“Everything That Rises Must Converge” by Flannery O’Connor

Paper Info
Page count 6
Word count 1684
Read time 6 min
Topic Literature
Type Coursework
Language 🇺🇸 US

Introduction

Flannery O’Connor wrote the chef-d’oeuvre book, Everything That Rises Must Converge, in 1961 during the rise of the American Civil Rights Movement. O’Connor’s book offers an account of the tensions that existed between the white and black Americans in the 1960s. O’Connor’s story is easy to understand and it clearly shows how factors such as intergenerational conflicts played out against the issue of racial integration in the US and particularly in the South. The fate of Mrs. Chestny, who is Julian’s mother, illustrates that granting blacks their rights would not necessarily end the racial conflicts in the South, but both white and black races had to learn how to coexist albeit through the hard way. The integration process presented the blacks with the opportunity to pursue their dreams at a level platform, which meant they would arise and shine. However, the whites were at an elevated level and thus O’Connor insinuates that the two must converge at one point.

Generational conflict

The author explores race relations in the South during the 1960s by giving the case of the fragile relationship that Mrs. Chestny has with her son, Julian. Julian’s mother lives in the South and still adheres to defined social codes of conduct that distinguish the whites from the African Americans. Despite the emerging efforts to end these old norms, she remains attached to them in a bid to resist the new transition that is initiated by the integration laws. For example, Mrs. Chestny claims, “Blacks should rise, yes, but on their own side of the fence” (O’Connor, 1965, p. 7). This assertion implies that despite giving blacks equal rights, they should exercise them based on the facts that they are inferior and the old order should continue in favor of the whites. She gives a new penny to a black child called Carver, but her mother declines, which shows that the black race no longer expects offers from the whites whose intention is to keep the blacks dependent.

On the contrary, Julian is a pragmatist and he knows that change will inevitable happen and instead of fighting and resisting it, he portrays prudence in accepting the integration. Unlike his mother, he abandons the old social order and reckons the democratic ideas of his generation. He comes out strongly to condemn his mother’s attitude regarding race. Consequently, these divergent opinions create conflicts between them. As an idealist and educated young American, Julian faces several challenges when he tries to materialize his convictions and finds it difficult treating blacks as equals. Julian wants to establish rapport with the blacks by dressing like them and engaging in conversations, but this move instead results in conflicts. The black society tries hard to become independent and it is convinced that the whites are against the new laws (Gooch, 2009).

Social conduct

In many ways, Julian and his mother try to find solace in past wealth and prestige when they feel that their superiority is being threatened by the integration rules. The often reference to the past suggests that they are yet to fully acknowledge their status as struggling whites in a swiftly integrating South. To them, the past offers comfort and safety, allows them to forget the social upheavals, and affirms their superiority to the dependent blacks. Julian’s mother talks of the wealth owned by their ancestors by saying, “your great-grandfather had a plantation and two hundred slaves” (O’Connor, 1965, p. 6). This assertion highlights the deep-lying misconceptions in Julian’s mother, who owns very little but behaves as though she has wealth. She lives in the dreams of the yesteryears when the white supremacists owned everything including the blacks. This perception keeps Mrs. Chestny going despite having no clear understanding of the changing south. She develops a confused and altered conception of her place in the South. As much as she wants to feel superior, she faces humiliation from the blacks as a result of her own actions and the situation generates fear when Julian fails to share the same attitude with her regarding race. Julian feels uncomfortable with his family history, particularly its link to slavery, and thus he seeks to do away with this feeling by trying to connect with influential blacks.

Julian’s mother still believes that social conduct defines one’s race. On the other hand, Julian takes this perception as a misguided conviction by her mother to help her evade the social change linked to integration. The way Julian’s mother pays unnecessary attention to her conduct and dress reflects how she is keen to uphold the status quo. Although she lacks the wealth that her family had, she is not ready to adopt a new life and concede being equal to blacks or whites of the low social class. She allows her attitude regarding race to drag her into denial coupled with staying ignorant of the new trends in the changing society. However, reality confronts her when she decides to give a new penny to Carver, and her mother rejects the offer implying that the blacks are beginning to understand their place in the society and whites are gradually losing grip of their patronizing character. Julian realizes that whether black or white, the society must at one time converge albeit amidst challenges of resistance to change. He is aware that the blacks are emerging, and thus he tries to create a situation to establish a proper foundation for all race relationships, but his fragile ego prevents him.

O’Connor uses various symbols to reflect the evolving cultural aspects of the 1960s and suggests that such changes are creating equal social grounds regardless of one’s race. Following the racial integration of public transport, Julian’s mother meets a black huge woman in a bus wearing a similar hideous hat as hers. The hat puts the two women in a common social footing within the integrating world. Julian’s mother has to face this reality, but her pride drags her back to the past when racial prejudices would have elevated her status against that of the black woman. Racial equality elevated blacks and at the same time inflated the alleged superiority of the poor whites (Gooch, 2009). Furthermore, O’Conner highlights the condescending associated with the whites by introducing the penny incidence. For many years before the civil rights movements, whites had intentionally deprived black Americans the opportunity to develop and equal access to resources whilst expecting them to appreciate their roles as slaves. Agitated by the historical subjection to white patronage, Carver’s mother strikes back to affirm her status as an independent woman. Such conflicts reflect how difficult it was to establish a converging point between the blacks and the whites even when genuine liberals expressed interests to facilitate desegregation (Armstrong & Schmidt, 2009).

