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The Gross and Grotesque in Flannery O'Connor
Flannery O'Connor is known for her regional, Christian, gothic, grotesque writing. We see all these elements in her short stories. Flannery O'Connor's fiction generates strong reactions because of her use of the gross and grotesque. According to Gilbert Muller, "Flannery O'Connor began writing about the grotesque because she could, and she readily admitted it in a letter to James Farham. O'Connor explained, Essentially the reason my characters are grotesque is because it is the nature of my talent to make them so" (21).
I think that Flannery O'Connor uses the grotesque in her writing because it shocks readers and makes them realize the moral point she is expressing. I feel that the application of the grotesque comes from her religious background and viewpoints. However, it is not just a gothic view of the grotesque. There is also a touch of humor in her writing. I think she mostly uses grotesque aspects to demonstrate the diminished state that her characters are in and how far they have to go for redemption. Muller states that, "Flannery O'Connor was successful in character depiction because she realized that the grotesque was the ideal vehicle for objectifying fears, obsessions and compulsion" (21).
Flannery O'Connor took everyday situations and confrontations, such as a visit to the doctor's office and filled it with horror. I think that she used these everyday encounters to help her readers visualize that these typical horror scenes surround us. According to Muller, "O'Connor's characters are induced to distortions in character and that the individual is floundering in a sea of contradictions and incongruities (27). Muller also goes on to say that the typical grotesque character in O'Connor's fiction is an individual who projects certain extreme mental states which, while psychologically valid, are not investigations in the tradition of psychological realism" (22). Often I found that the main characters of her stories thought themselves to be superior to others, not realizing their lack of compassion until the desperate ending of the story.
According to Muller, "Miss O'Connor's typical grotesque character, is a demonic and as such embraces as wide a moral range as characters, created through the techniques of psychological realism (23). Muller states that the grotesque protagonist is fated, obsessed and driven by demons" (23). I would have to disagree with Muller's statement that the protagonists are driven by demons. I feel that most of her characters are blinded by the narrow mindedness of society during that time period. I don't think O'Connor's characters are influenced by demons, but rather they are confused about their Christian thoughts and views.
According to Muller, "Hazel Motes in "Wise Blood" is an example of Flannery O'Connor's grotesque protagonist (28). Muller states that Hazel Motes is a young man continually buffeted by the incredible, by the essence of the grotesque vision of the world" (23). I feel that in the creation of Hazel Motes, Flannery O'Connor perfected the grotesque protagonist. Hazel is a fanatic. His nature is opposed to grace. He is obsessed with Jesus to a degree that is not normal. Hazel tries desperately to deny his fundamentalist background to the extreme.
According to Marshall Gentry, "O'Connor's characters, inhabit the territory held by the devil and are generally considered to be grotesque (4). Gentry states that their grotesque state reflects and increases the characters' separation from God and their spirituality" (4). I do not necessarily believe that O'Connor's characters inhabit the territory of the devil or that their grotesque state separates them from God. Her characters are lost in their search for redemption. They continually are in search of God and their spirituality but are misled by society's views. They then are led astray by false assumptions.
According to David Eggenschwiler, "O'Connor uses the grotes
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Flannery O'Connor, Gilbert Muller, Marshall Gentry,
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