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Flannery O'Connor : inversions, subversion et résistances / Inversion, Subversion and Resistance

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Anne-Laure Tissut

“It takes a story to make a story”: time, space, and narrative in the stories of Flannery O'Connor

Kathie Birat

Résumé

Flannery O'Connor often drew attention to the importance of storytelling as the matrix which permitted her to flesh out her strange vision of the world. The cross on which her characters are both crucified and saved is really the old conundrum of the story itself. The story, as pure narrative, stands somewhere between the words with which it is formed and the meanings which unfold around it. Novelists, as storytellers, cannot resolve the mysterious relation between words, events and the patterns through which they become stories, the mystery of what Paul Ricoeur calls "configuration" and which he sees as the crux of the temporal dimension of fiction. But if they are really clever, they can exploit this paradox, the semiotic version of the chicken and the egg, to re-activate the potential of stories and enhance their capacity to astonish the reader. This was the gift of Flannery O'Connor and it explains her impact on writers of the second half of the twentieth century.
As O'Connor's numerous comments on the importance of storytelling reveal, she understood the complex relation between the story and the world, the story and its meanings. "A story is a way to say something that can't be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say what the meaning is." She saw the story as the mysterious connection between self and world and between world and God. Hence her definition of doctrines as "compressed narrative summaries of God's self-identification in Israel and Christ" and therefore as "vehicles of freedom and not restriction." Such a view is not a recipe for successful storytelling except for someone who is willing to exploit rather than to solve the relation between narrative and meaning. She knew that only a hard-nosed acceptance of narrative as event would prevent her stories from being watered down by a soft, or "vaporized" view of their religious connotations. But she also knew that an overly-literal acceptance of Biblical stories as pure event endangered their capacity to be fleshed out and given renewed potential for meaning.
The most successful of O'Connor's stories function on the basis of their capacity to exploit the potential of narrative as both meaning and event in ways that make multiple but not exclusive or exclusionary readings possible. A story like "Parker's Back" works well not only because it illustrates the workings of mercy (Giannone) or the shifting identifications through which a child becomes a man (Bleikasten). It uses narrative as a junction or crossroads where potential meanings are narrativized. Its meaning is related to the necessity of giving spiritual love the power of attraction which is normally associated with sexuality. But the power of the story lies in its capacity to use time, space, language and focalization to force the reader to experience this meaning as narrative (and not simply the way it allows such a meaning to emerge from the narrative). Only in a story where narrative and meaning are kept in perpetual balance can a man say, in speaking of the tattoo on his back, "It'll be there when I get there," or "That's his first nigger." ("The Artificial Nigger ") I propose to examine O'Connor's stories in the light of her relation to storytelling and her particular techniques for exploiting the narrative potential inherent in her vision of the world and for transforming her characters, like Parker, into "walking pannerrammers."

Texte intégral

1Paying attention to Flannery O'Connor's attitude toward narrative and storytelling is a useful way of putting her stories into perspective and avoiding the pitfalls of readings which emphasize conflicting frames of meaning. Lacanian and religious readings are not in essence contradictory unless they are used to limit and restrict meaning rather than to reveal the lines of force which permit the stories to function as narratives and not as spiritual exempla or clinical cases. Like all genuine believers, Flannery O'Connor saw dogma and doctrine as liberating, and storytelling was for her a way of releasing the spiritual energy locked into ordinary events, giving them the potential to open the eyes and minds of her readers. The puzzling configurations she gives to her stories, in which events seem to bear no reasonable relation to the characters, and in which the characters, with their foreshortened perspectives, offer no hold for facile identifications, may leave the reader wondering what he is supposed to see. But a closer look at O'Connor's attitude toward storytelling and the narrative dimension of faith makes it possible to see her stories not as an attempt to produce a skewed version of what happens in the world, but rather as a desire to restore to events and to stories the objectivity which allows them to be themselves and to resist the distortions that arise from mis-identifications and misplaced subjectivities.

2If the question is stated in this way, it is difficult to see how Flannery O'Connor is in any way different from the numerous American writers who have carefully deconstructed James's house of fiction by revealing the nuts and bolts that make stories what they are, the hardware of style as opposed to the software of character and theme. However the situation is not quite that simple. In spite of a certain self-reflexivity, O'Connor's stories are not about themselves and their own telling. While they do tend to draw the reader's attention inward toward the process through which they are generated, they ultimately direct his attention outward to actions and events which, rather than being absorbed by the process of the story, resist it, creating an unbridgeable gap between meaning and event. It is this process which I would like to examine here.

