Flannery O’Connor

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Social Issues in Flannery O’Connor’s Short Stories

Examine the social issues Flannery O’Connor explores in her short stories, as well as any potential historical contexts. O’Connor’s short stories primarily take place in the Deep South (O’Connor was Georgian) and create a Southern Gothic atmosphere. They also depict life during the Jim Crow era. Issues to explore could be religion (O’Connor was a staunch Catholic in the heavily Protestant South), Old versus New (post-Civil War, post-Reconstruction) South, race, and class.

Examples:

“A Good Man is Hard to Find”: This short story deals with the conflict between the Old South and the newer generation. The grandmother of the family reminisces on how the Old South was better than modern times and how children now have no appreciation or respect for their own state. Also, when the grandmother encounters a serial killer, she tries to argue about morality and religion to spare her own life.

“The Artificial N*****”: This story, with a racial epithet in its title, deals with a poor white man (Mr. Head) and his grandson going to Atlanta, which contains more black people than the rural area. Class and race intersect as Mr. Head grooms his grandson to have a prejudice against black people, and the grandfather expresses resentment and insecurity at seeing a wealthy black man, as well as when he believes he will not be able to “teach” his grandson racism. The title refers to Jim Crow-era statues that depicted extremely grotesque and demeaning caricatures of black people, which also connects to minstrel shows (performances that depict white people in blackface).

Other potential short stories and issues to explore are 1) xenophobia and the Holocaust in “The Displaced Person” and 2) disability in “The Life You Save May Be Your Own.” (O’Connor suffered from lupus, an autoimmune disease that made her body deteriorate until her death.)