The Lame Shall Enter First

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  • Topic: Boy, Mother, Emperor Norton
  • Pages : 5 (1988 words )
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  • Published : October 5, 2010
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Flannery O’Connor’s short story “The Lame Shall Enter First,” focuses on a young boy named Norton, who lost his mother at nine-years-old. The tale takes place a year later. Norton’s father, Sheppard, works as a City Recreational Director on the weekends where he meets a boy named Rufus Johnson. Rufus is a troubled, yet intelligent fourteen-year-old who Sheppard feels shows a lot of potential. Sheppard immediately takes a liking to Rufus and after the young boy leaves the reformatory, Sheppard decides to invite him into his home with the belief that he can transform Rufus into a well-behaved, brilliant young man. Norton is not at all pleased by the idea of Rufus’ presence in his home and the story continues to describe the journey of Norton and the three main contributing factors that lead to his death: neglect, grief and the biblical teachings of Rufus.

Sheppard’s neglect of Norton began after the death of his wife. Instead of dealing with the grief caused by the loss, he invested himself into his work. He suggested Norton should do the same, “If you stop thinking about yourself and think what you can do for somebody else then you’ll stop missing your mother” (147). However, Norton was at an age where he critically needed his father for guidance and support, especially after losing his mother but Sheppard did not see this. The way Sheppard saw it, “She has been dead for over a year and a child’s grief should not last so long” (146).

When Sheppard met Rufus, he viewed his intelligence as potential and thought that he could be the solution to Rufus’ behavioral issues. He invited Rufus into their home in hopes of pursuing this project of helping the young boy. “He sat for almost ten minutes thinking what he could do if he had Johnson here with him. What was wasted on Norton would cause Johnson to flourish” (152).

When Rufus came into Sheppard’s home, Sheppard immediately began to pay more attention to him than to his own son. Sheppard bought Rufus a telescope because he was convinced that Rufus needed to apply his intelligence in order to reach his potential, “This much of his dream was a reality. Within a week he had made it possible for this boy’s vision to pass through a slender channel to the stars” (162). When Rufus got tired of the telescope Sheppard bought him something new that he hoped he would enjoy. “He bought him a microscope and a box of prepared slides. If he couldn’t impress the boy with immensity, he would try the infinitesimal” (171).

In another attempt to help Rufus, Sheppard had a special shoe fit for him, because he had a clubfoot. He did this in hopes that walking normal would help Rufus reform. “The shoe was going to make the greatest difference in the boy’s attitude” (162). When Sheppard took Rufus to get the shoe he deliberately excluded Norton. “He left Norton at home because he did not want his attention divided. He wanted to be free to observe Johnson’s reaction minutely” (174,175).

Sheppard acted at a father figure to a child that was not related to him, all the while ignoring Norton’s needs. He gave Rufus advice as well at material goods. “Rufus, you can be anything in the world you want to be. You can be a scientist or an architect or an engineer or whatever you set your mind to, and whatever you set your mind to be, you can be the best of its kind” (177). Sheppard longed for Rufus to be grateful for the gifts he gave him; he longed for the boy to trust him and be fond of him.

Sheppard put a lot of his trust in Rufus when he was accused of break-ins around the area. In one of his efforts to prove his trust to Rufus he intentionally ignored Norton. “Across the hall Norton’s door was open. The child lay on the bed on his side, looking into the light from the hall... Norton sat up and beckoned to him. He saw the child but after the first instant, he did not let his eyes focus directly on him. He could not go in and talk to Norton without breaking Johnson’s trust. He hesitated, but...
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