The Good Shepherd and the Black Sheep: Paradoxical Irony in "The Lame Shall Enter First"

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"[W]hen thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth" counsels the Bible, thus setting the precedent for all well-meaning members of western society concerning their charitable intentions (Matt. 6.3). Humanity's motivation to aid others, regardless of the outcome, is oft times spotted by the subtle struggle between selflessness and selfishness. Flannery O'Connor captures this classic conflict between good and evil in Southern Grotesque fashion through her characters, the protagonist Sheppard and his foil, Rufus Johnson, in [comment2] "The Lame Shall Enter First".[comment3] Challenging the literal paradigm of light and darkness, O'Connor weaves together well crafted characterization, cryptic dialogue, and both biblical and literary allusion in this paradoxical plot and, by way of Sheppard and the antithetical Rufus, blends the black and white of Christian dogma into an ironic grey.

The contrast of light and dark begins with the description and characterization of the apparently angelic [comment4] Sheppard, and continues with the introduction of the obscure and ominous Rufus Johnson. O'Connor is not pretentious in her description and development of either character. Sheppard's white hair and "halo" are obvious references to his protagonistic status as the story's do-gooder [comment5] (Norton 371). The narrator continues on by lauding his charitable contribution to the community as a counselor and weekend volunteer for "boys no one else cared about" (372). The reader's only initial clue toward Sheppard's self-righteous mania is his deliberate, guilt-implying sermon towards Norton, his disconcerted and doomed son. It is not, however, until the arrival of the dim, drenched Rufus that seemingly stark white coat of Sheppard loses its untainted radiance. [comment6] Johnson is literally cast as the black sheep from the moment he limps into the house in his soaking "wet black suit" (376). The ultimate personification of evil comes when...
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