural grace on human beings who
don't have a chance of spiritual growth without it..”
The Eternal Crossroads:
The Art of Flannery O'Connor by L.V. Driskell and J.T. Brittain (1971).
Nightmares and Visions: Flannery O'Connor and the Catholic Grotesque, Gilbert H. Muller. (Athens, GA, University of Georgia Press), 1972.
Flannery O'Connor's Characters
by Laurence Enjolras (1998).
Flannery O'Connor: Comprehensive
Research and Study Guide, ed. by Harold Bloom (1999).
Flannery O'Connor: A Life
Jean W. Cash (2002).
Online Critical Articles: