O'Connor stamp from USPS

Literature You Should Know: The Works of Flannery O’Connor

We seem to be embarking on the Summer of Strange here in the good ol’ US of A, a time when people and things must be treated as their opposites Because I Said So, That’s Why, Shut Up, H8rz! The chattering classes, at least, seem to be living by Adam Savage’s immortal quip, “I reject your reality and substitute my own!” and mocking those of us who will not believe that up is down, especially the Unpeople of Jesusland™ (© AoSHQ). It’s also a time when the Tumblrinas have taken trigger warnings prime time, refusing to engage with anyone or anything that upsets their carefully constructed notions of reality–and thereby destroying the actual utility of trigger warnings that might be needed by people with genuine afflictions like PTSD.

O'Connor, who suffered from lupus, with one of her beloved peacocks
O’Connor, who suffered from lupus, with one of her beloved peacocks

And the Postal Service has just issued a new commemorative stamp… of Flannery O’Connor, who was once asked why her fiction is so full of freaks and replied that in the South, we still know a freak when we see one. She also explained her use of the grotesque by noting that “to the hard of hearing you shout, and to the almost-blind you draw large and startling pictures.” To smash cut a culture growing increasingly blind and deaf to reality, we do need shouts and startling pictures, which is why we need writers like O’Connor.

My dear friend and mentor Ralph C. Wood argues over at First Things that this commemoration of O’Connor is appropriate for such a time as this:

Her characters learn to “see” by discerning the invisible realities that are both the cause and the cure of the world’s misery. They discover that, as O’Connor herself declared, evil is not a problem to be fixed but a mystery to be endured. Our great temptation, in an age of “antireligious religion,” is to believe that, because we can repair much of human pain by human measures, we can also mend the human soul. Thus do we also blink. We benignly yield to feelings that, at whatever cost, must not be “hurt.” We cancel our very humanity in conforming ourselves to a happiness that denies both our moral perversions and bodily limitations.

O'Connor complete works coverFlannery O’Connor’s characters do not blink. Like many biblical figures, her central characters are not good country people or just plain folks. They believe and they behave strangely. They often find what they are not looking for. They are put on the path toward something infinitely more important than social acceptance and cultural conformity. They are being burned clean and made whole—not by a soft-centered tenderness but by the purifying fire of divine mercy.

Read the whole thing–and then read some O’Connor. Even if her works are not your cup of tea, there’s a great deal to be learned from them.

Elisabeth G. Wolfe

Elisabeth G. Wolfe, from Llano, Texas, is an alumna of the 2012 Taliesin Nexus Filmmakers Workshop. She is also a freelance translator and editor, indie historical fiction novelist, and adjunct professor of English at the Baptist College of Florida.