The Impact of the Mysterious Force on the Degenerate Characters’ Transformation in the Selected Short Stories by Flannery O’Connor

Essay, 2008

6 Pages, Grade: A


The Impact of the Mysterious Force on the Degenerate Characters’ Transformation in the Selected Short Stories by Flannery O’Connor

The readers who are familiar with Flannery O’Connor’s fictional world might probably admit that it resembles a gallery of freaks deformed both in body and spirit. Her short stories contain numerous portrayals of aberrant behaviour as well as frequent descriptions of pathological states. Moreover, the author acquaints the reader with her characters’ predicament and its consequences. It seems that an inherent element of these protagonists’ abnormal behaviour is their total lack of control over their lives. Although they believe, they are capable of holding their fate in their own hands, their impotence invariably becomes apparent. O’Connor’s characters suffer defeat attempting to wield influence on their actions and end up entangled in the destructive vortex they cannot defy. These struggles often lead to death. Alternatively, the protagonists experience the state of death-in-life. The American writer’s stories portray the figure whose existence is submitted to the supremacy of a mysterious force. This inexplicable energy contributes to the alleviation of the character’s desperate state, induced by his abnormal conduct.

How does the aberrant behaviour manifest itself and how does the afflicted hero eliminate chaos from his life? First of all, the significance of death in the protagonist’s metamorphosis is worth mentioning. Patrick Galloway portrays O’Connor’s characters’ death as a positive process. Her short stories abound with violent and shocking scenes of death. For instance, the Polish immigrant, Guizac, is crushed by a tractor in “The Displaced Person”; Mrs May, the main heroine of “Greenleaf”, meets her end being impaled on the bull’s horn; the grandmother gets shot by the serial killer in “A Good Man is Hard to Find” and two main heroes of “A View of the Woods” – Mr Fortune and his granddaughter beat each other to death. Appalling and useless as the brutality of these scenes appears, it fulfils an essential function. Galloway explains the extreme use of violence in the American author’s writing, pointing out that: “according to O’Connor’s literary philosophy, the man in a violent situation reveals those aspects of his character that he will take with him into eternity.”[1] Moreover, Galloway develops his thought stating that Flannery O’Connor based her approach on Martin Heidegger’s philosophy and his concept of Dasein [2], being-there. Heidegger perceives the moment of death as the time when a man’s existence becomes complete, for better or worse. What is particularly important, O’Connor’s protagonist is forced to reintroduce order in his world because the excess of vanity and hatred in his life leads to the loss of control over his own existence. Thus, the moment of death is a salvation as it provides the opportunity to comprehend the inadequacy of the character’s self.

As far the course of the “self-intoxicated”[3] protagonist’s transformation is concerned, the final scene of “Greenleaf” portrays the metamorphosis Mrs May undergoes confronting her brutal destiny. As the embittered heroine is impaled on the horn of Greenleaf’s bull, the reader learns that “(…) she had the look of a person whose sight has been suddenly restored but who finds the light unbearable”[4] and that “(…) she seemed, when Mr Greenleaf reached her, to be bent over whispering some last discovery into the animal’s ear.”[5] At the moment of death Mrs May is endowed with knowledge which would be inaccessible to her were she alive. This heroine as well as Mrs Cope in “A Circle of the Fire”, Mrs McIntyre in “The Displaced Person” or Ruby Turpin in “Revelation” are confined in a tiny world they consider satisfactory. Despite their undoubted virtues, such as industriousness and efficiency, they are forced to encounter a violent shock in order to recover humility. Moreover, they are compelled to abandon the feeling of contempt towards those whose achievements are less impressive than their own. If it were not for the protagonists’ loss of life, their perfectly mastered world could not disintegrate and consequently, they would be unable to comprehend reality. What is equally important, the characters’ painful transformation is essential for them to obtain grace.

