The world was made for the dead. Think of all the dead there are… There’s a million times more dead than living and the dead are dead a million times longer than the living are alive…
Flannery O’Connor has always been one of my favourite authors. She’s the queen of the Southern Gothic and at one time, she had fifty peacocks on her property. She wrote two novels, over thirty stories and hundreds of book reviews before she passed away from Lupus at the age of thirty-nine.
I read her short story A Good Man is Hard to Find when I was ten years old (maybe a little too young for such a bleak and violent story) but I fell in love with the dissonance she can create between good and evil. Likewise, The Violent Bear it Away investigates the divide between secularism and fundamentalism, as well as the racial politics which would have been particularly tense the the Southern states in the 1960s. What I find truly remarkable about O’Connor’s work is that the characters that often seem the most rational are the serial killers, the criminals and the liars.
In The Violent Bear it Away, we meet Francis Marion Tarwater, a young boy whose first challenge is dealing with the corpse of his recently deceased great uncle. This is the corpse of a man who stole him from his guardian as a child and brought him up to believe that he was a prophet, effectively nullifying any chance at a normal childhood. When Old Mason dies, Tarwater is unofficially adopted by the uncle he was snatched from. This uncle has fathered his own child named Bishop who is a little younger than Tarwater. It’s important to note that Bishop most likely has Down Syndrome and that his treatment and portrayal are pretty horrific. Bishop becomes the main recipient of Tarwater’s abuse and religious ramblings, as Tarwater becomes obsessed with the idea of baptizing Bishop and to save his soul. Tarwater is the novel’s main character, but he cannot be considered a hero or even a likeable character. Tarwater continually tries save the souls of those around him, despite his uncles best attempts to reform him. As is typical in O’Connor’s fiction, no one really sees redemption in the end, but instead, a grim worsening of their condition.