3I would first like to look at a certain number of important remarks that O'Connor made herself concerning storytelling and its relation to faith and belief, before recalling some rather basic principles governing religious and particularly Christian representations of the world. I will then attempt to demonstrate how Flannery O'Connor uses the relation between space and time to restore to narrative its capacity to be the vehicle of a living faith and thus to escape the multiple distortions by which it is threatened. The most important statement that O'Connor made about storytelling presented it as a kind of paradox, both the origin and the end of its potential meanings:

  • 1 Robert Fitzgerald and Sally Fitzgerald, éditors, Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose, New York, (...)

A story is a way to say something that can't be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say what the meaning is.1

  • 2 Ralph Wood, Flannery O'Connor and the Christ-Haunted South, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans Publi (...)
  • 3 Ibid., p. 2.
  • 4 Flannery O'Connor, quoted in Ralph Wood, op. cit., p. 23.

4What is striking in this remark is the way it situates the essence of the story in its existence as story, irreducible to any of the potential meanings it may suggest. Her insistence on the impossibility of reducing story to meaning, on the ultimate incongruence between the two, is of course an important reflection of her faith and her belief in what she called “the utter objectivity of both sacraments.”2 Ralph Wood has pointed out the importance of what he calls “O'Connor's insistence on a radically unapologetic gospel as it is mediated by a no less radical sacramentalism.”3 O'Connor herself saw doctrines as “compressed narrative summaries of God's self-identification in Israel and in Christ." Thus they were for her “vehicles of freedom and not restriction.”4 O'Connor, in other words, considered that Biblical narrative, the story of God's relation to the world, made all other stories possible and stood as the ultimate guarantee of their objectivity. Artistic creation was for her, not a matter of enlisting the reader's belief in what the writer has seen, but rather the revelation in action and event of what the writer believes. The work of the writer, from her point of view, was not to lead the reader into the cavern of his subjectivity, but rather to allow him to recognize the objective existence of the world. In another important statement she said:

  • 5 Flannery O'Connor, Mystery and Manners, quoted in Ralph Wood, op. cit., p. 27.

The artist uses his reason to discover an answering reason in everything he sees. For him, to be reasonable is to find in the object, in the situation, in the sequence, the spirit which makes it itself. This is not an easy or simple thing to do. it is to intrude upon the timeless, and this is done only by the violence of a single-minded respect for the truth.5

5What is particularly important in this remark is the idea of allowing objects and situations to be themselves. She made this statement as a comment on St. Thomas Aquinas's definition of art as “reason in making.” However, what makes this hard-nosed definition of artistic objectivity difficult to reconcile with O'Connor's fictional practice is the fact that she places her stories in the context of the Bible Belt, in a world of Southern fundamentalists who practice an extremely literal application of Scripture and Biblical narrative to their own lives. For most twentieth-century readers, the perspective of her characters implies distortions that are incompatible with anything that could be called “objective” in either spiritual or realistic terms. O'Connor defended her choice of the context of her stories precisely on the basis of its appropriateness in terms of storytelling:

  • 6 Sally Fitzgerald, ed., The Collected Works of Flannery O'Connor, quoted in Ralph Wood, op. cit., p (...)

It takes a story to make a story. It takes a story of mythic dimensions, one which belongs to everybody, one in which everybody is able to recognize the hand of God and imagine its descent upon himself. In the Protestant South, the Scripture fills this role. The ancient Hebrew genius for making the absolute concrete has conditioned the Southerner's way of looking at things. That is one of the big reasons why the South is a story-telling section at all. (CW, 858-59)6

6Clearly, for O'Connor, the use of a fundamentalist Southern context with its literally-minded residents, made it possible for her stories to take root and flourish, fulfilling their potential to be the instruments of both good and evil. However, in order to understand how she uses such a seemingly distorted world in order to restore events to themselves and to their potential objectivity, it is necessary to observe a certain number of phenomena which are compressed in the strict narrative economy of her fictional universe.

