Flannery O'Connor and the Blessed Essay

Flannery O Connor And The Blessed Essay

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The society of the South is such that there has always been a large gap in the classes of wealth, position, education, and general welfare. The gap began with slavery, and the pattern has endured for a long time, despite attempts to create opportunities for the lower classes. The majority of the population has little money, poor education, and lives in squalor while a select few are privileged enough to have whatever they could ever need or want. Privileged they are indeed, whether they have been blessed with intelligence or property. It is this privilege that many people have taken for granted however, as they do not use this opportunity of what they have been given to help those that are not so fortunate. Flannnery O’Connor addressed this neglect with her short stories, attempting to bring to the attention of the elite their folly and impending doom as they would be judged one day, and most likely found guilty. She specifically addresses two groups, intellectuals and the well-landed, and uses characterization and plot to say to them that they are in danger of judgment and should be accountable for their actions. The first group to be discussed, intellectuals, are perhaps the less malicious of the two. Mankind has come to put more and more faith in human reason and intelligence, rather than the supreme goodness of God. We have put unquestioning belief in human intelligence. It has been achieved by discrediting the Bible, teaching evolution in schools, and society’s continued worship of wealth and fame. Most recently, believing intelligence to be the only redeeming quality of people is a blatant example of this transfer of faith. The intellectual has come to garnish much respect, to the point that the word of scientists has taken over the word of God. O’Connor sees the intellectual as one who has received of the grace of God, but has used it for the wrong purposes. In “The Peeler”, Hazel Motes has committed similar acts of replacement. While those around him attempt to convert him to Christianity, he repeats, several times, “My Jesus.” He believes that he does not need the religious zealot’s message, since he has already made for himself his own, personal Jesus in the prostitute. Once again, an intellectual character has sought to create their own personal religion, an impostor, for the truth, which they ignore by refusing to recognize the truth. In this way they are wasting the gift of intelligence, by deliberately ignoring what is right in front of them, and what they of all people should be able to recognize. This is why O’Connor causes such horrible things to happen to them ;she has made them accountable for whether or not they are living up to their potential. This is also why those that are illiterate, or un-intellectual, are not punished for their ignorance ;they have recognized the truth, despite their “simple” dispositions. They have overcome their humble beginnings to understand something that the intellectuals cannot. This class of society is personified in Enoch Emery. Enoch is something of a follower. He hounds Hazel throughout the story, all the while proclaiming that he knows what’s good and bad, due to his brief stay at a Christian boarding school. This typifies the un-intellectual of O’Connor’s stories: he is what we might call “backwards”, he appears to be blindly following religion, and he is above all else uneducated and simple. However, he is correct in believing In The Lame Shall Enter First, the reader is presented with the ironically titled intellectual Sheppard. His name suggests a resemblance to Jesus Christ, the person whom he fully rejects by building idols for himself out of human intelligence. When he is presented with the smart Rufus Johnson, Sheppard sees potential in him because of his intelligence. He came to Johnson's IQ score. It was 140. He raised his eyes eagerly.” Sheppard raises his eyes, a gesture normally reserved for looking towards heaven. In this case, heaven has been replaced by intelligence, which has become Sheppard’s religion, of which he is the priest. He discredits the boy’s rude behavior as signs of intelligence that the boy has constructed to keep anyone from becoming close to him. O’Connor doesn’t put Johnson in much of a negative light, despite his miscreant ways, due to the fact that Johnson is a Christian who does see the reality of things. Sheppard does not. And it is for this reason that Sheppard is presented with an air of condescension by O’Connor. He is subsequently punished with the suicide of his son, who does this because Sheppard totally ignored him and his problems coping with the death of his mother. Sheppard didn’t see a great deal of intelligence in his son and assumed that he wasn’t worth his effort, while Johnson was. Sheppard’s purpose is to convert Johnson from the truth to the secular, and is punished accordingly for using his gifts to do this. In the end, the intellectual in this story is forced to give up their false idols when he is at last presented with the truth in a jarring, violent, tragic way, the suicide of his son. The purpose of O’Connor’s violence in her stories is that those who are incorrect, the intellectuals, can be made to see the truth in no other way. The position in society of the well landed in the South is particularly heinous, according to O’Connor, as short stories abound wherein the wealthy are dealt with quite harshly and put into a disapproving light. For example, in “Revelation”, the main character, who believes herself to be a wonderful person, and giving to a fault, and judging nobody, is forcibly brought into a state of illumination by another character, who puts it bluntly as “you old hog”. This young girl is correct. The lady emphasizes how grateful she is for all that she has, but how humble she has remained. In reality she is nothing of the sort, and later on, she has a vision of herself and her kind, the well-landed, last in line to get into heaven. The people that she despises, the crippled, Negroes, etc, are first in line. She realizes that she has indeed not used what she has been given in this life for any purpose but to please herself, and is judged accordingly. O’Connor makes her characters fully accountable for their actions.

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