The Race Issue in Flannery O’connor's “Everything That Rises Must Converge.”

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The Race Issue in Flannery O’Connor’s “Everything That Rises Must Converge.”

“Let’s skip it [fences],” (273) suggested Julian to his mother in Flannery O’Connor’s short story “Everything That Rises Must Converge.” What authoress says herself is “that the good novelist expresses feelings in symbols (qtd. in Paulson 156)”, and that is exactly what she uses in this story. By writing about fences she suggests us to jump over the differences which divide us and let us live on the same side of the fence. This poses one, very significant, question – are there enough similarities between races to raise them high enough and converge? Are we ready to skip the fence or we will rather trip over it? Another major symbol used by Flannery O’Connor in her short story was the hat. From what we know about hats they had been used from centuries to keep the head warm, signal profession but also “provided a simple and universally understood device for a protocol of respect” in the world of foreign service (Jansson 26) and “symbolized the honor borne by position and title” (Jansson 32). Moreover, as a symbol, hat also plays an important role in contemporary literature. One of such examples would be the novel The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger where the hat is a key attribute of the main character (Strauch 13). Also in O’Connor’s “Everything That Rises Must Converge” it is the hat worn by Julian’s mother and the Negro woman that is the key symbol. According to Teresa Bałazy, it can be a representation of motherhood (66) and of “the depraved and displaced condition of man” (68). Moreover, it can be symbolic of economical equality of Black and White (Walters 129) or signify the “doubling” of the two women (Walters 129). According to John May it is also a “shared emblem of human equality” (95), while Suzanne Paulson considers it a symbol of alienation, Julian’s mother buys it in order “to avoid acknowledging her connection to others” (83); to avoid meeting herself “coming and going” (O’Connor 272). We can observe then, that critics ascribed to it many various functions, however, this does not mean we must choose only one of them, as in each there is some grain of truth. The most significant is that all those symbols and their meanings refer to both women, Black and White, in positive degree, which makes the races similar in the eyes of the writer. Furthermore, “Hats exist because the need to preserve, even if only symbolically, the noblest part of man exists: the head and thus thought” (qtd. in Berengan); taking this into account we may find that wearing hats in the short story guides our attention towards the thoughts of the characters and the psychological dimension of the story. What is more, O’Connor writes that Julian’s mother is “surmounted by the atrocious hat” (272). It emphasizes than the psychological denotation of the text. While choosing symbols for her short story, O’Connor reached also to historical events such as the Montgomery bus boycott which “was one of the first organized and large movements of African-Americans in 20th century America” and “was the beginning of a new era and activism in the black community” (Allen). By dint of it ”not only could the black residents of Montgomery now ride city buses as equals, thanks to their efforts so could many other black citizens throughout the nation” (Hare) but it was also essential for the civil rights movement and black activism movement of 1960’s and 1970’s (Allen). Taking this into consideration, using a bus as a setting of “Everything That Rises Must Converge” seems to be intentional. For Flannery O’Connor bus was another vital symbol denoting ”sameness” (Paulson 83). It was bus, during the boycott and in the story, where everything started and where the convergence was taking place. Moreover, in O’Connor’s story bus is enlightened, it may denote than a safe place towards which both, Black and White, seek refuge from the dark world in which they...
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