  • 7 Flannery O'Connor, The Complete Stories, London, Faber and Faber, 1990, p. 519. All subsequent ref (...)
  • 8 http://easyweb.easynet.co.uk/~s-herbert/panorama.htm
  • 9 Georges Duby shows how the sculpture decorating the church of Saint Denis is an illustration of th (...)

7The story which offers an appropriate image for the processes to which I am referring is “Parker's Back.” When the old woman he works for sees the tattoos on Parker's chest, she exclaims, “Mr. Parker... You're a walking panner-rammer.”7 A panorama is literally “a continuous narrative scene or landscape painted to conform to a flat or curved background, which surrounds or is unrolled before the viewer.”8 The term was coined by a man named Robert Barker, an Irishman, who painted the first panorama, representing the city of Edinburgh, in 1788. What interests me in the image of the panorama is the idea of projecting a scene or a series of events on a round surface making it possible for the spectator to stand in the center of a circle which reduces the progressive configuration of time to the spatial configuration of the circle, thus translating linearity into circularity. I will have more to say about spatiality in a subsequent part, but for the moment what interests me is the notion of projection, the idea of translating or transposing a series of events or scenes from one surface to another. In the case of Parker, the tattoos provide a coded narrative of his life, re-ordered on the space of his body. It is a way for Parker to set his life in motion, to save it from the disordered sequence of his experiences. However, Parker's act illuminates the way in which revelation, in the Scriptural sense of the term, often involves the projection of a Biblical narrative from one plane to another, its reinterpretation within another context. This type of projection was an important characteristic of Medieval spirituality. The system of correspondences established by Saint Augustine between events in the Old Testament and those in the New Testament is one example of this way of reading Scripture.9 In the same way, the sacred drama of the Middle Ages arose from a recognition of the mass as a re-enactment of the drama of the Incarnation, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. When O'Connor refers to doctrine as “compressed narrative”, she is referring precisely to this phenomenon of transposition, by which the meaning of Christian time is compressed and ritualized in the dogma and sacraments of the Church and thus made available for application to the individual life.

8What is at stake in this condensation of Christian history through sacrament and ritual is man's place in time. O'Connor's remark about needing a story to make a story finds its most appropriate demonstration within Christian culture in the mystery plays, which narrativized Christian dogma and made it available to the spectators of the Middle Ages. The Gothic cathedrals were essentially spatial representations of Christian history, and they served to remind the Christian of his place in a time scheme which extended far beyond the boundaries of his individual life. The order created by the cathedrals was spatial, but it was meant to stand for a temporal order. Medieval art and sculpture functioned by providing condensed and transposed versions of Christian faith. It was within the overall structure of the Church and its dogma as expressed through sacrament, ritual and homily that the pictorial representations of faith were explained in ways that guaranteed their proper interpretation by the individual believer.

9The condensation and economy of O'Connor's stories suggests a mode of representation which can be usefully compared to Medieval art. This has been cogently argued in Anthony Di Renzo's work on Flannery O'Connor's use of the grotesque in American Gargoyles. Di Renzo considers the grotesque to be an aspect of the overall functioning of the stories as dynamic narrative structures. He convincingly demonstrates how, in its play on opposites, on a paradoxical linking of the sacred and the profane, O'Connor's use of the grotesque demonstrates what Bakhtin considers to be the hallmark of the medieval grotesque:

  • 10 Mikhail Bakhtin, quoted in Anthony Di Renzo, American Gargoyles: Flannery O'Connor and the Medieva (...)

The last thing one can say of the real grotesque is that it is static: on the contrary it seeks to grasp in its imagery the very act of becoming and growth, the eternal incomplete unfinished nature of being. Its image presents simultaneously the two poles of becoming: that which is receding and dying, and that which is being bom.10

  • 11 Ibid., p. 1

10As Di Renzo attempts to demonstrate, the seemingly hideous distortions of the grotesque do not imply an exclusion of all that is beautiful, but rather a principle of inclusion which affirms the multiplicity and plasticity of pure being against all attempts to categorize and exclude.11 What makes it frightening is the multiple worlds it seems to suggest and the reality of their interpenetration. Di Renzo points out that Bernard de Clairvaux was both “fascinated” and “repelled” by the grotesque carvings on the walls of his monastery's cloister. Through a heavy reliance on visual imagery, metaphor, metonymy and the types of compression which characterize colloquial speech, Flannery O'Connor produces in her stories a miniature version of the world which possesses the spatial economy of a Gothic cathedral. But as in medieval sculpture, the very economy of the artistic process, which brings multiple dimensions of the world within a unified structure, produces a condensed version of the world which is open to multiple readings, and which contains several possible stories.

