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Moral Ambiguity

Moral Ambiguity

Moral Ambiguity

Moral Ambiguity

Despite Julian’s and his mother’s racist attitudes toward blacks, neither character is truly immoral, allowing O’Connor to comment on the underlying racism prevalent throughout American society. O’Connor avoids conventional stereotypes of racist white Southerners to subtly demonstrate that most white Americans—including otherwise kind and well-intentioned people—often harbor racist attitudes without even realizing it. Even though Julian’s mother plays peek-a-boo with the little boy, Carver, for example, she nevertheless believes blacks lived better lives as slaves underneath white masters than they do in the 1960s. She deplores the state of contemporary America but tempers her condemnation with optimism, promising Julian that his fortunes will eventually turn. Her decision to give Carver a penny, meanwhile, further demonstrates her kindness and love of children and simultaneously highlights her patronizing attitude toward blacks.

The inherently racist attitudes that lurk in Julian’s subconscious belie his professed liberal opinions of race and equality and make him a morally ambiguous character as well. His longing for the material wealth of his great-grandfather’s plantation implies that he hasn’t fully accepted integration or racial equality. His inability to relate to African Americans also suggests that he may not see them as people like himself or even as people at all, given the fact that he daydreams of bringing influential black “catches” home just to parade in front of his mother. Yet at the same time, his liberal education and annoyance with the racist women on the bus set him apart. Unlike most white Southerners, he at least recognizes that segregation, not integration, is the fundamental problem of 1960s America. Readers consequently get a mixed view of Julian and his mother: neither are stereotypically evil people, but neither are accepting individuals either.

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