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Let me be bold and say that while there are others worthy of note, the greatest American short story writer is Flannery O’Connor. Her pen was inspired. Her soul is found on every page she ever published. Her commentary can be as biting as a serpent while remaining as beautiful as a piece of stained glass. I take great pride from the fact that she was from Georgia, as I am from Georgia. I take great pride in the fact that she was a Catholic, as I am a Catholic. I take great pride in the fact that she is part of the American canon, as she earned her place. Yet she has been canceled by Catholics at a Catholic university in Maryland that is removing her name from a dorm.
Apparently, when she was a young woman during the Jim Crow Era, Mary Flannery, as she was known as a child, wrote in private correspondence to family and friends some thoughts that “reflected a racist perspective.” It matters not that the president priest of Loyola who is removing her name from the dorm has recognized that O’Connor’s stories–the public art for which she is noted–uphold “the dignity of African American persons” while making “bigots the object of ridicule.” Her sins must be expunged as she is erased from the campus.
This is crazy and depresses me greatly. So instead of focusing solely on what I view as an injustice, I thought I would offer some words on my favorite O’Connor story and ask if anyone else finds her work worthwhile.
I have been thinking a lot lately about “The Enduring Chill,” a story which makes fun of the empty elitism of the main character Asbury who seems to feel his cosmopolitan experiences in New York City transformed him into a better person than his mother who runs a farm in the South. Incidentally, O’Connor shows two black workers on the farm are much smarter than the white Asbury, as no one can tell the young man anything. In his shows of moral superiority, he is full of arrogance, empty of wisdom. O’Connor brilliantly draws the portrait of an individual who would surely call himself “woke” in 2020, while cutting him down to size.
I wish there were writers like O’Connor currently working, though I’m not sure they’d get published in today’s “enlightened” world.Published in