top of page

Falling for Flannery: A Journey Through Flannery O'Conner's Complete Stories

I've always loved the written word. Loved reading it, loved writing it. But I have rarely put my thoughts out there in terms of a public review of it. Well, not except for a few odd reviews on Goodreads, that's changing now.

I picked up a collection of Flannery O'Conner's complete stories in July 2022. After having to read "Parker's Back" in a theology class, of all places, and her essay "Total Effect of the Eighth Grade" in a composition class at Franciscan, I desired to read more of her work. Well, God fulfilled this desire in leading me to find a collection of her works in a bookstore in downtown Spring Lake, New Jersey.

I began working my way through the collection in February 2023. My general impressions of her style is that it is enthralling and captivating. I am immediately pulled into her stories and have noticed that they begin In Medias Res, or in the middle of the action. This ups the ante and makes it easier for the story to enthrall the reader. She has a way of making engaging characters which I haven't seen before. These characters often subvert your expectations; you think a character (often the main character) is one way at the beginning of the story only to often find out your judgement was wrong by the end of the story.

The Stories are as follows:

"The Geranium"

"The Barber"


"The Crop"

"The Turkey"

"The Peeler"

"The Heart of the Park"

"A Stroke of Good Fortune"

"Enoch and the Gorilla"

"A Good Man Is Hard to Find"

"A Late Encounter with the Enemy"

"The Life You Save May Be Your Own"

"The River"

"A Circle in the Fire"

"The Displaced Person"

"A Temple of the Holy Ghost"

"The Artificial N—"

"Good Country People"

"You Can't Be Poorer Than Dead"


"A View of the Woods"

"The Enduring Chill"

"The Comforts of Home"

"Everything that Rises Must Converge"

"The Partridge Festival"

"The Lame Shall Enter First"


"Why Do The Heathens Rage?"

"Parker's Back"

"Judgement Day"

As it took me almost a year to complete this collection, I don't remember some of the stories clearly. I do remember I enjoyed the early ones (and will probably skim them again for this post). They made me want to continue on to read the other stories. So I will briefly go through some of the early ones.

Though I do no remember the majority of the story, the ending of "The Geranium" sticks with me. The old man, who is the main character, glories in the presence of the geranium in he window of the apartment across the way. When he see it missing at then end of the story, he inquires to the tenant of the apartment where it went. The tenant responds that "it fell". The old man becomes angry that the tenant won't pick it up The man gets agitated recognizing that the old man stares into his apartment each day and states that he "what he does in his apartment is his business". The old man desires control over his world, something he doesn't quite have. He tries to control the other tenant, but he can't. It really drives home the point that we have to accept things as they are sometimes. When change happens, it is best to find a way to deal with it rather than try to undo it (at least in a lot of cases).

Another one of the early ones that stuck with me, a lot more fully this time, is "The Wildcat". In this story a group of young men (Gabriel, George, Willie Myrick, Boon Williams, Mose and Luke) are hunting a wildcat. Gabriel's grandfather, Old Gabriel keeps saying they won't catch it. There is a sense Old Gabriel knows more than the young men. This is apparently not the first time this wildcat has tormented the town. Flashbacks reveal that when Old Gabriel was a boy the wildcat had killed a man called Hezuh. By the end of the story, there is a sense that Old Gabriel is going to be killed by the wildcat, but it has not occurred yet. The story points toward the necessity of respect for the elderly. Yet, there is some youthful naïveté in the boys who believe they can catch this wildcat that seems pretty elusive. However, Old Gabriel does show a bit of arrogance for having seen the wildcat before and a bit pessimistic about the chances of catching this elusive creature. The story overall seems to have a message is do not be overconfident nor pessimistic. The boys may never catch the wildcat in the story after it ends but it cannot be certain either that Old Gabriel will be killed by it. Both are possible, O'Conner seems to imply the latter is more probable. Even so, it can't be assumed as nothing is revealed. I would say this story is a 4.5 out of 5 stars,

Another early story I remember is "The River". In the story, the maid to a family begins bringing the family's son to revival services. The Son thinks nothing of it at first. However, as the story goes on there is obviously something happening inside the boy. The parents are either atheist or agnostic is not clear. The boy suddenly shouts at one point that he believes in the Bible. One day he wakes up to find his parents having left the home without him. He has been abandoned. He goes to the river and it is implied that he drowns as he keeps walking into the deeper water.

This story sticks with me cause throughout it it is clear tvhe parents aren't great parents to the point, as I said, they abandon the child. The boy's obsession with the river and eventual drowning seems to signify a want to escape the life he lives in, but doesn't necessarily seem to align per se with the boy's statement that he believes in God. The story's sad end with the boy's body being discovered reveals the boy likely felt extremely isolated even if he didn't say anything. Overall I'd give this story a 4/5 stars.

The next story I'd like to discuss is "A Temple of the Holy Ghost." The main character of this story is a young child, who remains nameless through out. The child's mother's name is also never revealed. The mother in the story invites two girls from the convent school, Mount St. Scholastica to spend the weekend at her and the child's home. The girls are named Susan and Joanne, who call each other "Temple One and Temple two. The child clearly dislikes them from the beginning and tries to mock them by suggesting that the mother has Wendell and Cory Wilkens entertain the girls for the weekend. However, initially, it's not quite clear that this plan is a means to mock them. To the child's utter surprise, Susan and Joanne enjoy Wendell and Cory, whom the mother fears Susan and Joanne will look down upon because Wendell and Cory "are only farm boys". Wendell and Cory take Susan and Joanne to the fair where afterwards when the girls are talking to the child it is revealed the group saw a hermaphrodite. The following day when the girls are taken back to school, it is revealed on the drive home that the fair was shut down. The description of the horizon at the end of the story appears to be sunset especially considering a comparison is made between the sun and an elevated host (implying consecration perhaps). There is a sense that the child finds Joanne and Susan juvenile despite being younger than they are. The arrogance of the child permeates the narrative. Also, it seems clear the child seems to disdain religion even though the child changes attitudes in front of the Eucharist in adoration , but this is only superficially saying prayers of petition which the child probably knows would be expected. This story seems to call to mind hypocrisy in the act of appearing religious, but really having any religion at all. The child actually claims to see the hermaphrodite in the host. This seems to signify the child's hypocritical petitions as the statement that God made the hermaphrodite "that way" is repeated from earlier in the story. I would give this story a 4/5 stars.

