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Everything That Rises Must Converge

Flannery O’Connor

O’Connor and the Southern Gothic Tradition

Themes, Motifs, and Symbols

Historical Context

Although “Everything That Rises Must Converge” cannot be strictly classified as Southern Gothic literature, the story nevertheless draws upon many aspects of the genre, most notably its treatment of setting and tone. A subgenre of American literature, Southern Gothic writing utilizes strange events, eccentric characters, and local color to create a moody and unsettling depiction of life in the American South. Southern history figures prominently, and stories usually draw upon the tragic history of slavery, lingering feelings of defeated regional pride after the Civil War, and isolated, often neglected, locales. People, places, and events in Southern Gothic literature appear to be normal at first glance, but they eventually reveal themselves to be strange, disturbing, and sometimes horrific. Although she loathed the label, O’Connor was a master of the genre while simultaneously keeping a tone of realism in her novels and short stories. Her prose, for example, emphasizes the truths of her characters’ actions rather than their quirky peculiarities. Despite the often apocalyptic, surreal tone of her writing, her works always contain believable actions and choices. O’Connor grounds the story in reality by deemphasizing the eerie, disquieting tone of the backdrop and focusing instead on the relationships and events that drive the narrative.

The dark, strange setting emphasizes the mood of faded grandeur and urban decay and puts the story’s events into context. O’Connor, for example, describes the houses near Julian’s as “bulbous liver-colored monstrosities of a uniform ugliness” against the “dying violet” of the sunset. Dirty children squat outside these houses in a neighborhood that has long passed its prime. Southern history unfolds once again as both Julian and his mother fantasize about lost plantations and prestige, forcing readers to confront the uncomfortable and vexing legacy of slavery. The strange supporting characters, such as the imposing black woman and white woman with protruding buckteeth, also add to the unsettling feeling that permeates the town. The final moment of the story is apocalyptic in tone, with the major characters pushed back into the past as their perspective on the world becomes strange, distorted, and unfamiliar.

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