by Brittany Barron
I talked my mom into traveling to Milledgeville, Georgia, and visiting Flannery O’Connor’s house easily. When I set my mind to the project for my Intermediate Composition class, which involved my favorite Southern writer, she knew to surrender. Less than four days later, we sat on O’Connor’s front porch like two Southern Belles at Andalusia, the farm where she lived until she passed away. However, our arrival was far less peaceful than an afternoon frolic. No matter where we go, we always forget to make a turn somewhere. Before reaching Andalusia, the small, right arrow sign did not mean turn ahead. It meant turn right now. Maybe we expected a bigger sign and a prettier driveway, but we veered off the highway to nothing more than a dirt road. Along the bumpy road, I read the sign “Keep dogs on a leash” and believed O’Connor would have added certain people–freaks–to that rule.
Upon entering the house, a middle-aged man greeted us. My mom, never afraid to start a conversation, mentioned my love for O’Connor’s fiction, which provoked the man to share his life history. He, too, majored in English, although he never included if he finished college. He never even took a class that included O’Connor’s work. Then, he began his rehearsed lecture based on other writers’ research, specifically Sarah Gordon’s. Flannery lived at Andalusia from 1951 until her death from lupus in 1964. Every day, she wrote on her typewriter and attended mass at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church. O’Connor, known for her “grotesque” fiction, was a devout Catholic, and her faith influenced her writing. O’Connor said, “I feel that if I were not a Catholic, I would have no reason to write, no reason to see, no reason ever to feel horrified or even to enjoy anything.” What’s-his-name proceeded to add unnecessary commentary and after what felt like a conversation with Mrs. Hopewell–a pain to be around, outspoken gossiper in O’Connor’s “Good Country People”–he left us to tour the house ourselves. We went upstairs, though what’s-his-name told us O’Connor never did. How presumptuous of him to think her spirit never wandered upstairs, either. While the house displayed simple Southern life with its rocking chairs for sweet tea on Sunday afternoons and a large living room for family get-togethers, it still foreshadowed O’Connor’s passion for writing. A glass case held some of O’Connor’s childhood books. Her inscriptions, which included “don’t fiddle with it” or “do not tuch,” revealed her bluntness started at an early age. Her Roman Catholic beliefs haunted the house as well: pictures of Jesus and scenes from the Bible hung from the walls and sat atop dressers.
However, once outside, the peacocks ruled. I named my favorite one Gloria, for she stuck out her neck and shined royal blue with a vengeance and the glory of God. She entertained me more than what’s-his-name, and I understood why peacocks attracted O’Connor’s attention. Since humans ruin humanity’s goodness and act like freaks, animals, such as peacocks, allow salvation to seem tangible. Gordon comments on O’Connor’s love for peacocks: “O’Connor believed that, in the end, the peacock would have the last word.” Certainly, in the end, a peacock like Gloria will speak as gracefully as she trots. After all, the poet Emily Dickinson believes in their power as well: “Hope is the thing with feathers–.” Therefore, with a few peacocks around, hope remains present in everyday life. Perhaps O’Connor felt that peace when she tended to her peacocks.
As I continued to walk Andalusia’s grounds, I thought about O’Connor’s Catholicism. For the most part, she spent her time alone, writing in her prayer journal. In her prayer journal entry “4/14/47,” O’Connor writes about her loneliness: “I do not want to be lonely all my life but people only make us lonelier by reminding us of God.” Reading her prayers reminds me that a few human souls still find God. These souls reflect God’s love and kindness; therefore, upon knowing them, O’Connor wanted to know God more and feel closer to Him. However, O’Connor waited to meet God in death and accepted His mysterious presence until then. O’Connor discerns this detachment and mourns His partial absence. It is easy to picture O’Connor as depressed, cynical, and predisposed toward death because she creates savage monsters in her fiction and yearns to meet God. However, her predisposition ascends from loving Him, the holiest–and best–man of all, rather than hating her earthly life and people. Although O’Connor grew up in the quiet, sweet South with the Lord in her heart, she realized the Devil waited outside the front door and everywhere else she ventured. At Andalusia’s heavily wooded farm, I thought the Misfit–a merciless murderer who kills a family in O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find”–might spring from some bushes and understood why O’Connor probably thought the same thing. In “Undated Entries,” O’Connor ponders, “Hell seems a great deal more feasible to my weak mind than heaven. No doubt because hell is a more earthly-seeming thing. I can fancy the tortures of the damned but I cannot imagine the disembodied souls hanging in a crystal for all eternity praising God.” On earth, where evil dwells, Hell feels real, and Heaven seems untouchable. No place on earth compares to Heaven, so it is easy to imagine demons, such as the Misfit, who she met every day, instead of angels, who she rarely met. O’Connor fears her vivid concept of Hell taints her devotion to God: “I don’t want to be a coward, staying with You because I fear hell.” However, O’Connor forgets that it is difficult to imagine a pure, loving place where we truly belong – Heaven – in a sinful, cruel world. Fearing Hell seems like a small offense in comparison to drowning in sin. Thus, O’Connor’s steadfast faith saves her from eternal Hell.