Continuing forward in the collection, I would like to address "A View of the Woods". The story opens with Mary Fortune and an old man (implied to be the grandfather) looking out upon a construction site and it describes a "machine" which sounds like a bull dowser. The grandfather has an obvious affection for the child. Yet, there is also a disdain for the parents. Of course in one way this is justified as the father is revealed to have beaten Mary in the past. The grandfather sells off the "lawn" to a man called Tilman as a power trip, it seems, over Mary's parents. In a surprising turn of events, after Mary shows a temper, the old man decides to whip her which is something that he seemed he would never do. Suddenly, the tables turn and Mary begins to whip him. After she finishes, she declares "I am PURE Pitts". After this, it seems to the grandfather Mary becomes a thing not a person. He, at the end of the story, is left alone with the bulldozer since after Mary whipped him, he smashes her head on a rock three times.

This story shows how control corrupts people. The grandfather sees Mary as someone like him, at least for most of the story, but he also wants control her in a way. He wants to believe that she is nothing like her other family members. When he finally loses control of her, he can't handle and the only way he can continue his control is to kill her. Another aspect is the affects of abuse. It is clear that Mary's father's discipline goes far beyond what it should be into the realm of abuse. He doesn't seems to care much about her and only venting his anger. Mary begs her father not to beat her and he refuses. It seems that in what Mary does to her grandfather reenacts the abuse she was subjected to her father. She, as a sad result of her abuse, seems to have no respect for those older than her. She seemingly can not trust anyone, in the end even her grandfather. While the ending is quite sad, I would give this story a 5/5 stars for it has such powerful messages about control and abuse.

To close out the discussion of this collection, I will return to the story which in part led me to want to read more Flannery O'Conner, "Parker's Back". The first time I read this story it was mediated through the lens of my Christology professsor, Dr. Regis Martin. This time I was able to make more personal opinions about the story. The main character, Parker immediately intrigues the reader. Parker is married, but it is obvious that he doesn't necessarily like his wife. Immediately, there is a level of irony that he got married at all. His wife is revealed to be pregnant, but it is also said that "pregnant women were not his favorite kind". So if there is a possibility that children could be conceived and he doesn't like pregnant women why would he get married. Also, he seems more likely to be an atheist or agnostic, but his wife is a Christian. His wife appears to maybe be a fundamentalist Christian as he describes her as "forever sniffing up sin". The story goes on to recount how Parker met his wife. In that vignette, it is first revealed that his wife does not like tattoos. Further on, it is revealed that Parker's wife's name is Sarah Ruth. Sarah Ruth dislikes that Parker works for a woman, though it seems she's under the impression this woman is young, which is not true. Even more so it seems she dislikes his tattoos telling him he will have to answer to God for them. Previously, it is revealed that Parker has no tattoos on his back. He is so fed up with his wife, that he decides to go get a tattoo (a pattern that has emerged with anything which leads him to be fed up with life). He goes to the shop and looks through a book of religious tattoos (he thinks one of these will finally get his wife to like his tattoos). He decides on a Byzantine Jesus. It takes several days to get this done, and when returns home his wife won't let him in. Their final conversation comes to a climax when he takes off his shirt to show her the Byzantine Jesus. Her reaction is directly opposite of what he expects, as she beats him with a broom while calling the picture idolatry. The story ends with Parker holding on to a tree crying after being beaten.

One thing that I find to be reaffirmed in my second reading of the story, is that there is a message about iconoclasm in the text. When Parker marries his wife, the wedding occurs in a court house because Sarah Ruth finds churches idolatrous. Obviously, this takes iconoclasm to an extreme. From a Catholic perspective, icons (and other forms of art) depicting, Christ, Mary, or the Saints are not idolatrous. This comes from an understanding from the Second Council of Nicaea, or the Seventh Ecumenical council, "one of [the traditions passed on to us] is the production of representational art". On the anathemas reads "If anyone does not confess that Christ our God can be represented in his humanity, let him be anathema". Based on this, Sarah Ruth would be anathematized. This story also provides light on the extent you should go to please others. While undergirded with a bit of arrogance and perhaps a bid to control Sarah Ruth, Parker gets this Byzantine Jesus tattooed on his back to please her. Of course, it does not please her. Yet, while disordered, his want to please Sarah Ruth in some way demonstrates that married couples should want to honor each other by considering the other's feelings. These two morals are just a few lessons contained in this story that lends itself to a 5/5 stars.

Overall, I would give this collection a 4.75/5 stars. All the stories had their own charm. O'Conner had a way of consistently surprising the reader. However, at times where characters showed up in multiple stories it wasn't clear why the character needed another narrative. At times, also the stories seemed to drag on, and some of the stories which were shorter felt more complete. I am so grateful for finding this collection which reignited my enjoyment of the written word. I hope that you go out and read these stories. I hope you come visit again and come on along this merry journey of life with me.


bottom of page