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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?
Not the One in Spain
Andalusia is the name of the farm where O'Connor lived and worked. Go visit and see if her spirit inspires the next great American novel.
Visit this repository of books, articles, and links to get your O'Connor on.
As if it wasn't enough that she wrote some of the best stories in American fiction, O'Connor was also a cartoonist on the side. What's next, she was also an expert chef?
Where Art Thou, Flannery?
Check out this article for a good introduction to the author, as well as insight into her last years spent in Milledgeville, Georgia.
Serious and Seriouser
Religion and ethics, two of O'Connor's favorite subjects. Here, PBS takes a look at how they found their way into her writing.
Flannery O'Connor Studies
Want to know what O'Connor's alma mater looks like but can't make it to Georgia? Then watch this short video clip made by Georgia College, where she received her bachelor's degree in 1945.
The Backward Chicken
O'Connor and a mysterious lady friend share hopes, dreams, and more in a previously sealed collection of letters. Read on for an interview with Emory University for more.
Take a break from words and look through some more of her cartoons. Oh, and if you're tempted, there's a short discussion on the writer/artist.
Just look at that smile on our young author's face.
Flannery O'Connor takes a break from writing and tending to her peacocks to pose for the camera while on her farm.