While O’Connor’s beliefs permeate her personal life, O’Connor’s convictions also seep into her literary life. Even though her illness, lupus, debilitated her, O’Connor continued to write and remained loyal to her beliefs. Regis Martin writes, “One ought cheerfully to endure every affliction one hasn’t the capacity to escape. All this [O’Connor] set about doing because, as with the sufferings of Christ, the terrible diminishment of His cross, such sufferings bring those who have borne them well a triumph and consummation not unlike his own.” O’Connor’s suffering, which bore many triumphs, fueled her writing. While others may grieve and bewail their illnesses, O’Connor, in “Undated Entries,” sees her illness as a blessing and finds purpose within it: “Don’t let me ever think, dear God, that I was anything but the instrument for Your story–just like the typewriter was mine.” Her purpose is to write about God, who shares His story with her, and share it with her readers. Unlike other writers, who simply wish to entertain or explore their talents for vain reasons, O’Connor sees herself as a messenger. In one undated entry, she laments, “My intellect is so limited, Lord, that I can only trust in You to preserve me as I should be.” Although O’Connor is a brilliant writer, she maintains her humility and belief that God provides her talent. God gives her the gift to write and can take it away at any moment. Thus, she never allows her gift to replace or overshadow her faith. O’Connor continues to prove her undying faith in another prayer entry from November 6th of an unknown year: “Virtue must be the only vigorous thing in our lives. Sin is large and stale. You can never finish eating it nor ever digest it. It has to be vomited. But perhaps that is too literary a statement – this mustn’t get insincere.” O’Connor’s concluding statement emphasizes how she separates her faith and literary talent when it comes to her personal time with God. Although her writing reflects her way with words, she never wants it to influence her spiritually. Therefore, O’Connor understands her talent is an earthly gift. It is neither a free pass to heaven nor what awaits her in heaven. However, by using religious themes such as salvation and redemption, O’Connor wields them for her Godly work until she dies. She stresses her career as a writer is an act of faith rather than a selfish choice in “11/4/1946”: “I have a right I believe to show such interest in myself as long as my interest is in my immortal soul and what keeps it pure.” Despite her illness and overwhelming talent, O’Connor followed God and accredited Him for her literary proficiency.
Her literary proficiency included the violence and freaks that pervade her short fiction. O’Connor admits, “I have found . . . that violence is strangely capable of returning my characters to reality and preparing them to accept their moment of grace. Their heads are so hard that almost nothing else will do the work.” In “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” the Misfit’s violence allows one of the characters, the grandmother, to find redemption. After the Misfit kills her, the narrator describes, “[The grandmother] half sat and half lay in a puddle of blood with her legs crossed under her like a child’s and her face smiling up at the cloudless sky.” Looking up at the sky symbolizes Heaven and God; therefore, the grandmother dies peacefully. Beforehand, she even regards the Misfit as “one of my own children,” who she would have outcast earlier. She no longer acts like an unthinking chatterbox, who “wouldn’t marry a man that just brought a watermelon on a Saturday,” and prissy Southern belle with her “white cotton gloves.” In death, she relinquishes her complacent attitude and obtains salvation with the Misfit’s violent help. Then, in “Good Country People,” a Bible salesman steals the prosthetic leg of the twice-named character, Joy-Hulga. Without her leg, the narrator states, “Her brain seemed to have stopped thinking altogether and to be about some other function that it was not very good at” (260). Since she deems herself an “atheist,” she solely relies on her wooden leg to define and fulfill her (249). Therefore, she loses herself without her leg, which once replaced her immortal soul. If she believed in God, her soul would remain intact with or without her wooden leg. The Bible salesman teaches Joy-Hulga a lesson about her empty beliefs. Furthermore, O’Connor also said