Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Thoughts on "A Stroke of Good Fortune" - Unfolding O'Connor's method

I'm posting a few lines from "Flannery O'Connor and the Theology of Discontent" by Stephen Sparrow, © 18 April 2000

"In 1959 Flannery O’Connor wrote to a friend who was struggling to understand the nature of Faith.  In the letter, Flannery said, ‘And remember the Mercy of God…hard to believe it, but try believing the opposite and you will find it too easy.  Life has no meaning that way.’  In those few words lay the heart and the secret of O’Connor’s fiction. In other words, it is often easier to understand Christianity by trying to imagine a world where it does not exist. The fishhook of Christianity lies hidden inside most of O’Connor’s fiction and throws light, often in an oblique way on a world where the message of Christ is all but forgotten. Her characters should know better but in varying degrees of the spectacular, turn their lives into hash...

...The real violence is implied; the violence we do to ourselves through inward looking and inward living, the violence that shapes our attitude, giving us a distorted view of the world.

"A Stroke of Good Fortune" centres on a series of "let downs" starting with the three flights of stairs Ruby Hill must climb each time she returns from shopping to reach where she and her husband Bill live.  

Each question and its answer lead to further questions. The birthday is the State of Florida’s.   Who discovered Florida? A Spaniard called Ponce de Leon.  What was he searching for? The Fountain of Youth... Is Flannery telling us something here? Ponce de Leon searching for the Fountain of Youth discovers a patch of coastal swamp jungle infested with mosquitoes and alligators – what a let down.

Ruby had nearly reached the top of the stairs and the idea of a pregnancy was now well in place; a real ‘let down’ in her eyes, but in reality as most mothers know, the most satisfying experience many women ever have.  There is a paradox here in Ruby’s feeling of discontent and that same paradox is endemic to all discontent. This longing and hope for something or somewhere better is almost universal in mankind and is accepted by reason as pointing strongly toward the existence of God and yet Ruby is caught in her own trap.  She is her own God.  Ruby wants to stay where she is without growing up and moving on. She has rejected the reality of life, and with it, the chance to understand some small part of the Mercy of God. 

The arrival of the baby would probably help to change all of that, but this story does not go that far; it ends near the top of the stairs.

Without faith in the Mercy of God, life becomes a drudge; discontent covers everything like dust and suffering becomes unbearable.  We can see Flannery O’Connor nodding in agreement as she undoubtedly read these words of Simone Weil’s written some time in the late 1930s.1 "The extreme greatness of Christianity lies in the fact that it does not seek a supernatural cure for suffering, but a supernatural use of it."

Flannery O’Connor had an intimate awareness of physical suffering.  From the age of twenty-six years she lived with the knowledge that her life would be short.  She used her prodigious talent to tell stories that brought discontent and suffering into its true perspective inside Christian redemption [the Mercy of God] --the only place it makes any sense.   She told her stories from the other side, the dark side where people who shun the ‘light’ try to work out their lives on their own.  [Her] characters illuminate Christianity by trying to run away from it.  Flannery summed it all up in one line of a letter she wrote to her friend Betty Hester in 1955; "God rescues us from ourselves if we want Him to."

1. Simone Weil [1909-1943] French Philosopher. Background Jewish and agnostic. Made her own way to Christianity but was never baptized.

Read more: http://mediaspecialist.org/sstheology.html#ixzz1LLab6dO1
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