Character types in the fiction of Flannery O''Connor



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In her short thirty-nine years, Flannery O'Connor produced some remarkable fiction. In two novels, nineteen collected stories, and several stories published Individually she presents a gallery of characters who show the variety of Southern life. The characters of her stories are presented in various situations and under various names, but the reader notices that certain character types appear repeatedly In both the novels and the stories. Of these types, four are seen regularly. These are the Intellectual, the widow-mother, the white-trash woman, and the devil. Others may be seen, but these types appear more frequently. The Intellectual figure appeared first In one of the six stories of Flannery O'Connor's thesis. After the seed had been planted, the Intellectual figure appeared as Joy-Hulga In the first volume of stories, as Rayber In The Violent Bear It Away, and then many times In the later stories. All of the intellectuals share certain personality traits. They all suffer from a deep pride of their intellects. Each is so self-centered that he sees no other perspective than his own. His battle Is either with his parent or some other person whom he has befriended. As is usually the case with all her characters, Miss O'Connor rarely shows sympathy for the Intellectual. His pride clouds his reason. He is a passive character usually unable to act. His certainty in his point of view causes him to fail. Most often the Intellectual suffers some epiphany through an act of violence precipitated by the character's action for reform of another's attitudes. The intellectual character shows the great genius of Flannery O'Connor in creating realistic people and using them repeatedly. The widow-mother prototype was often used in connection with the Intellectual figure. This type shows some change from the first creation until the last. Dominant in the personality of the widow-mother is a self-sufficiency which precludes any need for help from any outside source. Each of these women is a successful person who has worked hard to attain the situation in which she is seen. The widow-mother usually must combat her child in some way. Usually the mother does not understand her child's interest in an intellectual life. Discussions of religion often embarrass the Widow-mother. She believes in hard work as the measure of success and has achieved this by work on her farm. Her role in society is a major concern for her and she expresses her opinion on the social classes around her. She often speaks in trite sayings which grate upon the Intellectual. The widow-mothers often meet violence in the later stories which are usually about a recognition of God's grace. A third character type seen in Flannery O'Connor's fiction is the white-trash woman. Often these women are the hired help of the widow-mother. They do not recognize themselves as trash and delude themselves Into believing they are on a higher social level. One of the characteristics of the white-trash woman is an uncommon interest in stories of the grotesque. Each woman shows a selfish attitude- which is unchangeable. Most of these women serve as companions to the widow-mother, except Mrs. Greenleaf in "Greenleaf" and the patient in "Revelation." Perhaps her most important character type is the Satan figure developed in order to demonstrate the work of the Devil in today's world. The existence of the Devil is seen in several stories as an evil force who tempts man away from God. He often however oversteps his limit and is responsible for the salvation of the main character whom he has tempted. Ironically, but in the mode of Flannery O'Connor, the Devil is the savior of many of the protagonists. Still he is evil and often attempts to deceive the persons in the stories to believe he is something he is not. He can sometimes assume a false name for his deception. In some instances he wins and sometimes he loses. In all cases the Devil is responsible for revelations for the protagonists, whether they be Intellectuals or widow-mothers or anyone else he happens to encounter. Undoubtedly in the last analysis Flannery O'Connor will be most remembered for her great genius at character development. She was able to create believable people whose encounters with God either opened their eyes to His grace or destroyed them. Her character types are only one part of her creative art.