This volume is an effort to introduce O'Connor to a new generation of readers by including previously published essays that clarify her religious ideas, her narrative technique, her use of humor, and the regional and social context of her fiction.
The fiction of Flannery O'Connor has always posed unique challenges to modern readers. Her narrative style is symbolically unrealistic, her characters confront complex religious trials beyond their understanding, and her themes are often dependent on paradoxical concepts of Christian theology. O'Connor knew from the beginning of her career that both her method and her message would be bewildering to many readers.
Critics have responded to the challenge of O'Connor in staggering numbers. This includes a summary of such contemporary critical approaches to her work as postmodern critical theory, psychoanalysis, and feminism.
This volume is an effort to introduce O'Connor to a new generation of readers by including twelve previously published essays that clarify her religious ideas, her narrative technique, her use of humor, and the regional and social context of her fiction, and five original essays commissioned especially for this volume that make significant new contributions to the understanding and appreciation of her work.
At the heart of her writing is the central articulation of her subject—"the action of grace in territory largely held by the devil"—and explains why she felt she had to use shock and awe to make this vision apparent to her readers.
"A Good Man is Hard to Find," is discussed from a Catholic point of view in order to make clear exactly what constitutes the "duel" between the Misfit and the Grandmother at the conclusion of the story.
O'Connor's second most famous story, "Good Country People," is discussed to clarify her objections to rationalism. The essay on the story suggests that O'Connor's conviction that this story would not rouse the religious reader but rather the rationalists means that the story is central to understanding her quarrel with rationalism and her warnings against the dangers of nihilism.
For many readers, one of the most puzzling of O'Connor techniques is her humor, which is often thought to be inappropriate, or at least incompatible, with her religious ideas and the violence in her stories. An article argues that Henri Bergson's theories of humor help us understand how the three elements of violence, religion, and humor blend so effectively in O'Connor's fiction by showing how laughter serves a corrective social function.
Of course, some knowledge of the social context in which she wrote is also essential to fully appreciate and understand her fiction. O'Connor's life as a Catholic intellectual in Southern Bible Belt Protestantism makes it necessary to be familiar with the well defined color lines and class lines of O'Connor's childhood, as well as the transformations that took place in the South during her adulthood.
Other essays examine the role of female characters, social reality, domestic relations, romance, and symbolism. There is also discussion of her choice and use of the short story form.
Flannery O'Connor's career as a writer lasted only twelve years. However, this small corpus is as distinctive a body of work as any in modern writing. It is work that demands our full attention but eludes our full understanding.
Each essay is 5,000 words in length, and all essays conclude with a list of "Works Cited," along with endnotes. Finally, the volume's appendixes offer a section of useful reference resources:
- A chronology of the author's life
- A complete list of the author's works and their original dates of publication
- A general bibliography
- A detailed paragraph on the volume's editor
- Notes on the individual chapter authors
- A subject index