As previously mentioned, you are required to have your alphabetic text of The Complete Stories in class with you. However, the digital copy is available at the link above.
"When a book leaves your hands, it belongs to God. He may use it to save a few souls or to try a few others, but I think that for the writer to worry is to take over God's business."
The Author's Fiction in the World of
Although Flannery O'Connor could not herself technically be called a member of the working class, the majority of her characters exist as "good country people" or those who have been displaced from the city to the farm. Whatever the situation of the characters, rural, working-class life is nearly always the focus in her work. Just a few of the critical elements of the working-class genre that O'Connor offers in her pieces include: a show of the many differences between classes, chiefly the ideas that working-class people are happier in their station in life and also experience less loneliness than those of the upper classes, and a heavy focus on the authentic dialogue of the southern working classes. She employs these elements expertly in her work.
O'Connor's texts often address the differences between the working classes and the "owning" classes. In their article, "Toward a Theory of Working-Class Literature," Renny Christopher and Carolyn Whitson comment that "working-class culture does not celebrate individuality. It instead recognizes the interdependence of units of people: family, community, friends, unions" (76). O'Connor confirms the benefits of community that the working class offers by showing upper-class loneliness. In "Good Country People," the farm owner's well-educated daughter is very depressed and lonely but chooses to be so. When her mother and she walk the fields together, the daughter's "remarks were usually so ugly and her face so glum." She rigidly interacted with her mother, not showing any signs of family, community or solidarity with her at all. She informs her mother, "if you want me, here I am LIKE I AM" (274). There is no willingness to commune. Loneliness is also shown among many other middle-class characters in O'Connor's work the farm owner in "The Displaced Person," the teacher Rayber in "The Barber," and Mrs. Turpin in "Revelation" are some additional examples.
Christopher and Whitson claim that "working-class culture has its own exceptional people who do not choose to leave their culture." O'Connor's pieces support this idea. Often she paints the middle-class characters in her pieces as ridiculous or unhappy where the working-class is seemingly well-adjusted and satisfied with their place in life. Old Dudley, in the story "The Geranium," finds himself living in "better" conditions in New York City, having left the poor country life as a boarder and fix-it man in Georgia. His new existence consists of watching a geranium being put out on a neighboring windowsill everyday and constantly thinking about his working-class life in the past. He dreams of the hunting, fishing and small projects he used to do. His new, "improved" life is full of loneliness and sadness, where his old life was clearly much better. He didn't need to be "saved" from his working-class situation. In "The Barber," the working-class barbers, as well as the young black man that works for them, are happy-go-lucky, cheerful. The educated professor, Rayber, seems to suffer enormously when they talk about politics -- Rayber needs to have his opinions heard and accepted and obsesses over the situation when neither result occurs. The barber and surrounding workers merely want to chat and do not care what the outcome is. Although Rayber's ideas and political views are more supportive of the lower classes than their own views, his attitude toward being heard causes him to suffer; the others, happy in their ignorance, just have a good time and do not worry about the content of their talk. The working-classes in O'Connor's texts are seemingly happier than the educated, higher classes.
Christopher and Whitson, in a critical article about working-class literature, state that "working class writers attempt, in various ways, to record the realistic speech patterns of people who do not speak standard English nor conduct conversations along intellectually analytic lines" (73). Perhaps the authentic dialogue of O'Connor's characters is, artistically, her greatest strength. In "The Displaced Person," the white wife of a dairy farm hand addresses two black farm hands:
"Well... yawl have looked long enough. What you think about them?" "We been watching... who they now?" (She explains that they are "Displaced Persons" who have come to work on the farm.) "Displaced Persons... Well now. I declare. What do that mean?" "It means they ain't where they were born at and there's nowhere for them to go -- like if you was run out of here and wouldn't nobody have you." "It seems like they here, though... if they here, they somewhere" (199). Here O'Connor offers us an authentic southern dialect -- both among white and black speakers. This passage also shows the speakers' attempt at analyzing what is going on with the displaced persons -- logically discussed or not. Another example of authentic speech as well as homespun logic shows up in "Good Country People." The owner of the farm, Mrs. Hopewell, speaks with a travelling Bible salesman. The two converse, making almost exclusive use of cliches -- something many working-class people take for common wisdom. Mrs. Hopewell responds to something the young man has said, "Why...good country people are the salt of the earth! Besides, we all have different ways of doing, it takes all kinds to make the world go 'round. That's life!" and he replies, "You said a mouthful" (279).
Flannery O'Connor herself did not live as a working-class person. However, in her art, she is able to make the working-class live through her pieces -- the characters give themselves away as a working-class community in their realistic speech, communal attitude and beyond.
Christopher, Renny and Carolyn Whitson. "Toward a Theory of Working-Class Literature." The NEA Higher Education Journal. Spring, 1999. 71-81.(Click here for an on-line version of the article).
O'Connor, Flannery. The Complete Stories. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1971.