Religion in the Works of Flannery O'Connor
Religion is a pervasive theme in most of the literary works of the late Georgia writer Flannery O'Connor. Four of her short stories in particular deal with the relationship between Christianity and society in the Southern Bible Belt: "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," "The River," "Good Country People," and "Revelation." Louis D. Rubin, Jr. believes that the mixture of "the primitive fundamentalism of her region, [and] the Roman Catholicism of her faith . . ." makes her religious fiction both well-refined and entertaining (70-71). O'Connor's stories give a grotesque and often stark vision of the clash between traditional Southern Christian values and the ever-changing social scene of the twentieth century. Three of the main religious ingredients that lend to this effect are the presence of divine meanings, revelations of God, and the struggle between the powers of Satan and God.
The divine symbols in O'Connor's works tend to be mostly apocalyptic in nature, exhibiting drastic cases of societal breakdown in a religious context, but occasionally, they show prophetic hope. John Byars states that:
She presents two contradictory images of society in most of her fiction: one in which the power and prevalence of evil seem so deeply embedded that only destruction may root it out, and another in which the community or even an aggregate of individuals, though radically flawed, may discover within itself the potential for regeneration. (34)
In all four of the mentioned stories, this presence of Christian signs-of-the-times can be seen. Set in the early fifties, "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" tells of the murder of a vacationing Georgia family by an escaped felon called the Misfit. Byars views the Misfit as an apocalyptic symbol because of his adamant denial of Christ and his brutal shooting of the family (37). "The River" has an example of prophetic meaning presented by the religious babysitter, Mrs. Connin, when she refuses to accept money from the cynical and careless parents of Bevel. Byars believes this action displays the belief that God's goodness will show through in some people, even in an evil world (38). David Eggenschwiler identifies an apocalyptic vision in "Good Country People" as the supposedly devout Bible salesman takes advantage of Hulga in the barn and steals her wooden leg. In this bizarre scene, his monstrous behavior rapidly forces the atheistic Hulga to deal with a situation that is far more corrupt than her own beliefs (56-57). Finally, Byars states, "O'Connor peoples her world with terrible apocalyptic beasts, an `old wart hog from hell . . .'" (37). Wart hog is the name that the bigoted Ruby Turpin is called in "Revelation," after she is physically attacked by the angry college student, Mary Grace.
Closely tied to the divine presence in O'Connor's stories are the revelations that are brought about by these events. According to Nathan Scott, Jr., Hulga's revelation in...