Study Guide

Flannery O'Connor

Flannery O'Connor Introduction

Though her total literary output consists of just two novels and several dozen short stories, Flannery O'Connor remains one of the most compelling figures in American literature. 

O'Connor was born in 1925 in Savannah, Georgia, and died thirty-nine years later in nearby Milledgeville. She helped define the genre known as Southern Gothic, a style rooted firmly in the American South that emphasizes the grotesque, the horrifying, and the just-plain-wrong. 

Like that one time you saw your eighty-year-old great-uncle Milton in a mankini.

O'Connor found a way to tap into life's horrors and make them impossible to look away from. As poet T.S. Eliot once said of her work, "she has certainly an uncanny talent of a high order but my nerves are just not strong enough to take much of a disturbance," 

We guess she never saw the 2000 animated classic, Chicken Run.

Flannery O'Connor Trivia

  • Flannery O'Connor's favorite snacks included fried shrimp, peppermint chiffon pie, and Coca-Cola spiked with coffee.
  • Flannery O'Connor once gave her mother a mule as a Mother's Day present. Regina O'Connor was a dairy farmer, so it was probably a very practical gift. We know what we're getting our mom next Mother's Day. 
  • O'Connor was invited to a dinner party at the home of literary critic Mary McCarthy. When McCarthy began talking about Catholic communion wafers as a good symbol of the Holy Ghost, even if she didn't believe in any of its spiritual value, the staunchly Catholic O'Connor retorted, "Well, if it's a symbol, to hell with it."
  • O'Connor's close friends, Sally and Robert Fitzgerald, asked her to be a godmother to one of their six children. In what is perhaps our favorite piece of trivia about her, O'Connor was never able to remember her godchild's name. 
  • Flannery O'Connor originally wanted to be a cartoonist when she grew up. At Georgia State College for Women, she was a popular cartoonist for campus publications.
  • Actor Tommy Lee Jones wrote his thesis at Harvard on Flannery O'Connor. Perhaps the more surprising tidbit here: actor Tommy Lee Jones went to Harvard. 
  • O'Connor always felt a connection to birds. As a girl, she sewed clothes for her pet chickens and once taught one how to walk backward. Hey, everyone needs a hobby.

Flannery O'Connor Resources

Books

Flannery O'Connor, The Complete Stories of Flannery O'Connor (1971)
Flannery O'Connor was a master of short fiction. Her stories can tear your heart out or send a chill down your spine. Fair warning: do not read "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" before taking a road trip. When this complete collection of her short stories was published posthumously in 1971, it received the National Book Award.

Flannery O'Connor, Wise Blood (1952)
Literary critics sat up and took notice when O'Connor's first novel was published. Wise Blood, the story of a spiritually empty veteran, showcased the skills for which O'Connor would become famous. It is a classic of Southern Gothic literature.

Flannery O'Connor, The Violent Bear it Away (1960)
O'Connor described herself as "a novelist with Christian concerns" and said that her stories were all written "in relation to the redemption of Christ." Her second novel about an unwilling prophet dealt explicitly with religious themes. The title comes from a verse in Matthew 11-12: "From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away."

Brad Gooch, Flannery (2009)
"There won't be any biographies of me," Flannery O'Connor once said, since "lives spent between the house and the chicken yard do not make exciting copy." Literature professor Brad Gooch disagreed. His biography stands out as the most thorough look into O'Connor's life, and is worth a read. 

Flannery O'Connor, Habit of Being: The Letters of Flannery O'Connor (1979)
Though lupus kept O'Connor largely confined to her farm in Milledgeville, she kept engaged with the world through constant letter writing. O'Connor's letters are a fascinating window into her unusual life and brilliant intellect. Her good friend Sally Fitzgerald edited this anthology of her correspondence after her death.

Music

Bruce Springsteen, Nebraska
The Boss cites the stories of Flannery O'Connor as a sort of literary awakening for him. Her gritty realism and Catholic spirituality served as an inspiration, as he wrote the "Nebraska" album while reading O'Connor's work.