  • 12 Ralph Wood, op. cit., p. 14.
  • 13 Edward Kessler, Flannery O'Connor and the Language of Apocalpyse, Princeton: Princeton University (...)
  • 14 Ibid., p. 11.

11Within the economy of O'Connor's stories, the foreshortening of visual perspective, often used as a metaphor for the characters' self-absorption, becomes a means of conflating temporal and spatial parameters, giving the stories their curious iconographic quality. Parker's panorama is a particularly striking application of this technique. In fiction, metaphor is often related to a character's perception of the world. This is one way of solving the problems related to the potential conflict between perception and event: a character experiences through metaphor what he cannot attain in reality, or a narrator expresses his perception of the character in the same way. But Flannery O'Connor seems to be interested in reinstating the incompatibility between internal perception and narrative sequence as a way of indicating that no one, including most, or perhaps all of her characters, can bend the world to his own perceptions. She uses space and visual imagery in order to place her characters in a world which reflects their individual obsessions and short-sightedness. The unfolding of the characters' lives in time is presented within the carefully constructed visual panorama of their personal obsessions. Ruby's swelling belly, Mr. Shiftlet's automobile, and Sheppard's fascination with Rufus's orthopedic shoe are all visual representation's of the characters' need to control time and the sequence of events that constitute their lives. Against the static background of the characters’ spatialized obsessions, time and event emerge in stark clarity, liberated from the blurry confusion between individual perspective and objective event which Flannery O'Connor saw as the major defect of what she called “the fiction of sentimental uplift.”12 While I agree with Edward Kessler's analysis of O'Connor's metaphors as “verbal strategies for engaging the unknown,”13 I am not sure that I agree with his affirmation that “she struggled to create sustaining middles.” Kessler considers that, as in the fiction of Hawthorne, whom O'Connor admired, “the interplay of ways of seeing overrides the beginning-middle-end of conventional form.”14 I see her use of metaphor rather as a way of revealing the ultimate impossibility of making any of the potential narratives which the characters try to project on each other coincide with the Christian narrative. The Biblical narrative of God's relation with the world releases man from the tyranny of personal obsession, making it possible for him to accept his place in time and the sequence of events as they unfold in his life. In this perspective, Lacanian readings of her stories are complementary to religious readings to the extent that they show how her characters are confronted with the necessity of freeing themselves from the mis-identifications within which they are trapped.

12In this respect, Parker's panorama can also be seen as a visual representation of the narcissism and paranoia which imprison him in an essentially circular pattern of dissatisfaction. To enter the order of the symbolic is to be released from the tyranny of a binary logic and to become capable of finding one's place in an infinite number of what could be called social rather than religious narratives. O'Connor uses spatial compression and visual imagery in order to show how certain characters try to project their personal narratives onto others. The working out of the stories, their enactment as event, relies on the ultimate impossibility of reconciling time and space, of using space to overcome time. Rather than leaving the reader with an unfolding metaphor given resonance by event as in the case of a story like “The Dead” by James Joyce, with its haunting images of the falling snow, she launches her blind and misguided characters on a collision course with events that will completely destroy their world. This is her way of undercutting the abstractions by which people try to use time, space and rationality to justify their personal obsessions. It is also a way of emphasizing the idea that narrative is not a way of making things fit together, of adjusting the world to one's own desires and expectations. The story itself, its pure existence as event is in a sense, the extra, the excess that disturbs the carefully-contrived balance that so many characters try to create in their narcissistic worlds.

13The story that illustrates this vision of the functioning of O'Connor's narratives most clearly is “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” for it is presented as a diptych in which the projection of the Grandmother's obsessions onto her family is abruptly transformed into an event after the accident. The Misfit clearly expresses the impossibility of reconciling a metaphorical reading of the Christian narrative with a literal one when he accuses Christ of throwing everything “off balance.” There is a radical impossibility for the Misfit of living in a hypothetical narrative, stranded between what Christ said and the impossibility of proving that it corresponds to what he did. By killing the grandmother he does not solve this conundrum, but he does avoid being absorbed in a narrative suggested by someone else and applied to his life, a narrative that would make sense, so to speak of his unbalanced life.