Black Americans were for long recognized as second class citizens and they were motivated by the integration laws, but many lacked the confidence to engage the whites and alleviate the tensions that stood between the two groups (Armstrong & Schmidt, 2009). For example, while on the bus, Julian unsuccessfully tries to make black friends, but he just fantasizes about having some along the integration process. The black man sitting next to Julian stays glued to his newspaper and gives no attention to anybody on the bus, and in this context, Julian’s mother claims that the world is in a mess, “I do not know how we have let it get in this fix” (O’Connor, 1965, p. 10). Julian’s mother implies that living among blacks is intolerable for the whites. This aspect shows how it is difficult for her to integrate with the blacks, but opts to think of the past when she feels threatened by the changing social order. To some extent, Julian demonstrates the tension of associating with any black person despite his effort to enhance racial equality. He often thinks of making black friends such as professors, ministers, or lawyers. This aspect magnifies his sense of insecurity while interacting with any Negro and he wants to ensure that his pretense of superiority is not damaged by relating with blacks of the low class. He keeps oscillating between classes and how to enhance coexistence while simultaneously avoiding conflicting with his heritage, which he believes makes him a better citizen than his black counterparts.

Julian acknowledges that the black race is rising and stripping the white supremacy at the same time. However, establishing a converging point would do better to the whites than it would mean to the blacks who have nothing to lose (Darretta, 2007). When Carver’s mother retaliates harshly, Julian tells his mother that Carver’s mother represents the agitation of the entire black race, which would no longer accept handouts from the whites. Although Julian’s mother gives out the money out of kindness, Julian understands the response from Carver’s mother. Carver’s mother does not talk much or seem ready to talk to the whites, but her actions reveal suppressed anger that blacks have accumulated through slavery and discrimination under white supremacy. The fact that Julian does not avenge his mother demonstrates how the integration has efficiently brought equality amongst the white and black races.

Conclusion

In spite of the differing viewpoints between Julian and his mother, their convictions suggest that both of them are unable to confront their status and the emerging racial environment. For instance, Julian’s mother tries to compensate for her lost prestige by dressing and presenting herself lavishly in public. This aspect helps her to find false happiness and pursue her misconstrued convictions that she is superior to the blacks as well as the poor whites. Julian expresses his contentment for having a college education and he is convinced that his education grants him an upper hand as opposed to those around him. In many ways, Julian tries to generate the notion that he advances democratic ideals of justice and race equality, but he hardly reacts to these assertions. His fantasies of interacting with prominent blacks override his convictions and attitude towards race. Therefore, following the integration, the whites started to acknowledge that they could not rise further, the blacks swiftly ascended the social ladder, and thus converging was inevitable.

References

Armstrong, B., & Schmidt, A. (2009). The civil rights reader: American literature from Jim Crow to reconciliation. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press.

Darretta, J. (2007). Before the sun has set: Retribution in the fiction of Flannery O’Connor. New York, NY: Peter Lang.

Gooch, B. (2009). Flannery: A life of Flannery O’Connor. New York, NY: Little, Brown.

O’Connor, F. (1965). Everything that rises must converge. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

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Reference

EssaysInCollege. (2022, May 24). "Everything That Rises Must Converge" by Flannery O’Connor. Retrieved from https://essaysincollege.com/everything-that-rises-must-converge-by-flannery-oconnor/

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EssaysInCollege. (2022, May 24). "Everything That Rises Must Converge" by Flannery O’Connor. https://essaysincollege.com/everything-that-rises-must-converge-by-flannery-oconnor/

Work Cited

""Everything That Rises Must Converge" by Flannery O’Connor." EssaysInCollege, 24 May 2022, essaysincollege.com/everything-that-rises-must-converge-by-flannery-oconnor/.

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EssaysInCollege. (2022) '"Everything That Rises Must Converge" by Flannery O’Connor'. 24 May.

References

EssaysInCollege. 2022. ""Everything That Rises Must Converge" by Flannery O’Connor." May 24, 2022. https://essaysincollege.com/everything-that-rises-must-converge-by-flannery-oconnor/.

1. EssaysInCollege. ""Everything That Rises Must Converge" by Flannery O’Connor." May 24, 2022. https://essaysincollege.com/everything-that-rises-must-converge-by-flannery-oconnor/.


Bibliography


EssaysInCollege. ""Everything That Rises Must Converge" by Flannery O’Connor." May 24, 2022. https://essaysincollege.com/everything-that-rises-must-converge-by-flannery-oconnor/.