The Concept Of Religion In Flannery O’connor’s Stories Good Country People And The River

June 23, 2022 by Essay Writer

Flannery O’Connor is one of the most celebrated American novelists whose poems focused more on religion. She was considered one of the best American fiction writers. She was a strong supporter of Roman Catholicism. She devoted herself to Christianity, and that why most of her writings were about religion. O’Connor was a Catholic and a southerner; she demonstrated the theme of Christianity in her poems. When asked about her most significant influences, she states, ‘Probably … being a Catholic, and a Southerner, and a writer’. This paper will focus on how O’Connor has used the element of religion in her stories.

Flannery O’Connor’s were based on three elements; that is humor, religion, and Grotesque. Among the three components, religion is the most remarkable element that comes out in her work. According to O’Connor, life meaning is centered on religious redemption, an individual redemption by Christ. Her attitude towards religion was a bit way different from the current religious beliefs, and she raises concern over the issue. She argued that the audience might have misunderstood her stories regarding religion. O’Connor feels that some sections of the population have lost their moral sense, and they have very little belief in religion; she refers to this section of people as wingless chickens. O’Connor believes in herself; she feels that her faith in God is the foundation of her fictional writings, and she does not feel mislead in any way. In her words, she states, ‘… the influence of O’Connor’s religious convictions on her fiction, the assumptions being that a true literary genius cannot possibly believe deeply in the teaching of any religion’. O’Connor claims that faith is mysterious, and this greatly influenced her religion point of view. She went ahead to incorporate this mystery in her poems.

O’Connor believed that her readers were religious critics and, therefore, could not understand the mystery of faith. Based on this argument, she decided to surprise her readers by confronting the magic through the grotesque. Grotesque is not O’Connor’s primary focus. However it finds its way through characterization. Most of her characters have physical deformities, and this allows her to compare and contrast with a man who is whole and to shows God’s greatness. O’Connor’s characters are both ludicrous and impressive, beautiful, and ugly. Despite the unusual nature of their characters, they still have monumental quality.

In her stories, O’Connor describes how she can achieve the mystery of faith. According to her argument, the Mystery of faith can be made through grotesque; it grows natural depending on an individual view of the world. People with Christian concerns are likely to be distorted with modern life, which is offensive to them. According to O’Connor, grotesque can lead to other fiction elements called humor. She closely connects humor with grotesque, and it plays a significant role in her stories.

Two stories show O’Connor’s religious elements; that is, “Good Country People” and “The River.” Between the two stories, “The River” is the most theologically perplexing story according to O’Connor. The main character in the story is a boy called Harry. He lives together with his parents in “wilderness.” The boy’s life transforms after spending a day with babysitter who is called Mrs. Connin. The young boy is continuously changed from one sitter to the other, something that the parents were regularly doing. The boy tells his new babysitter that he is called Bevel. Harry identifies himself to the babysitters with a preacher’s name; this shows his intention to identify himself as a man of God. Going by his new name Bevel, he is baptized in “The River.” The life of Harry changes after changing his name to Bevel and being baptized. He feels entirely in a different world, a world dominated by spiritual people. Finally, Bevel is shown a picture of a man with a gold cycle in the head and long hair; this is the picture of Jesus Christ. O’Connor states, with ‘long hair and a gold circle around his head … sawing on board while some children stood watching’.

O’Connor introduces a religious aspect in the story, “The River” to show the element of religion. She cycles around religion in the story; shows how Harry is life has changed, how he has gone to the extent of exchanging name, and being baptized. It is an indication that his life has completely changed; he has left worldly things and decided to dedicate himself to Jesus Christ. O’Connor tries to show the reader the changes that somebody undergoes when one chooses to dedicate his or her life to Jesus. Towards the end of the story, the boy goes looking for the king of heaven in the river where he was baptized. Sadly, the young soul drowns in the river while searching for heaven’s kingdom. O’Connor uses this scenario to demonstrate grotesque and to deliver a moral lesson to the readers. The author relates the name changing from Harry to Bevel with how Saul changed his name to Paul while on his way to Damascus. The young soul is entirely not familiar with the new path that he is following. Therefore, he changes his name to celebrate the original.

O’Connor uses the element of religion in her story, “The River.” The story is based on religious matters, particularly baptism. The young preacher represents a typical Christian and a spiritual image. She perfectly expresses her religious views through the preacher; the man of God speaks on behalf of O’Connor. The readers are very saddened by the death of Harry at the end of the story. The author uses Harry’s death to show the impact of negligence and lack of proper parental care; the parents leave the young boy to wonder yet is still young and cannot take good care of himself.

Another O’Connor’s story that shows the element of religion is called the “Good Country People.” O’Connor uses the story to match the physical deformity with spiritual affiliation. The main character in the story is called Hulga, who is weak-hearted and an atheist. Hulga has only one leg; she has reportedly changed her name. Initially she was called Joy before changing to Hulga just to hurt her mother, and she finally succeeds in infuriating her. Her first name joy has a meaning in Christian life. Christians are often joyful in the feet of Jesus Christ. Surprisingly, the woman called joy does not have faith in God. She changes her name to disappoint her mother. O’Connor states, “Her name was really Joy, but as soon as she was twenty-one and away from home, she had had it legally changed.” O’Connor relates her physical imperfection with Hulga’s atheism. Joy lost her leg at a younger age, and it has been replaced by the prosthetic leg. According to O’Connor’s point of view, she might have done so because of not believing in God; she uses this scenario to demonstrate the importance of God to the life of an individual. Hulga’s physical imperfection symbolizes spiritual imperfection.

The story expounds on the behaviors of Hulga and how she did not obey God; neither did she obey her mother. She uses the poem to set a warning to the society particularly for those who disobey the Word of God and also their parents; it warns against bad behaviors in the community. From O’Connor’s argument, perhaps Joy could never lose her leg if only she believed in God and her respect for her mother. Attitude matters most in society; if you have a bad attitude, then things are not likely to go your way. As the story continues, a bible salesman comes for dinner at the Hulga mother’s house; he engages Hulga and gets to learn more about her. Hulga makes use of the little chance to seduce the Bible salesman. The two organize a picnic, and eventually the man does something Hulga never thought he could do; he strips her and steals her prosthetic leg. Hulga is fooled by the man she thought was very simple in the first meeting. O’Connor uses this experience to show the existence of evil and the disadvantage of being opposed to God; Hulga never imagined that Manley, a bible salesman, would treat her in that manner.

In conclusion, O’Connor uses her stories to demonstrate three elements, which include religion, humor, and grotesque. The literary research paper focuses on the concept of religion as used by Flannery O’Connor through her stories. The article describes how O’Connor has used religious thought in two of her novels, which is “The River” and “Good Country People.”

Works Cited

  • Bloom, Harold. Flannery O’Connor. Facts on File, Inc, 1999. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=38614&site=ehost-live.
  • Mellard, James M., and Robert H. Brinkmeyer. American Literature, vol. 63, no. 1, 1991, pp. 147–148. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2926586.
  • O’Cononor, Flannery. “ Good Country People.” The Norton Introduction to Literature 13th ed, Mays Kelly, 2019 , pp. 529
  • Kirk, Connie Ann. ‘‘The River.” Critical Companion to Flannery O’Connor, Facts On File, 2007. Bloom’s Literature, online.infobase.com/Auth/Index?aid=103177&itemid=WE54&articleId=15299.
  • Whitt, Margaret Earley. Understanding Flannery O’Connor. University of South Carolina Press, 1997. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=51037&site=ehost-live.


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