14This disjunctive view of the functioning of Flannery O'Connor's stories is obviously frustrating, for it leaves readers who do not adhere to her beliefs stranded like the misfit between a fascination with the distorted view she projects through her characters and a certain dissatisfaction with the way in which she refuses to soften the narrative impact of her irony. But like the anonymous author of the comic plays in the Wakefield mystery cycle, who used a comic plot about a stolen sheep to underline the importance of the birth of the “lamb of God”, she wanted to re-invest narrative with its capacity to surprise and to escape the range of the reader's own misguided projections. Through her stories, the impact of the encounter with event is restored through a process of literalization which re-narrativizes the essentially narcissistic encounter between self and world. Ultimately, she is not asking the reader to look through and beyond her curious narratives in order to place them in the perspective of some ideal, true narrative. This is what people do when they try to read beyond the end of the stories to imagine what will happen to the characters, both literally and figuratively. Rather, she wants people to recognize and accept the reality of the world and of time, this being a first step toward admitting man's existence in time and his need for grace and redemption. The characters that she criticizes most severely, those who are submitted to the most cutting irony, are those who refuse to see their destinies in terms of a living and vital relation to all of the stories through which God has manifested his relation to the world, including their own.

15A clear illustration of this idea can be seen in a story like “Good Country People”. Like many of the stories, it revolves around people's desire to control other people and their fear of being reduced to a secondary role in a narrative generated by someone else. Joy refuses to be instrumentalized by her mother, who would like to force Joy to compensate for her handicap, for her lack, by being, as she puts it, “pleasant.” (p. 274 Mrs. Hopewell says to Joy, “If you can't come pleasantly, I don't want you at all.”) As in many of the stories, the ideas of lack, excess and balance are important. This aspect of the stories has been interpreted in different ways. One way of reading it is in terms of the functioning of narrative. The world of Flannery O'Connor's characters is based on a rigid economy in which whatever is invested must be got back. Both lack and excess point to an imbalance which is what, in a sense, generates the narrative itself. In “The Comforts of Home”, the conflict between Thomas and his mother is triggered by what he sees as her “useless” compassion, her “daredevil charity.” (383) Thomas, who considers the devil as only a “manner of speaking”, expresses the disapproval of excess which is typical of the characters who are fearful of life. Thomas would like to prove to his mother that “no excess of virtue is justified, that a moderation of good produces likewise a moderation in evil, that if Anthony of Egypt had stayed at home and attended to his sister, no devils would have plagued him.” (386) What is interesting in this case is Thomas's desire to deny or to modify the story of Anthony of Egypt; this reveals his refusal of religion and its relevance to time and history. Like Thomas, Joy wishes to escape from her mother's attempts to use her by imposing a rigid economy of her own in which she transforms her unattractiveness and her artificial leg into tools that she makes work for her. The overt sign of this is her re-invention of herself through the name “Hulga.” The terms in which the narrator describes her choice of the name are significant: “She had arrived at it first purely on the basis of its ugly sound and then the full genius of its fitness had struck her. She had a vision of the name working like the ugly sweating Vulcan who stayed in the furnace and to whom, presumably, the goddess had to come when called.” (275, my emphasis) Like Thomas, she wants to make things fit, and like him she bends another story, the mythological one, to her own purposes. As in the other stories, Joy's obsession and her desire to control the world are spatialized, in her case through the artificial leg. Like Parker, she is perceived grotesquely, as a type of panorama:

It seemed to Mrs. Hopewell that every year she grew less like other people and more like herself—bloated, rude and squint-eyed. (276)

