Study Guide

Everything That Rises Must Converge Themes

  • Family

    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.

    Questions About Family

    1. Do you think Julian is justified in his actions toward his mother?
    2. How might their relationship have been different if Julian hadn't gone to college?
    3. Is Julian's mother is a good mother? Is Julian a good son?
    4. How would you compare the family dynamic between Julian and his mother and Carver and his mother?

    Chew on This

    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.

  • Race

    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.

    Questions About Race

    1. Do you think Julian's mother is racist or just old-fashioned? Should older generations be excused for closed-mindedness if it's a result of how they were brought up?
    2. Why do you think Carver's mother didn't want him to play with Julian's mother?
    3. How would you feel today if someone tried to give your kid money? Insulted? Uncomfortable? Angry?
    4. Do you think it's fair for Julian to try and teach his mother a "lesson" about race? Why does he want to do this?
    5. What kind of outdated notions will your kids hate you for?

    Chew on This

    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.

  • Society and Class

    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?

    Questions About Society and Class

    1. Who seems to be more down and out economically on the bus—blacks or whites? What does this say about the new South?
    2. Why do you think O'Connor chose to have the two mothers wearing the same ugly hat? What does it say about the society they live in?
    3. Why do you think Julian has little success interacting with black men? Does this have to do more with society or with class?

    Chew on This

    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?

  • Suffering

    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?

    Questions About Suffering

    1. Julian is not a very happy person and is suffering psychologically. Where does this unhappiness seem to come from?
    2. Should Julian's mother be a role model or a source of shame? Why does Julian feel so conflicted towards her?

    Chew on This

    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

    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.

    Questions About Religion

    1. Why do you think O'Connor uses Saint Sebastian when describing Julian?
    2. Do you think any character in the story could be considered a good person?
    3. Find examples in the text where O'Connor mentions sin or sinning. What's the context? Why does she use these words?
    4. Do you think there is a sound argument for or against the notion of separate but equal in terms of religion? What would Jesus think?

    Chew on This

    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.