Occasionally, when experiencing a certain kind of story, readers grow anxious. The medium is irrelevant: film, literature, and videogames can all have it. Gradually, the atmosphere of a work becomes disconcerting and tense. Something about a situation does not sit well with the mind, or the heart, or the soul. One’s feeling of comfort progressively shifts and wanes, finally combusting in an interjection. “Oh, God!” or “It couldn't be!” or even “Why?!” might slip the tongue after a particularly poignant case of this phenomena. Flannery O’Connor’s stories are particularly steeped in this recurring usage of shocking, thought-stifling events.
For sake of brevity, the occurrence heretofore described will now be referred to as the O’Connor Effect. Throughout the three stories offered in Norton (A Good Man Is Hard to Find, Good Country People, and Everything That Rises Must Converge), the O’Connor Effect is very evident. Flannery O’Connor seemed to delight in weaving a plot of slow realization, of irony, and foolishness, and the dark harshness of human existence. She accomplished this through the usage of settings which are common and seemingly innocent. Her fiction is not composed of obscure situations intangible to the average person. As such, the O’Connor Effect becomes all the more affecting, and all the more unsettling.
A Good Man Is Hard to Find begins with the innocence of a road trip (Innocence, by the way, is a rather major role throughout the three short stories). A family decides to take a trip south, expecting a nice and enjoyable vacation. Of course, as their trip wears on the flaws of the character’s dispositions become evident, but they are barely different from any other family. The grandmother, whom the story mostly focuses around, fills the trip with (as a personal opinion) the inane chatter of a person longing for faded youth and thoughtless save for nostalgic reflections (Her wearing a nice outfit should she die in an accident is testament to her rather foolish mind).
Irony rears its head in two instances during this story. The first, which is stated during the introduction to O’Connor’s work in Norton, is that of the grandmother’s proper attire. In order to demonstrate to the world that she is a lady, even in death, she travels in floral and elegant attire. In the end of A Good Man Is Hard to Find, the grandmother lies dead in a pool of her own blood. But, hey, at least passer-by will stop and say, “Gee, what a fine lady she must have been.” The second instance of irony, which I find too perfect, is in the appearance of the Misfit, a killer whom the grandmother rants about prior to the family’s trip. Of course, placing yourself in the family’s place yields a fairly terrifying feeling, horrible and lamentable. Yet, on the outside, the darkness seems to dim a little with examination of how O’Connor set the story up.
Good Country People continues with the O’Connor Effect, though certainly not as dark as the preceding piece. Irony within this plot arrives in the nature of Hulga and her situation at the end. Throughout the story, Hulga stomps about with an air of conceit, feeling intellectually superior to the people with which she resides. Her philosophical pursuits, however, have left her with a loose grasp on reality and a weakened understanding of people. With the bible salesman, Hulga feels controlling, feeling as if it’s a game, that she is seducing him. Lo and behold when the salesman unveils his true nature, has her helpless in a barn, and absconds with her prosthetic leg to satisfy some obscure fetish. Hulga, for all supposed intellect and comprehension of life, receives a rather hard knock back down to Earth.
Everything That Rises Must Converge features a more depressing ending than the other two (well, alright, it ties with A Good Man Is Hard to Find). The son within this story is jaded with life and the society around him. Again, as in Good Country People, the character’s history with education leads to a more disappointed view of the world. A mentality of “I am above this” courses throughout the son’s disposition and expressions, and extends even to his treatment of his mother. With racial tension as a backdrop, the son pictures himself as enlightened, seeking assimilation with colored people, in opposition to his mother’s sentiments. The character longs to see his mother put in her place, to have her experience an ideological shift into the new age, even by arguably harsh means. What could be more perfect, then, to have the mother endure just such an experience, only to become jeopardized in health and to have the son pouring out emotion for his dear, sweet mamma?
Indeed, the O’Connor Effect relies heavily on situational irony, and it works. Flannery O’Connor certainly found an effective means of relating statements and emotions. The fates and experiences of her characters are frightening, sorrowful, and unfortunate. However, a feeling of justice is occasionally at work, as well, if one were to look with an open enough mind. Nothing can beat those moments of realization, those epiphanies exhibited with the O’Connor Effect, which really drive a chill down the reader’s spine.