The Violent Bear It Away Essay
Updated: Dec 20th, 2018
Flannery O’Connor’s The Violent Bear It Away is a humorous gothic novel that was published in 1960. The title of the novel is derived from the book of Mathew 11:12 in the bible, where John the Baptist quotes “the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away”. The novel focuses on Francis Tarwater, a teenage boy who is also the protagonist. He is caught up between two lifestyles, and has a hard time deciding which path to take.
The story begins with the death of his great-uncle, Mason Tarwater who raised him with Christian values, preparing him to be a prophet. On the other hand, Rayber, his uncle tries to make him forget his religious values, reforming him into a secular lifestyle. However, Francis Tarwater tries to run from his destiny, but every time he is involved in secularism, he is reminded of his Christian upbringing, which brings him into finally accepting his destiny.
In the book, O’Connor links the importance of passion with religion. Francis is the passionate figure in the novel while his uncle Rayber who is the antagonist is seen trying to suppress it. As a result, Francis who prefers going by the name Tarwater is redeemed while his uncle is destroyed. Even though he doesn’t fit to be considered a hero, everything that Tarwater does is out of passion. Tarwater seems to have his own idea of what a prophet should be and for this, he is rebellious and reluctant to fulfill Mason’s death wishes.
Burning Mason by setting the house they lived in with him inside is surely an act of passion; it shows how determined he is to live his past (O’Connor 7). Passion is of great significance in this book as it shows the challenges Christians face in a secularized world. Also, as the title of the book suggests, violent is what Christians have to bear to remain righteous and truthful to their mission. Basically, religion is linked to violence, and therefore, the faithful have to go through tough experiences in order to attain the kingdom of heaven.
Mason represents the religion and Christianity while Rayber on the other hand, represent secularism. For this, Tarwater is caught in the middle as the two sides try to win him over. Even though Rayber and Mason seem to be the cause of conflict due to their representation of good and evil, Bishop is arguably the cause of the conflict. It is his salvation that Mason and Rayber fight about, while Tarwater is the prophet that brings the salvation.
This is explored through a flashback when Tarwater recalls his great-uncles telling him that Bishop is a product of his parent’s evil act, and must be baptized to be saved (O’Connor 47). Rayber is the central character in the second section of the book where he keeps conflicting Tarwater in his journey of spiritual self-discovery. He is in denial as he refuses to be reformed by his uncles into the secular world; he is caught up in a middle of two worlds and he doesn’t know where he belongs.
Having been kidnapped by Mason when he was an infant, he was denied the opportunity to experience secularism, and therefore, all he has known is the Christians ways that he fiercely runs from. Mason has taught him well and he trusts him with the responsibilities he leaves him before the time of his death. Tarwater is a free-spirited young man, and only do as his guts tells him; unfortunately, there is a voice that runs in his head when he is about to make decisions that influences him to do the opposite of what he is expect to do.
The author characterizes the voice as Satan. As young as he is, Tarwater acts with passion as he follows his instincts and does as his mind tells him to. The death of Mason in the beginning of the novel marks the independence of Tarwater as he gets to decide the direction his future takes; however, it is clearly seen that his destiny was set, and that he has no choice other than to follow the path meant for him (O’Connor and Zaafirah 73).
Tarwater’s moment of revelation was when he escaped from the city after baptizing/drowning Bishop, and after returning to his home he is surprised to see that his great-uncle’s corpse was not burnt as he thought. On the contrary, he received a religious burial as he always wished; it is at this point that he realized that he had accomplished his great-uncle’s wishes which are, baptizing Bishop and giving him a religious burial that included placing a cross on his grave.
On the other hand, Rayber’s moments of revelation came when Tarwater drowned Bishop and to his surprise, he never felt anything, and at that moment he realized that he didn’t love his son. This makes him question the things he believed in, and starts to think that maybe his uncle was right after all.
The arson in the beginning of the book, baptism and the sodomic rape in the final chapter are the startling incidents that tried to draw Tarwater away from his religious fanatic ways. Moreover, instead of pushing him to the secular world, each incident is seen to draw him to his destiny.
By setting Mason’s house on fire, Tarwater wanted to prove that he was not a prophet, but after returning to mason’s shack, he was amazed to discover that he didn’t burn his great-uncle as he anticipated; instead, Buford had taken Mason’s body and gave him a descent burial as he had requested.
Tarwater never meant to baptize Bishop but by drowning him, he realized that he had also baptized him, fulfilling his great-uncle’s wish. The sodomic rape was an incident that opened Tarwater’s eyes as it made him realize where he belonged. The rapist is a physical actualization of the devil, and through his action, Tarwater is redeemed (O’Connor and Zaafirah 193). He realized that he will never escape his destiny, and that it was the high time he lived the life that was meant for him.
With a history of writing novels with uncompromising religious messages, O’Connor uses Tarwater to show the dominance that religious fanaticism has over secularism. It is for this reason that the author explores the concept of good versus evil.
Having been written from a religious standpoint, the book is not meant to meek secularism; instead, it is a plea for religious moderation. Therefore, the book is suitable for all readers, and not just religious people. O’Connor’s use of the southern gothic literal style, makes the story more humorous, commentary and mysterious.
O’Connor, Flannery, and Zaafirah, Elbey. Flannery O’connor Complete Stories. S.l.: Zaafirah El Bey, 2009. Print.
O’Connor, Flannery. The Violent Bear It Away. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2007. Print.
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