Flannery O’Connor once said, “…It is when the freak can be sensed as a figure for our essential displacement that he attains some depth in literature.” With this, O’Connor correctly uses the freak to symbolize her reoccurring theme of a grotesque viewpoint on the world, and such symbolism is used prominently in two of her short stories, ‘Everything That Rises Must Converge” and “Good Country People.” Within both stories, the freak awakens both the characters in the stories, and, in fact, the reader themselves, to the fact that they embody the same state as the freak.
In “Everything That Rises Must Converge,” Julian’s mother’s racism serves as the displacement in the story, while the Black characters encountered the bus ride symbolically represent the freak. Julian’s mother expresses her pity with the Black race when she states, “Most of them in it are not our kind of people, but I can be gracious to anybody. I know who I am.” Despite ...view middle of the document...
It is at this point that Julian’s mother’s awful attitude towards others different than her crashes around her, and, as most of O’Connor’s stories end, tragically ends with the mother suffering a stroke due to this newfound displacement of culture shock. Although one can be caught off-guard by this seemingly random death, we are reminded of the duality that exists with racism, in that it is practically a way of life for the older generation, and although Julian’s mother couldn’t handle this newfound viewpoint, O’Connor spoon-feeds the reader into understanding that nature, like people, can be both good and evil.
In “Good Country People,” Hulga represents both the freak and displacement, as she is both physically deformed with a wooden prosthetic leg, and mentally displaced, with her Ph.D. in Philosophy dramatically changing her perspective on life. With these two attributes, Hulga is lead to become an atheist, despite her mother, Ms. Hopewell, who still tries to ignore her blatant atheism and force her ideals of God connecting everyone onto her. However, Ms. Hopewell, unknowingly, is shown by O’Connor to have completely wrong ideals, as the duality of her statement becomes the head-slapper at the end of the story, the quote being, “The reason for her keeping them so long was that they were not trash. They were good country people.” This backfires on Ms. Hopewell because of Manley, a supposed traveling bible salesman, who turns out to be an atheist just like Hulga, despite Ms. Hopewell initially praising the young man as one of God’s proudest creations. From this, Hulga proves her point at a price, as she’s shown that the world is in fact a godless place, at the cost of her own wooden leg, which is stolen nonchalantly by Manley. Thus, Hulga ends up showing that all of humanity is in, some way, grotesque, and that her displacement has ended up both enlightening her and, quite literally, crippling her.
The freak allows O’Connor to show the reader that displacement is prevalent in everyone, and that by having freaks in a society, people can act under the illusion that they themselves are not the freaks. The grotesque allows one to feel what a truly harmonious and holy mind and spirit must be like under the constant mysterious presence of God.