“Everything That Rises Must Converge” takes place during the civil rights movement when federal, state, and local governments made sweeping reforms in the North and South to end poverty and racial discrimination. By the 1950s, the aristocratic plantation system in the South had been fully dismantled, and urban areas swelled with an influx of job seekers from rural areas. At the same time, college admissions swelled as higher education became more affordable for a greater number of whites and a minority of blacks. American blacks in the North and South achieved a major milestone in the 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education, when the Supreme Court repealed the “separate but equal” guideline that had separated blacks from whites in almost all public areas. Rosa Parks’s refusal to give up her seat on a public bus to a white passenger a year later in 1955, as well as her subsequent arrest, launched the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the peaceful protest campaign to end segregation.
All the characters in O’Connor’s story struggle to either maintain or redefine their sense of identity as the drama of the civil rights movement unfolds. The white women on the bus, for example, deride black passengers in order to reestablish their social dominance. Julian’s mother does this as well by repeatedly arguing—as if trying to convince herself—that her heritage makes her superior to blacks and even other whites. Julian, whose college education actually makes him a benefactor of the changing social climate, oscillates between classes and visions of society, often harping on social inequalities while simultaneously daydreaming of a bygone era. All the African American characters, meanwhile, take advantage of the growing equality to assert their individuality and respectability as an equal class of citizens. It is not surprising, therefore, that the black man Julies tries to befriend is the best-dressed person on the bus or that the large black woman with the ugly hat strikes Julian’s mother for having offered Carver a penny. Like all American blacks in the 1960s, these characters refuse to accept further subjugation and condescension.
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