V dye J - Veronica Dye Johnson, Illustrator

The Age for Flannery O’Connor

The Age for Flannery O’Connor

Flannery by Veronica Dye Johnson

“Utterly torturous” is how my teenaged self would’ve described reading the short stories collected in Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man Is Hard to Find (1955). In high school everything “scarred me for life,” especially literature that didn’t include 19th-century governesses. I’m not sure how the State’s English teachers rationalized giving such raw, devastating texts to us innocents. O’Connor’s stories include [spoiler alert]: the execution-style murder of a family, an old woman’s bartering of her mentally impaired daughter for a fixed-up farm, and the accidental suicide of a four-year-old boy confused by religious fervor. My teachers okayed O’Connor but censored Chaucer. I’m guessing they never actually read the former.

I picked Flannery O’Connor back up to see if I could finally understand what I had read nearly two decades ago. The language is colloquial Southern, so it was not the vocabulary that had tripped me up, it was the tragicomedy. As a student, I only knew the textbook definition of tragicomedy. Now I know how it feels. It feels like absentmindedly trying to use chapstick instead of an ink pen to sign a loved one into the ER. It feels like running away from your greatest fear only to realize your path was a circle and you’ve actually hastened your nightmare.

  1. Molly Henson Reply

    I have reread many books that I first read as a teen but few that I seriously disliked. Some books bear being read multiple times! Great literature is better, richer, more meaningful to me now. I don’t read in such a hurry just to get the plot. That said, I’m not sure that I am up to O’Connor!

    • Veronica Reply

      Thank you so much, Molly, for your thoughtful and lovely comment. 🙂 (There are still some high school reads I can’t get through – e.g. Heart of Darkness.)

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