Flannery O’Connor: Seeing the Bad in the Good (Part Two)

A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories by Flannery O’Connor

Illustration by Junyi Wu (junyiwu.blogspot.com)
Illustration by Junyi Wu (junyiwu.blogspot.com)

Part Two: “Flannery O’Connor’s Good Characters”

Continued from Part One: “Flannery O’Connor’s Evil Characters”

A common theme throughout Flannery O’Connor’s stories is that people are not always what they seem. Most people like to believe that no matter how wicked a person may seem, everyone has at least a little good within them, even if you have to dig deep down to find it and bring it to the surface. The tendency is to make excuses for a person’s bad or violent behavior – they’re having a bad day, or they had an unfortunate upbringing, or they are simply misunderstood and need some love and compassion. O’Connor’s  stories, on the other hand, often present the exact opposite view– that no matter how good a person appears on the outside, there is at least a little evil lying below the surface; it’s just a matter of the right circumstances occurring to reveal it. Continue reading “Flannery O’Connor: Seeing the Bad in the Good (Part Two)”

Flannery O’Connor: Seeing the Bad in the Good (Part One)

GoodManHardtoFindA Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories by Flannery O’Connor

“The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)

Through the ages, philosophers have debated the issue of man’s morality. The question can be asked like this: “Is man basically good, having a potential for evil? Or, is man essentially bad, with the potential for doing good?” How do we distinguish between a “good” person and a “bad” person? If you were to ask the average person on the street, most people would likely say they believe man is basically good. But I believe that the southern Catholic writer Flannery O’Connor  (1925-1964) would disagree with this assessment. O’Connor’s stories have been classified as Southern Gothic. She is quoted as remarking that “anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic.” She uses irony and dark humor in some of her short stories to expose the depravity that she believes exists in the heart of every person. Continue reading “Flannery O’Connor: Seeing the Bad in the Good (Part One)”

Satan and Man: Same Fall, Different Landings: Paradise Lost

Paradise Lost by John Milton

Gustave Doré, Depiction of Satan, the antagoni...
Gustave Doré, Depiction of Satan, the antagonist of Paradise Lost c.1866 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Of Man’s first disobedience, and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste
Brought death into the World, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man

Restore us, and regain the blissful seat.

John Milton (1608-1674) is considered one of the most important English writers of all time, ranking with Shakespeare and Chaucer. Milton was a devout Puritan and was disowned by his Catholic father. Unlike many Puritans of his day, Milton did not condemn recreational enjoyments, like art, sports, and theater, and he loved music. Milton was probably the most educated of all the English writers up to that time; he knew five languages, and the Bible almost from memory. Milton became completely blind by the age of 44.

Milton believed he was called by God to speak out against society’s evils. He wrote pamphlets on topics such as marriage and divorce, censorship, and politics. Milton’s other literary works include 23 sonnets, several elegies and odes, a masque drama, and a dramatic poem. Paradise Lost (1667), his opus magnum and best-known work, is considered by some to be the greatest poem ever written. Continue reading “Satan and Man: Same Fall, Different Landings: Paradise Lost”

Called to China, Recalled to Life: Safely Home

I recently had the privilege of witnessing the baptism of eight souls at my brother’s church, his daughter being one of those who were baptized. At that service, two young university students from China were also baptized. It was very moving to hear them give their testimonies, as they remarked that it was clear that God had brought them here to the United States – not simply to attend school – but so that they would meet the Lord Jesus Christ and become Christians. One made the comment that accepting Christ was not something they took lightly. It is certain they will face challenges when they return home to China with their new faith. The testimony of these two young men reminded me once again of a compelling and inspiring novel I read last year,

safelyhomeSafely Home by Randy Alcorn

“China is my place of service. It is the battlefield where Li Quan has been dispatched as Yesu’s soldier. But this is not my home. Heaven is my home, my true country. I know that now. But it was a hard lesson to learn.”

Continue reading “Called to China, Recalled to Life: Safely Home”

A Heroine’s Quest for Home, Part Four

Jane Eyre SceneHome at Ferndean

This continues from “A Heroine’s Quest for Home, Part Three: Jane’s Tests”
“I know what it is to live entirely for and with what I love best on earth. I hold myself supremely blest—blest beyond what language can express; because I am my husband’s life as fully as he is mine. No woman was ever nearer to her mate than I am: ever more absolutely bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. I know no weariness of my Edward’s society: he knows none of mine, anymore than we each do of the pulsation of the heart that beats in our separate bosoms; consequently, we are ever together.”

Unlike the typical quest tale, Jane Eyre’s journey consists of a series of calls and departures, each one bringing her one step closer to finding a home. In a happy home, there exists a healthy balance of security, duty, and freedom. Jane’s search is for a home where she can be both useful and loved, and where she can enjoy a sense of security and belonging while also retaining her independence. As a child at Gateshead, Jane was dependent on people with whom she felt neither a sense of love nor belonging. At Lowood, she became useful but was still a dependent. At Thornfield, she was useful and also loved, but not yet independent. At Marsh-End, she was able to be useful and independent, and even discovered a sense of belonging, but her life still lacked the security and love which her soul required. By the time Jane joins Rochester at Ferndean, she has become independent and is able to serve him on a level of equality. She tells him, “I love you better now, when I can really be useful to you, than I did in your state of proud independence.” Their new relationship is one of mutual benefit rather than subservience and dependence.

Just as the hero in the quest tale returns bringing back the “boon,” when Jane returns to Rochester, she seems to administer a life-giving elixir. As she describes it, “All I said or did seemed either to console or revive him […] It brought to life and light my whole nature: in his presence I thoroughly lived; and he lived in mine.” She now experiences what it is “to live entirely for and with what I love best on earth.” In the end, Jane overcomes her apparent disadvantages and finds her place in society while preserving her own identity and integrity, as well as a home where she can truly live, love, and be loved.

I have included Jane Eyre on my list of fictional works I believe every Christian should read. After you’ve read the book, check out all the film adaptations of it! Here are few to consider:

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What is your favorite part of the story of Jane Eyre?

Jane Eyre: A Heroine’s Quest for Home, Part Three

The students of Lowood School. Engraving by Fritz Eichenberg. Random House, 1943.
The students of Lowood School. Engraving by Fritz Eichenberg. Random House, 1943.

Jane’s Tests

This article continues from A Heroine’s Quest for Home, Part Two: From Thornfield Hall to Marsh-End.”
“Hopeless of the future, I wished but this—that my Maker had that night thought good to require my soul of me while I slept; and that this weary frame, absolved by death from further conflict with fate, had now but to decay quietly, and mingle in peace with the soil of this wilderness.”

In this part of my review of the novel Jane Eyre, I am looking at a particular aspect of Jane’s journey. Typical to the quest tale structure, the heroine encounters challenges that test and strengthen her character along her journey towards finding home. As Eric Solomon has pointed out, a pattern is repeated in each phase of Jane’s journey: “Jane comes into conflict with authority, defeats it by her inner strength, and departs into exile.” After leaving Gateshead, Jane faces four main tests, which originate from Mr. Brocklehurst, Mrs. Reed, Mr. Rochester, and finally St. John Rivers. Each test tends to interrupt Jane’s current life with issues from the past. In some of these challenges, she is supplied a helper. Each incident evaluates Jane’s growth and progress towards acquiring her ultimate goals: independence and home. Continue reading “Jane Eyre: A Heroine’s Quest for Home, Part Three”