The short story "Greenleaf" shows us some of the central themes of Flannery O'Connor's literary work.
Religion is one of the main themes in her works and also in "Greenleaf." In this short story, the Southern writer exposes two of her major preoccupations about religion:
- The conflict between Catholicism and Protestantism
- The revelation of Christ's grace in the main characters
These aspects of the religious theme are especially important in the development of the plot of "Greenleaf."
The tension between Mrs. May and the Greenleafs symbolizes the conflict between Protestantism and Catholicism. Mrs. May embodies all the features of American Protestantism. She is morally smug and she believes that she has within herself everything she needs to be "good" and respectable person. Mrs. May thinks that she can control her destiny. But the author considers that this is not a proper relationship with God.
On the other hand, the Greenleafs follow the natural order of things and they do not try to change it. They are conscious of their dependence on supernatural forces.
We can appreciate this conflict through the words of the characters:
Mrs. May usually says that "I have to do it for myself" and in one of these instances she adds "Thank God for that." Mr. Greenleaf reply to this affirmation: "Thank God for ever-thang." Mr. Greenleaf is aware of his dependence on God.
These arguments sum up the conflict between Protestantism and Catholicism. Protestantism defends that each person determines her or his own beliefs and salvation comes from a personal relationship with God. Catholicism maintains that salvation comes through a proper relationship guided by the laws of the Catholic Church.
The other religious theme included in this story is the revelation of Truth about life to the main character. All the story is constructed to reach this climatic moment of revelation of God's grace. This kind of literary structure is known as epiphany.
Mrs. May is a smug and self-righteous protagonist who thinks that she can control all the events of her life. O'Connor thought that this sort of people are out of the touch of God. Her revelation consists in the discovery of a higher knowledge of life which implies an encounter with God. Mrs. May achieves this knowledge through her death, through a violent encounter with a bull.
The violence over the main character is very usual in Flannery O'Connor stories in order to experience conversion. The most important purpose of O'Connor was to shock her smug protagonists, like Mrs. May, out of their complacency and bring them violently into an awareness of their inadequacy before the eyes of God. The violence which accompanies the revelation of God's grace and the agent of this grace (the bull) is not a penance; for O'Connor, this violence is more similar to a blessing.
* MRS. MAY
Mrs. May belongs to a very important group of characters in the works of...