Take one tumultuous mother-son relationship. Add in a heaping cup of the Civil Rights Movement. Mix it all up with a spoonful of molasses-thick tension, and you get … a shocking situation involving a bus, a penny, and a very, very large purse.
Intrigued? We thought you might be.
"Everything That Rises Must Converge" is a story of mothers and sons on both sides of the black/white divide. Written in 1961, it won Flannery O'Connor the O'Henry Award in 1963 and was the headlining story in her posthumous 1965 collection, Everything That Rises Must Converge.
Born in Georgia, O'Connor had a brief but impressive life writing stories, novels, essays, and letters—not to mention illustrating cartoons. She died in 1964 when she was just 39 of lupus, the same disease that killed her father. Although she never considered herself liberal or political, she wrote during a time of extreme social change. She was deeply religious when those around her were becoming more and more secular. She managed to incorporate what was going on in the South with integration and civil rights without making it the focus of her writing.
In fact, O'Connor seems to be all-inclusive when it comes to observing the pettiness, misguidedness, and need for redemption in all of us: "[O'Connor] blasts all the ways we take shortcuts from meaningful experience, from looking at the world closely and truthfully … she's asking us, over and over, to be better" (source).
Whew. That's a lot to pack in a short story. We hope we're up for this.
The moment you walk out the door, people are judging you. (Surprise!) We may not like it, but people make assumptions based on what we wear and how we look—and we do just the same to them.
Looks and clothing matter in "Everything That Rises Must Converge." It's a world in which if you don't wear a tie you look like a "thug," and if you've got a briefcase then you must be respectable. (LOL, everything was so different then, right?) Every character has a distinguishing feature or item of clothing—a hat, protruding teeth, or red shoes. And when we're introduced to the characters, we, along with Julian, make assumptions.
This idea of making judgments is powerful because it makes us think: why do we wear what we wear? Why do other people where what they wear? What do you think when you see someone dressed in overalls versus someone dressed in a tuxedo?
Sure, making judgments is just part of the tools we use to get through life. (If you had to get to know everyone on your daily bus commute, you'd never make it to work.) But O'Connor wants us to think deeper: what can we really know about a person—or a literary character—from their red shoes?