16To understand this story in its narrative dimension, in the tension it creates between people's desire for control and the absurdity of their attitude, it is necessary to grasp the way in which Manly Pointer, the Bible salesman, literalizes what Joy has tried to control through metaphoric, or rather metonymic, displacement. It is Manly Pointer's fascination with Joy's artificial leg that turns the scene in the barn into a travesty of seduction, but also of religious ritual. However cynical Manly Pointer may be, he is fascinated by Joy as she is. When he asks her to take off the wooden leg, he is, in a sense, asking her to step out of the strict economy of her world, in which the leg has become a fetish, a replacement for any other relation with people that would make her vulnerable to time and disappointment. He asks her to leave it off for a while: “You got me instead.” (289) This entire scene is on one level a parody of the religious sacrament by which bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ. Manly Pointer is, like many other characters, an ironic Christ figure. But if Joy is the victim of Pointer's tricks at the end of the story, when she is left alone to observe Manly Pointer “struggling successfully over the green speckled lake”, (291) it is because she has refused to accept her experience in the world in and for itself. At the very moment when she has managed to impress someone with her lack of belief, she falls back on her need for control. O'Connor's farcical treatment of seduction in the final scene reveals the extent to which both sexual attraction and religious faith depend on a willing engagement with life and experience. Rather than emptying the story of religious import, the farcical aspect of the seduction scene revitalizes the nature of faith as a living relation to the world and time. It is not necessary for the reader to identify with either of the characters, or to speculate on their future, in order to experience the scene in this way.

17Flannery O'Connor knew that only a hard-nosed acceptance of narrative as event would prevent her stories from being watered down by a soft, or “vaporized” view of their religious connotations. But she also knew that an overly-literal acceptance of Biblical stories as pure event endangered their capacity to be fleshed out and given renewed potential for meaning. The most successful of O'Connor's stories function on the basis of their capacity to exploit the potential of narrative as both meaning and event. A story like “Parker's Back” works well not only because it illustrates the workings of mercy or the shifting identifications through which a child becomes a man. It uses the story as a junction or crossroads where potential meanings are narrativized. Its meaning is related to the necessity of giving spiritual love the power of attraction which is normally associated with sexuality. But the effectiveness of the story lies in its capacity to use time, space, language and focalization to force the reader to experience this meaning as narrative (and not simply the way it allows such a meaning to emerge from the narrative.) Only in a story where narrative and meaning are kept in perpetual balance can a man say, in speaking of the tattoo on his back, “It'll be there when I get there.” (525)

18Many of O'Connor's stories illustrate this astonishing capacity to give narrative form to the dualities which characterize a Christian view of the world, where man is torn between Heaven and Hell, good and evil, life and death, appearance and reality. In “The Artificial Nigger”, Mr. Head explains to a passenger on the train he is taking to the city with his grandson that the black man they have just seen is his son's “first nigger.” (255) The difference between white and black becomes a map across which he charts his grandson's initiation into the mysteries of the adult world. But more importantly, it becomes the time frame by which his grandson's initiation takes on narrative form. In the same way, General Sash in “A Late Encounter with the Enemy” experiences his granddaughter's graduation ceremony as the playing out of his own life. To begin with, he sees the ritual as another occasion to stand in the center of the panorama of his own spectacular life: “If he was over, he didn't intend to listen to any more of it.” (142) However, the general is displaced from the center of the spectacle of his life by the hole he feels opening in his head. Through this hole, which simply marks the absence of his hat, the forgotten narrative of his self-centered life will take shape and seep into his head. Rather than seeing “himself and the horse mounted in the middle of a float full of beautiful girls” (143), the general is confronted with his entire shameful past:

He saw his wife's narrow face looking at him critically through her round, gold-rimmed glasses; he saw one of his squinting bald-headed sons; and his mother ran toward him with an anxious look; then a succession of places-Chickamauga, Shiloh, Marthasville-rushed at him as if the past were the only future now and he had to endure it. (143)

19Like the anonymous authors of the mystery and morality plays of the Middle Ages, Flannery O'Connor obliges the reader to witness a strange panorama, animated by grotesque figures who act out events in which Biblical narrative is both reflected and distorted. While the strangeness of the figures makes identification with them impossible, the radical clarity with which the characters’ fantasies and obsessions are given narrative form inevitably commands our attention. A final and startling demonstration of this can be found in the story “Revelation”. Like many of O'Connor's characters, Mrs. Turpin is a self-appointed god, possessing the mysterious self-identity of the God who appears to Moses in the Bible. A veritable creator, she sits at the center of a world of creatures that she brings into being by naming them:

Sometimes Mrs. Τurpin occupied herself at night naming the classes of people. On the bottom of the heap were most colored people, not the kind she would have been if she had been one, but most of them; then next to them—not above, just away from—were the white-trash; then above them were the home-owners, and above them the home-and-land owners, to which she and Claud belonged. Above she and Claud were people with a lot of money and much bigger houses and much more land. (491)

