Flannery O’Connor – A Stroke of Good Fortune Essay
Updated: Nov 8th, 2018
The following is an analysis of the story of O’Connor A stroke of good fortune. This essay will have a description or a short synopsis of the story. There are characters used by the writer and the reason she used them as well as the themes, which the writer of Stroke of good fortune tries to bring out in the book. This analysis will discuss the symbolism or imageries used by the writer and the reason why the writer used the symbols.
The Synopsis. This story is about Ruby Hill a young woman in her thirties who is on her way home from the Grocer where she was buying groceries. She feels that her body is unwell and therefore decides to climb the stairs slowly as she lets her mind linger over the issues of life. First, she thinks of her younger brother who is in his early twenties and fought in the world war two.
The brother lives with them in their apartment and it is evident from Ruby’s that she is unhappy with him. Her unhappiness is because of the fact that her brother is simply not an enterprising person and only seems to enjoy getting by in life. Rufus is not ambitious and this irks her sister who herself is full of ambition and the author tells us that she is looking forward to stay in an uptown one floor apartment.
She also reflects on her husband Bill, a salesperson. We learn from the story that he is very excited about life and that his opinion concerning children is very positive unlike that of Ruby who sees children as a burden. Her opinion bases itself on her mother who she says that she delivered child after child and that in her thirties she looked like an old apple.
She feels that the modern woman needs redemption from childrearing. To her the children that her mother bore were the major cause of her misery. The author however does not allow us to know the reasons why Ruby’s mother was having many children and what she felt about it.
As she climbs the stairs, she feels too exhausted and sits down on the stairs to take a breath. As she sits down, she sits on a toy gun of a neighbor’s child who stays on the first floor. The toy belongs to Hartley a child who in Ruby’s opinion is unruly. She amuses herself at the thought that the kid’s mother who is a widow sees the boy as her savior and the only evidence of her short-lived marriage. She subconsciously picks the toy and climbs with it to the second floor where she meets the seventy eight year old called Mr. Jerger.
This man is a retiree who prides him in having lots of knowledge on issues and matters of life. Ruby does not esteem him highly and rather sees him as a loser in life because he has no major achievement. However, the man is always happy unlike Ruby who is too concerned about life that she feels sick.
From there on, she proceeds to the third floor where she meets Laverne Watts a friend who lives in third floor. Laverne is excited at Ruby’s condition. She is the one who truthfully tells Ruby that she is pregnant and Ruby does not want to hear any of that. It also dawns on her that the Stroke of fortune that the poalmist talked of could be the child. The author tells us of Laverne’s interest in Rufus but Ruby cannot allow it to happen as she thinks that Laverne is too old for her brother.
She continues to climb the stairs and as she gets to the fourth floor, it is there when the awareness of her pregnancy hits her. Her husband’s happiness in the recent days conjures certainly relates to her pregnancy. She also feels something rolling up in her stomach. The author leaves us to guess what it could be and how Ruby will deal with her expectancy is for anyone’s guess.
Character Analysis. Ruby is the major character of the story. The author paints her as a woman who is full of ambition and who is not ready to sacrifice her ambition at the altar of childrearing. She has low opinion of non-achievers and people who are not as ambitious as she is.
Her thoughts on Rufus her brother, her elder sister who has children and Mr. Jerger illustrate that she holds them with low esteem for non-achievement. Her desire to live in a newer subdivision illustrates her ambitions. She is also judgmental or she is proud person who has low opinion on people while highly esteeming herself although there is no genuine reason for it (Mayer 29).
Mr. Jerger the other major character is an intellectual. He is widely read and we can see him asking Ruby whose birthday it was and Ruby had no idea. It is interesting to find that although he is seventy-eight years old he still reads books and he talks about finding the fountain of youth in his life. He is also a happy man who has no worries in life (Mayer 31).
