Julian did not like to consider all she did for him, but every Wednesday night he braced himself and took her. (3)
We're inside Julian's head here, and we can see that he isn't happy when he thinks about his mother's sacrifices. It makes him feel useless and dependent, and for a man (well, this man), that's about as insulting as it gets.
At that moment [Julian] could with pleasure have slapped [his mother] as he would have slapped a particularly obnoxious child […]. (73)
If only Dr. Phil had been around in the 60s, he would have asked Julian if he was nuts. And, he actually might be. Also, what's with Julian viewing his mom as a little girl, even though she's supporting him financially?
There was no reason for her to think she could always depend on him. (72)
Talk about a case of the delusionals! Julian is totally off when it comes to familial duty and support. For him, taking his mother to a Y class is a huge sacrifice. How about cooking, cleaning, working, and sending your kid to college?
"Mamma, Mamma!" (120)
Sometimes the simplest of words can say everything. This is the first time Julian calls his mother mamma, a term of endearment that sets him back to childhood and makes us realize how childish he actually is.
"Tell Caroline to come get me." (119)
Although Julian's mother is clearly not well, we think it's telling that she remembers and asks for her black nurse and not her mom or dad. Kind of messes with the whole idea that she's racist, huh? (Or does it?)
The other [eye] remained fixed on [Julian], raked his face again, found nothing, and closed. (120)
One of the last lines of the story, Julian's mother doesn't recognize her son anymore and it's quite possible that she may die. O'Connor leaves us with a masterful open ending, and we have to wonder—what is going to happen to this family?
"They should rise, yes, but on their own side of the fence." (24)
We hear notes of Booker T. Washington here: "In all things that are purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress" (source).
"And I remember the old darky who was my nurse, Caroline. There was no better person in the world." (32)
The mother is thinking back on the glory days of the family, when she lived in a mansion and had a nurse. You know, back when "darkies" actually did what they were told. Yikes. This isn't really endearing us to her.
When [Julian] got on a bus by himself, he made it a point to sit down beside a Negro, in reparation as it were for his mother's sins. (33)
Whoa. Julian has absolutely no sympathy for his mother when it comes to her views on race and integration. Unfortunately, Julian is about as good at making friends as he is at being happy. (Not very.)
[I]n spite of all [the mother's] foolish views, [Julian] was free of prejudice and unafraid to face facts. (62)
Um, really? When Julian starts thinking about all the experiences he's had with black people, this seems a rather inaccurate statement. The real facts? He doesn't have any black friends, he isn't an active participant in the Civil Rights movement, and he seems to be a little afraid of black people, when it comes right down to it.
Instead, [Julian] approached the ultimate horror. He brought home a beautiful suspiciously Negroid woman. (75)
Where do we begin? Julian's wants to bring home a black woman just to shock his mother? Wait, no, not a black woman exactly, but a "suspiciously" black woman? Is this fictional sort-of-black woman going to get a name, or is she just going to be the equivalent of a shocking tattoo or taking up smoking—a way to get attention?
[Carver's mother] stood up and yanked the little boy off the seat as if she were snatching him from contagion. (91)
And you can't exactly blame her. Getting two groups of people together after hundreds of years of separation and oppression is no easy feat. But getting rid of animosity, rage, and fear is even harder.
Since this had been a fashionable neighborhood forty years ago, his mother persisted in thinking they did well to have an apartment in it. (5)
Julian goes on to describe the neighborhood in more detail, calling the buildings "bulbous liver-colored monstrosities" and how a "grubby child" usually sat around in the dirt. Classy.
[The mother] was one of the few members of the Y reducing class who arrived in hat and gloves and who had a son who had been to college. (9)
Is it even possible to lift weights wearing gloves? Julian's mother is concerned with appearance and displaying herself in a certain light. Do you think she does this out of pride or out of snobbery?
"'Most of them in it are not our kind of people,' [Julian's mother] said, 'but I can be gracious to anybody. I know who I am.'" (16)
Goodness gracious indeed! Are they not her kind of people because they're poor? Uneducated? Black? Lazy? Sans gloves?
