Conflicting Identity Schemas in Everything That Rises Must Converge

June 19, 2019 by Essay Writer

In “Everything that Rises must Converge” Flannery O’ Connor compares the robustness of different methods of maintaining identity. The two identity schemas being compared are those of Julian, the highly individualistic, cerebral main character and his mother, a condescending Southern woman clinging to her fading social status. By focusing on the ongoing clash between these characters’ style of self-identification O’ Connor shows that they are mutually destructive to one another, but that Julian’s is more robust because it is built on an internal self-concept rather than a need to reference external concepts like class and family history.

Julian’s mother reveals her methods of assembling identity by constantly orienting herself relative to the culture and history around her, which she takes completely for granted. She blindly assumes the racial stereotypes that she thinks are appropriate to her perceived place in society, even going so far as to suggest that the old ways of slavery were a preferable state to the current racial realities. This shows that her identity is tied down to the culture of the “old South” and she is thus unable to respond appropriately to change in this culture. Her comments to Julian reflect her preoccupation with the past, in her talk of “going to Grandpa’s when [she] was a little girl” and the glory of the Godhigh family. Julian’s critical thoughts are directly antagonistic to her self-concept, and his reminders that the Godhigh mansion is now inhabited by “negroes” and that their neighborhood has long since faded in reputation give the reader insight into the extent to which his mother’s self-identity is deluded and outdated. His unspoken comments on her gaudy hat, a symbol of her deluded concept of self-importance, function in the same manner. Thus, when Julian’s mother sees the same hat on a black woman O’ Connor uses the moment as a triggering point for Julian to launch an attack on his mother’s self-concept in order to bring her down a notch by using reality as a reference instead of the constructs of culture and family history. This attack comes in the form of him speaking his mind and telling her bluntly, “you aren’t who you think you are.” This insight quite literally destroys her, because it tears down her self-concept entirely by invalidating the constructs it is based on.

O’ Connor allows Julian to win out in the final clash in order to show that his view that “true culture is in the mind” results in a more resilient self-concept. Julian realizes that it is in spite of his education, his race, his heritage and his mother that he is who he is, and not because of them. His independent self-concept allows him to evaluate reality without being blinded by tradition and cultural assumptions, and thus he does not have the difficulty with accommodating societal change into his identity that his mother has to face. Nonetheless, while Julian’s self-concept is robust enough to survive the story’s final climactic clash, it is not unaffected by his mother’s opposing means of identity formation. Even before the final clash we get a sense of deeply rooted guilt for feeling such condescension towards his mother, hence “everything that gave her pleasure was small and depressed him.” This depression that he feels arises from the guilt he experiences every time he pulls a little piece of the rug from under his mother’s sense of self by criticizing the cultural standards by which she identifies herself. Thus, at the end of the story, when he pulls the remainder of the rug out in its entirety, he is left at the precipice of a “world of guilt and sorrow”.

Thus, the story harshly outlines the potential damage that identity schemas can inflict on one another. As readers we are made aware of the potential for a clashing of identities in any relationship, and this awareness is further heightened by making the clash so pronounced that one self actually conquers another and wounds itself in the process. This reminds us that even while our beliefs may be that someone’s identity formation methods are flawed relative to our own, engaging their self-concept directly can result in damage on both sides rather than a remedy.

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