20Through a reversal of situation imposed on many characters of this type, Mrs. Turpin will be forced to act out the curse which the ugly girl hurls at her after striking her with a book: “Go back to hell where you came from, you wart hog.” (500) The final scene finds Mrs. Turpin reliving creation in another version. When she returns to her neat farm, symbol of her control over time and space, she imagines “the small yellow frame house, with its little flower beds spread out around it like a fancy apron” as “a burnt wound between two blackened chimneys.” (502) As she waters down her pigs, suddenly become not her creatures but her peers, she shakes the hose and “a watery snake appear [s] momentarily in the air.” (507) Flannery O'Connor's characters do not simply imagine the alternatives offered by the acceptance or denial of a Christian life. Nor do they reflect them metaphorically. They are forced to act them out in stories which literalize through narrative the stark alternatives suggested metaphorically in the grotesque descriptions with which many of the stories begin. Unless, like Parker, they are able to enter the Christian story and bear the demanding gaze turned upon them, they are condemned, like General Sash and Mrs. Turpin, to see the tables suddenly turned on them and witness the panorama of their lives played out on the heavens themselves, which burn, like the sky witnessed by Mrs. Turpin, with a " transparent intensity." (507)

Bibliographie

BIBLIOGRAPHY

di renzo Anthony, American Gargoyles: Flannery O'Connor and the Medieval Grotesque, Carbondale, Illinois, Southern Illinois University Press, 1993.

duby Georges, Le Temps des cathédrales: l'art et la société 980-1420, Paris, Gallimard, 1976.

fitzgerald Robert et Fitzgerald Sally (éds.), Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose, New York, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1979.

kessler Edward, Flannery O'Connor and the Language of Apocalypse, Princeton, New Jersey, Princeton University Press, 1986.

o'connor Flannery, The Complete Stories, London, Faber and Faber, 1990.

wood Ralph C., Flannery Ο'Connor and the Christ-Haunted South, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans Publishing, 2004.

Notes

1 Robert Fitzgerald and Sally Fitzgerald, éditors, Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose, New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, p. 96.

2 Ralph Wood, Flannery O'Connor and the Christ-Haunted South, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans Publishing, 2004, p. 5.

3 Ibid., p. 2.

4 Flannery O'Connor, quoted in Ralph Wood, op. cit., p. 23.

5 Flannery O'Connor, Mystery and Manners, quoted in Ralph Wood, op. cit., p. 27.

6 Sally Fitzgerald, ed., The Collected Works of Flannery O'Connor, quoted in Ralph Wood, op. cit., p. 37.

7 Flannery O'Connor, The Complete Stories, London, Faber and Faber, 1990, p. 519. All subsequent references to the stories in this edition will be indicated in parentheses.

8 http://easyweb.easynet.co.uk/~s-herbert/panorama.htm

9 Georges Duby shows how the sculpture decorating the church of Saint Denis is an illustration of this principle: "La conception augustinienne de la croissance historique voyait le destin de l'humanité divisé en deux phases que sépare la naissance du Christ; elle invitait à considérer l'histoire juive comme une prophétie vécue où s'était d'abord accompli symboliquement l'histoire chrétienne, avant que celle-ci ne se déroutât dans le réel... De cette histoire, le Nouveau Testament constituait le modèle, l'Ancien Testament la prefigure... Telles sont les perspectives où se développa la pensée de Suger. Mais sa théologie s'est exprimée par des images et non pas par un texte, par le décor que l'abbé de Saint-Denis inventa pour sa construction de lumière, et qui visait à mettre en evidence, au long d'équivalences analogiques, la concordance entre l'Ancien Testament et l'Evangile, ce récit devenu vivant pour ses contemporains les croisés." Le Temps des cathédrales, Paris, Gallimard, 1976, p. 131.

10 Mikhail Bakhtin, quoted in Anthony Di Renzo, American Gargoyles: Flannery O'Connor and the Medieval Grotesque, Carbondale, Illinois: Southern Illinois University Press, 1993, p. 56.

11 Ibid., p. 1

12 Ralph Wood, op. cit., p. 14.

13 Edward Kessler, Flannery O'Connor and the Language of Apocalpyse, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986, p. 7.

14 Ibid., p. 11.

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Université de Metz

© Presses universitaires François-Rabelais, 2006

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