The farm owners are not the only type of self-satisfied protagonists that Flannery O’Connor depicts in her fiction. The grandmother in “A Good Man is Hard to Find”, is another example of a character whose fate must be determined by external factors. On the surface, she differs from the industrious, business-like and well-organized landladies. She is nostalgic about the past, makes constant references to the time of her youth when good manners existed and laments over the fact that respect and decency have lost their true meaning. Yet, she resembles such heroines as Mrs May, Mrs Cope or Mrs McIntyre in her limited vision of life. The grandmother appears pathetic because she is forced to cope with a world that became foreign for her. Her development ended at a certain stage, that is why her attitudes seem childish, naïve and irresponsible. Her perception of life is not only limited but also distorted. The woman views herself as the most righteous person in the family, which is illustrated in her comments about respect in her time: “Children were more respectful of their native states, and their parents and everything else. People did right then.”[6] In fact, the lies and trickery she employs in order to achieve her aims lead to the annihilation of her whole family. During the family trip, the grandmother mentions the plantation house that would be worth visiting because of its educational values. As a result, the family deviates from the main road, which is the onset of their destruction. Brenda Brandon, in her essay The Price of Distortion, notices that “this family got sidetracked spiritually, as well as geographically and now they will pay the price for going astray”.[7] The grandmother’s views appear remarkably ridiculous when she utters them in the presence of The Misfit, the serial killer, whom the family encounters during their journey. The heroine is convinced that she is a respectable lady and that she will be recognized as such by others. Laurence Enjolras points out that:

When the grandmother, clad from head to foot in what she imagines to be the proper attire for a lady, clings desperately to that image of herself she figures will impress The Misfit, hysterically pleading ‘I know you wouldn’t shoot a lady!’ she is grossly unaware of the fact that The Misfit and she do not speak the same language.[8]

The protagonist’s dialogue with the assassin reveals the fact that the woman is “a victim of her own imagination”[9] Although she considers herself a good Christian, it turns out that her faith is shallow as she does not comprehend the concept of sin, salvation and damnation. The criminal’s reflections on religion seem to be undoubtedly more mature than those of the grandmother. The Misfit bestows knowledge on the heroine. The woman’s encounter with the murderer opens her for accepting grace and prepares her for shedding the false identity she possesses. The emptiness of the protagonist’s self-made world becomes apparent even to herself when she finally realizes her impotence attempting to save her life:


[1] Patrick Galloway, The Dark Side of the Cross: Flannery O’Connor’s Short Fiction, 1996,, April 12, 2007.

[2] Dasein is a concept forged by Martin Heidegger in his magnum opus Being and Time (1927). It is derived from da-sein, which literally means being-there/here, though Heidegger was adamant that this was an inappropriate translation of Dasein. In German, Dasein is synonymous with existence, as in I am pleased with my existence (ich bin mit meinem Dasein zufrieden). For Heidegger, however, it must not be mistaken for a subject, that is something objectively present. Heidegger was adamant about this distinction, which carried on Nietzsche's critique of the subject. Dasein, as a being that is constituted by its temporality, illuminates and interprets the meaning of being in time. “Dasein,” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, 2007,, April 12, 2007.

[3] Laurence Enjolras, Flannery O’Connor’s Characters (Lanham – New York – Oxford: University Press of America, 1998), p. 32.

[4] Flannery O’Connor, “Greenleaf” in Everything That Rises Must Converge (New York: The Library of America, 1988), p. 523.

[5] Ibid., p. 524.

[6] Flannery O’Connor, “A Good Man is Hard to Find” in A Good Man is Hard to Find (New York: The Library of America, 1988), p. 139.

[7] Brenda Brandon, The Price of Distortion, 2003,, April 13, 2007.

[8] Laurence Enjolras, Flannery O’Connor’s Characters, op. cit. , p. 38.

[9] Ibid.

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The Impact of the Mysterious Force on the Degenerate Characters’ Transformation in the Selected Short Stories by Flannery O’Connor
American Literature
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impact, mysterious, force, degenerate, characters’, transformation, selected, short, stories, flannery, o’connor
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M.A. Anna Dabek (Author), 2008, The Impact of the Mysterious Force on the Degenerate Characters’ Transformation in the Selected Short Stories by Flannery O’Connor, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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