The third character who is interesting is Laverne. She is an unmarried woman who is in her thirties. She is carefree and although she is not married, she is considering dating Rufus, Ruby’s younger brother although Ruby would have none of it. She is straight talking and she is the one who discloses the fact that Ruby is pregnant (Mayer 33).
Themes. The first theme communicated in that book, is of child rearing. The question of the benefits of child bearing on mothers is critically aroused in this book. Is child rearing a blessing or is it a burden on mothers. Descriptions of how Ruby’s mother bore child after child and how Ruby felt that her mother was burdened and turned into a failure arouse this theme in a magnificent way. The Hartley who is unruly and pampered by her mother as the one who will save him also builds on the theme of child rearing. (McDermott 13)
Discontent is another theme where Ruby is discontented with walking up the stairs and she is looking forward towards living in newer subdivision where she will not go upstairs. Laverne an unmarried woman maybe discontented with her unmarried lifestyle and she is considering Rufus who compared to her is younger to be a potential husband (McDermott 13).
Use of Symbolism. The author attempts to describe the modern manner of life in a way that will not elicit criticism in consideration that she was writing this work at a time when sexual revolution was popular. It was certainly against the grain for a woman to criticize the modern day ambitious woman and her pursuit of vainglory.
The author has thereby used symbolism to convey her message to the readers. The title itself is symbolic. A stroke of good fortune, which the palmist said would befall Ruby Hill, indicates the child, which Ruby would bear. She construes’ the child as a good fortune in a time when child rearing was unpopular and barrier towards the success of the progressive woman. Ruby is therefore an illustration of the modern woman and her aspirations (Mayer 49).
The staircase that Ruby climbs on her way home is certainly symbolic and it depicts that the author is certainly religious as the staircase derives from the Jacob’s ladder in the bible. The staircase also represents the levels that one as a human being has to go through before getting home finally. The characters along the staircase are the people and issues, which one meets in life before finally getting home (Mayer 66).
Ruby sits on a toy pistol, which indicates many dangers that exist in life. It is worth noting that Ruby unconsciously picks up the toy pistol on her hand and goes with it. This shows that there are certain attributes, habits or traits that we subconsciously hold onto and they maybe destructive. Ruby has an attitude against child bearing, which she thinks is not progressive for women at all. Her thoughts that she would rather have cancer than have a child are evidence of this attitude (Mayer 45).
The other symbolism used by the author concerns the fountain of youth. Mr. Jerger the old man says that he has finally found his fountain of youth, which is the reason why he was very joyful. When asked by Ruby where it was he points at his heart. The fountain of youth means is the joy and satisfaction that one looks for in his youth.
The author wants to tell us that joy and a sense of fulfillment may not be in the pursuit of materials but in self-sacrifice to benefit the life of others. The author in attempt to disparage the materialism in the American society uses the old man to convey this message in a symbolic way (Mayer 58).
O’Connor has endeavored to explain as well as question the meaning of life. What is it that gives one a sense of fulfillment is it having ambitions and achieving them? Alternatively, is it sacrificing oneself for the sake of others? The author has indeed worked hard to portray her convictions, which at the time were against the popular belief. She has written her work in a manner, which leaves it out for the reader to decide for oneself the best pursuit of success.
However, the kinds of symbols that she uses do not hide her religious and moral affiliations. Her wrings do not really have a moral, you cannot comprehensively say the moral of the story but the story serves the writer the purpose of conveying her views and feelings towards the subjects of materialism and sexual revolution using fictitious characters.
However, she fails to tell the audience convincingly which is the best version of success, is it materialism and pride or is it getting the fountain of youth. The author has managed to portray the issues, which affected her society and various conflicting opinions that existed, and how depending on ones definition of success the kind of success that they pursued.
Mayer, Charles. “The Comic Spirit in a Stroke of Good Fortune”. Studies in Short Fiction. 16 (1979): 23-70.
McDermott, John. “O’Connor’s a Stroke of Good Fortune”. Explicator. 38 (1980): 13.
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