that both good and evil exist within violence: “The man in the violent situation reveals those qualities . . . which are all he will have to take into eternity with him.” Until she meets the Misfit, the grandmother never thinks about her shortcomings. Likewise, Joy-Hulga never thinks about her attachment to her wooden leg. In these short stories, O’Connor’s freaks, such as the Misfit and Bible salesman, appear. The freaks, unlike disfigured circus sideshows, appear normal. Both the Misfit and the Bible salesman are everyday men. When someone asked about why she writes about freaks, O’Connor answered, “Because we’re still able to recognize one.” Here, O’Connor insinuates the world’s precarious fate: one day, we may lose the ability to recognize freaks. The eye is the “seat of all moral judgment” and we continue to blind ourselves to reality, which includes how we see ourselves and others. We lie to ourselves in order to hide from the truth, whether it is ugly or pretty. Martin accounts for why we accept mystery:
Mystery has been the great hobgoblin of the modern age. We hear and abhor it because we can neither calculate its coming nor control its content. It simply happens. Like an unexpected gale force wind blowing across the benign surface of a backwater bay, it sweeps all life before it. We cannot anticipate its advance anymore than we can assess its impact, the unexpected devastation left in its wake. In short, its unscheduled appearance upsets the best laid plans of nerdy little men bent on rationalist schemes of perfection. Yet, at the same time, mystery remains the chief medium in which God moves; all that He is and everything He’s about reeks of the unaccountable, of the sheer inscrutability of His plans.
Humanity’s belief in God continues to dissipate, but His part within our lives remains: His mystery. We accept this mystery, like we accept lies, in order to ignore the truth. O’Connor realized we wished to believe God and the truth are nonexistent. Thus, she wrote her fiction to jar her readers and force them to look for God and the truth, whether freaks or violence inspire the search.
Back at Andalusia, I wanted to grasp my Southern roots and begin talking with my Southern accent I lose too frequently. By visiting, maybe O’Connor’s Southern writing prowess rubbed off on me, specifically her uncanny ability to slap her readers with the truth and maintain her pure purpose to share her Godly gift. On the outside, O’Connor’s life at Andalusia seemed normal with peacocks as her friends and a typewriter to capture her talent. However, after reading O’Connor’s fiction and prayer journal, I know to look on the inside for an accurate picture. She confronted the Devil every day, but she never stopped believing in God’s love and mercy. While her fiction may scare her readers with the terrorizing Misfit and the fake Bible salesman, she wrote to educate others about God and sustain her immortal soul.
Brittany Barron graduated from the University of North Georgia with a B.A. in English, Literature Concentration in May 2016. Last year, she was recognized for her work on Edith Wharton, winning the undergraduate research essay prize presented by The Edith Wharton Review. Also, her critical essay on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Mary Hays’s The Victim of Prejudice appears in Gender Forum for their 2015 Early Career Researchers issue. Recently, she presented her research on Eliza Haywood at the 2016 British Women Writers Association Conference. Her research interests include feminism, trauma theory, and rape culture. In August 2016, Brittany will attend Georgia College, where she plans to earn her MFA in Creative Writing with an emphasis in Poetry.
 Gordon, Sarah. A Literary Guide to Flannery O'Connor's Georgia. Ed. Craig Amason. Athens: University of Georgia, 2008. 59. Print.
 Ibid, 65.
 Qtd. in Gordon, 99.
 Gordon, 82.
 Dickinson, Emily. “254.” The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. Ed. Thomas H. Johnson. New York: Little, Brown, and Co., 1976. 116. Print.
 O’Connor, Flannery. A Prayer Journal. Ed. W.A. Sessions. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2013. Kindle file.
 Martin, Regis. Flannery O'Connor: Unmasking the Devil. 2nd ed. Ann Arbor: Sapientia, 2005. Print.
 O’Connor, A Prayer Journal.
 Qtd. in Martin, 20.
 O’Connor, Three by Flannery O’Connor, 143.
 Ibid, 130-2.
 Ibid, 260.
 Ibid, 249.
 Qtd. in Martin, 15-6.
 Ibid, 27.
 Martin, 46.
 Ibid, 14-5.