Julian and his mother are less Thelma and Louise than Norman and Mrs. Bates. Their fragmented family (no dad) plays out in a fragmented South (newly integrated), which makes "Everything That Rises Must Converge" a whole mess of drama. Julian longs to be the man of the house, but he admits that he'll never make a name for himself. And who gets the worst of his frustration and angst? You always hurt the ones you love.
Julian thinks his mother lives in a fantasy world, but he's more deluded than she is.
Julian is jealous of his mother because she has done more with her life than he will ever do with his.
Setting a story in the 1960s South and not talking about race would be kind of like setting a story in Arizona today and not talking about immigration: weird, and everyone would be looking for a subtext anyway. In "Everything That Rises Must Converge," race is the uncomfortable social fabric that the family drama plays out on. Attitudes toward black and whites separate—and unite—Julian and his mom. It's like Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, but with even fewer lighthearted hijinks.
O'Connor largely ignores the black community by making them minor characters in "Everything That Rises Must Converge."
Julian is racist, because he only wants to interact with black people who are educated and of distinguished professions.
Any story that includes a character going to an exercise class in a fancy hat and gloves deserves our attention. In "Everything That Rises Must Converge," we spend a lot of time with middle- to lower-class whites. We know that Julian's mother "suffered" to feed, clothe, and put him through school, and that their neighborhood is kind of gross. We also see a relatively new class of African-Americans, those who are rising in economic status. The black man who gets on the bus is well-dressed, Carver is in a suit and hat, and his mother carries a large purse, suggesting an accumulation of wealth. Can we judge these books—er, people—by their covers?
Julian and his mother both fantasize about a return to the old mansion and the days when they were wealthier—during slavery.
Julian believes that education makes you who you are, while his mother believes where you come from and how you present yourself makes you who you are. Who, if either, is correct?
There's a whole lot of suffering going on in "Everything That Rises Must Converge," both internal and external. And of all the characters, the one who has suffered the most is Julian's mother. (Maybe.) Being a widow and putting a son through college as a single mom is no easy task, especially when it's a thankless job. Of course, Julian thinks he's got it worse as a typewriter salesman who has to put up with his mother's old-fashioned ways. And what about the suffering of slavery and racism? If we knew the story behind Carver's mother, would we think she had it worst of all?
Julian is a crybaby who needs to move out of his mamma's house.
O'Connor suggests that it's really the black people who have suffered the most.
Religion is kind of an under-the-radar theme in "Everything That Rises Must Converge," but once you start to notice it—it's everywhere. But O'Connor, who was a devout Roman Catholic, doesn't hit us over the head. She interweaves religious references to create a tone of mystery that brings us into a sacred space. She's a guide rather than a preacher—and, even though religion saturates the pages, it isn't hitting us over the head with a bible.
In "Everything That Rises Must Converge" both Julian and his mother believe they are on the righteous path.
In terms of the story, Julian is a sinner and his mother is a saint.