U2
Irish rock band U2 was inspired by Flannery O'Connor, and the band gave her a shout-out in their acceptance speech at the 1987 Grammy Awards, when "Joshua Tree" won Best Album.

PJ Harvey, "Joy"
This song from Harvey's "Is This Desire" album is inspired by O'Connor's story "Good Country People." "I been believing in nothing ever since I was born," Harvey sings – a direct quote from O'Connor's story.

South
Flannery O'Connor was indelibly shaped by the South. In turn, the Richmond, Virginia-based musical group South was influenced by Flannery O'Connor. The group recorded a musical tribute to the writer entitled "Flannery."

Images

Flannery O'Connor
A portrait of the writer.

O'Connor at Andalusia
A photograph of O'Connor (disabled by lupus) feeding her beloved peacocks at Andalusia.

O'Connor at College
A photograph of O'Connor (right) as a student at Georgia State College for Women.

O'Connor's Office
O'Connor's desk and typewriter at her home in Andalusia.

Grave
O'Connor's grave, located next to her father's.

Movies & TV

Wise Blood (1979)
John Huston directed this film version of O'Connor's first novel. It is a haunting portrayal of a spiritually bankrupt preacher. Its twisted plot and grotesque characters are classic O'Connor.

The Displaced Person (1977)
This film was written by Horton Foote, who also wrote the Academy Award-winning adaptation of To Kill A Mockingbird, the novel by O'Connor's fellow Southerner Harper Lee. It is an adaptation of an O'Connor short story about a Polish immigrant who causes havoc on a Georgia farm in the 1940s. It stars a young Samuel L. Jackson.

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005)
Actor/director Tommy Lee Jones is a huge fan of O'Connor's; Jones even wrote his undergraduate honors thesis at Harvard about her. Jones has said in interviews that O'Connor's method of storytelling was a major inspiration for him in this film, which was his directorial debut.

The Life You Save (1957)
Flannery O'Connor is among the many writers who agreed to sell the film rights to their work and who were subsequently horrified by the results. This episode of the 1950s television series "Schlitz Playhouse of Stars" (the name says it all) used the plot of one of O'Connor's best known stories, "The Life You Save May Be Your Own." "A story I sold [will star] a tap-dancer," O'Connor wrote of the movie, "the punishment always fits the crime."

Websites

The New Georgia Encyclopedia
This database of information on famous Georgia citizens has a great entry on Flannery O'Connor. Its detailed biography of O'Connor is one of the best you'll find on the Internet (besides Shmoop, of course).

If Flannery Had a Blog…
…it might look something like this. A Flannery fan has put together a blog of passages and quotes by O'Connor. This delightful site reads as though O'Connor were blogging away from her farm in Milledgeville. There's even a version in Spanish, si tu prefieres

Andalusia Foundation
O'Connor spent the last thirteen years of her life at Andalusia, a dairy farm in Milledgeville. In 2006, the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation placed Andalusia on its list of most endangered places in the state. The Andalusia Foundation exists to save the farm and promote O'Connor's works.

Flannery O'Connor Childhood Home
Before moving to Milledgeville in 1938, the O'Connor family lived in Savannah, Georgia. This site has information about the house and ongoing events related to Flannery O'Connor.

Video & Audio

O'Connor Reads O'Connor
This radio transcript lets you listen to O'Connor speaking on Southern fiction and reading her story "A Good Man Is Hard to Find."

A Private Life Revealed in Letters
An NPR piece about the publication of O'Connor's personal correspondence.

A Good Man Is Hard to Find
A classy, student-film project based on O'Connor's story.

An Afternoon at Andalusia
A video tour of O'Connor's Milledgeville home.

Good Country People
A clip of a 1960s adaptation of the story.

Brad Gooch
O'Connor's biographer talks about the writer.

Primary Sources

"The Life You Save May Be Your Own"
E-text of O'Connor's short story.

"A Good Man Is Hard to Find"
E-text of O'Connor's short story.

"The Coat"
E-text of O'Connor's short story.

"Good Country People"
E-text of O'Connor's short story.

Peabody Palladium
O'Connor's column in her high school newspaper.

Poetry
Images of O'Connor's poetry and yearbook illustrations from her college days.