Summer is a good time to be reading Flannery O’Connor again.
On a flight to Boston a few weeks ago I read one of her more disturbing and controversial stories, “Everything That Rises Must Converge.”
You can read the full story online here.
The title comes from the philosophical work of a French Jesuit, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and like all of O’Connor’s titles ought to be closely attended to while reading. You can look up excerpts from Chardin’s “The New Spirit” here and try to decipher his complex mystical theology, but just considering O’Connor’s title “innocently,” with the plot of the story in mind, I would guess it could mean that as things “rise” closer to the truth, they also come closer to — that is, “converge” upon — one another.
There are also several instances of “convergence” in the story itself.
Brief summary: the plot centers around a young man (whom Flannery herself would probably call a “big intellectual”) who is bringing his mother to her exercise classes at the local YMCA. He is embarrassed by her racism and narrowness, and she is proud of his college education.
Some instances of convergence that I noticed: The mother’s ugly purple hat, described in detail at the very beginning of the story and a frequent topic of conversation, is echoed by the narrator’s description of the sky: “The sky was a dying violet and the houses stood out darkly against it, bulbous liver-colored monstrosities of a uniform ugliness though no two were alike.”
So – the hat and the sky converge? I say that with a complete lack of authority.
Later, the hat comes up again while they ride the bus. A black woman who sits down across from them is wearing the exact same hat as the mother. Despite racial and societal divide between them, they match. (The son is delighted by the irony of this convergence).
The black woman also has her own son. The mother plays with the little boy and condescendingly offers him a penny — which the black woman angrily rejects.
The mother’s intellectual ignorance is matched by her son’s emotional ignorance.
And the son’s persistent judgment and disgust throughout the story is completely reversed at the end to… well, I won’t spoil the ending. If you’ve ever read O’Connor, you know it will be interesting.
But it’s the title itself that continually arrests me – everything that rises must converge – and the following story acts like a lyric poem – responding to the entitle, enfleshing the title, challenging the title – but never really explaining the title. I don’t pretend to understand it.
Still, this short story gives me hope that no matter how twisted and damaged our attempts at truth are, they nevertheless eventually converge into the truth of God, rising little by little until they finally reach His peace.
One thought on “Everything That Rises”
It’s one of my favorites. Of course, my favorites pretty much extend to everything Flannery wrote. Her work bears (and often vigorously demands), re-reading, as much as anything I know. I first read this story in 1971, less than a decade after her death. I continued to read her stories and novels through college, and I eventually wrote my senior thesis on her work in 1974. (She has a way of grabbing you by the mental lapels and not letting go.) Even then, there were only a few journal articles and a thin volume of critical essays, so I got to spend most of my time on the texts. I’m glad that Flannery has flourished and that people with your enthusiasm and insight help encourage her readership.