Everything That Rises Must Converge

Topics: Racism, Flannery O'Connor, Short story Pages: 5 (1698 words) Published: March 21, 2006
"True culture is in the mind, the mind," he said and tapped his head, "the mind." "It's in the heart," she said, "and in how you do things is because of who you are." The webboard postings referencing the Flannery O'Connor short story "Everything That Rises Must Converge" bear a strong relationship to the above mentioned mini-debate between the characters Julian and his mother. Utilizing the devices of setting, point of view, and round characterization to propel her plot forward, O'Connor elicits strong responses from readers regarding what they believe the theme of the story to be and once identified, how they interpret it. These reactions reflect the students' own "themes of the self" (David Mial, Empowering the Reader) and demonstrate "the limitations of [their] habitual concepts and ways of thinking" (Mial-Kuiken: Overview) of the readers. The students in their assessment of the text; both address whether true culture lies in the mind or in the heart as it applies to the characters and to themselves as readers. The mind shapes and rationalizes beliefs and ideologies, while the heart emotes them and is their acting embodiment. Overall, the webboard reader-response to "Everything That Rises Must Converge" is dominated by the respondents' assessment of the two main characters Julian and his mother, both as individuals and in relationship to one another, triggered by an emotional reaction steeped in personal empathy and moralism. Evidence of empathy, whether positive or negative, shows that the readers credit O'Connor with having developed strong, rounded characters which so engross them that the majority of their postings are actually a response focused on Julian and his mother specifically rather than on the narrative as a whole. Many of the readers used the word sympathy to describe how they related to the characters. Either explicitly or implicitly, some respondents "felt sympathy * for Julian's mother" (Janice Lonia); others had "no sympathy of Julian or his mother" (Lizette Gill); still others "found it hard to decide who [they] sympathized with" (Heather Caputo). Attempting to humanize these literary characters in order to relate to them seemed to be a large part of the contributions to the webboard discussions. None of the responses were discussed or showed an interest in the language usage or in tone and style analysis; and little direct commentary is offered on what possible symbolism might be contained within the narrative. Rather the emphasis is on describing the characters, judging them on the basis of what was liked or disliked about them (as opposed to what made them rounded, well-developed characters) and then drawing conclusions about the theme of the story. O'Connor presents a character driven story in which many "gaps" and "indeterminacies" (Sven Birkerts, Literature: The Evolving Canon) are filled in by the readers, combining with the actual text to form the character in the reader's mind. Readers took certain descriptions, comments, and statements by or about Julian and his mother to be prototypical personality traits, which defined their very essence. The basic structure of the character-theme debate took fell into three categories and their ensuing examples: 1) Racism -"The story is enveloped in racism. And that's how I see the story." (Ali Kelly); 2) Class structure - "The essence of this story is a family's * coming to terms with losing its hold on southern aristocracy." (Garry Chandler); and 3) Familial relationships - "Julian treats his mother like a small child because he has no love for her and no respect." (Devon Connell). Each of these categories is elucidated by a character analysis, which goes beyond the text and into the imaginations of the commentators. The topic of racism overshadows almost every analysis issued forth by contributors to the "Everything That Rises*" webboard postings and it is approached with both subtle nuances and overt statements. Overt statements regarding racism...
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