[The mother] was holding herself very erect under the preposterous hat, wearing it like a banner of her imagined dignity. (37)
Oh, imagined dignity! One of the things O'Connor does so well in this story is to show how important clothes can be in defining a character and/or personality. And not necessarily the bad way.
"[…] true culture is in the mind, the mind." (43)
One of the things that's so funny about Julian's outbursts is that he always contradicts himself. Like how he only wants to talk to distinguished looking blacks or he only wants to bring home a woman who looks "suspiciously" black. Sure, Julian, "in the mind." You just keep telling yourself that.
[Julian] might make friends with some distinguished Negro professor or lawyer and bring him home to spend the evening. (74)
Looks are important to Julian. Can you say "walking contradiction"? He's not even very good at judging people, since at one point he assumes that the well-dressed guy sitting next to him is an undertaker.
[Julian] had the terrible intuition that when they got off the bus together, his mother would open her purse and give the little boy a nickel. (95)
In a rare moment of clarity, Julian hits the nail on the head. We just know something bad is going to happen when the money comes out.
He walked along, saturated in depression, as if in the midst of his martyrdom he had lost his faith. (10)
We don't know about you, but we think Julian is about as close to martyrdom as he is to Venice. To make matters worse, he blames everything on his mother.
"I'm going back to the house and take this [hat] off and tomorrow I'm going to return it […] I can pay the gas bill with that seven-fifty." (10)
"They were in reduced circumstances," she said, "but reduced or not, they never forgot who they were." (30)
Oh, hey, we just noticed this: Julian's family is in "reduced" circumstances, and his mom has to go to a "reducing" class. Is O'Connor saying something about the twentieth century? The 1960s? White America?
The law of it was to sacrifice herself for [Julian] after she had first created the necessity to do so by making a mess of things. (60)
What mess did Julian's mother make? Why does Julian resent the fact that she put him ahead of herself? A little backstory would help—but we kind of like that we're just dropped into the middle of things.
All of [the mother's] life had been a struggle to act like a Chestny without the Chestny goods, and to give [Julian] everything she thought a Chestny ought to have. (60)
A lifetime is a long time to struggle, especially when it's to support someone else. Maybe she's more of a saint than the cold-hearted racist Julian makes her out to be.
The tide of darkness seemed to sweep him back to her, postponing from moment to moment his entry into the world of guilt and sorrow. (121)
We get the feeling that whatever will happen to Julian's mom, isn't going to be pretty. For the first time in his life, Julian may indeed find out what real suffering is. And maybe she's going to teach him a lesson, instead of the other way around.
[…] [Julian] appeared pinned to the door frame, waiting like Saint Sebastian for the arrows to begin piercing him. (2)
Maybe dial it back a notch, Julian: taking your mom to the Y is not actually like waiting to be martyred. Although we get that you feel persecuted.
Julian raised his eyes to heaven. (3)
Notice that he's not raising his eyes to the ceiling: he's raising them to heaven. In other words, he's implicitly asking for divine blessing: "Come on, God, do you see what I have to put up with?"
When he got on a bus by himself, he made it a point to sit down beside a Negro, in reparation as it were for his mother's sins. (33)
In Matthew 7:5, there's a fun line about how you should worry about the piece of wood in your own eye before worrying about the speck of dirt in someone else's. In other words—Julian should maybe worry more about his own sins than his mom's.
"Quit yo' foolishness," she said, "before I knock the living Jesus out of you!" (94)
Carver's mom is threatening her son here, but she does it by invoking Jesus. Would Jesus approve? What's the difference between these kinds of threats and the way Julian's mom forces his obedience?
A tide of darkness seemed to be sweeping her from him. "Mother!' he cried. "Darling, sweetheart, wait!" (120)
As our mom, and your mom, and probably everyone's mom since the dawn of time has said: we'll appreciate them when they're dead. Case in point.