September 21, 2005

The Comforts of Home

A key sentence toward the end of Flannery O'Connor's story "The Comforts of Home,"

The blast was like a sound meant to bring an end to evil in the world

now reminds me of the Perle/Frum book, An End to Evil, which as Yglesias says seems to be useful primarily as a target for mockery. Namely, it's worth considering how well-conceived and executed the plan to end evil was in the Flannery O'Connor story.

(I don't think that's entirely a cheap shot. Putting an end to evil somewhat requires delusions of grandeur.)

Now, I want to pick on a passage from Robert Fitzgerald's introduction to Everything That Rises Must Converge:

What is wrong in [the title] story we feel to be diffused throughout the persons and in the predicament itself, but in at least two of the stories... the malign is more concentrated in one personage.... [I]n these two stories, "The Comforts of Home" and "The Lame Shall Enter First," the personage in question is not quite that [the devil]. He need not be, since the souls to be attacked are comparatively feeble. Brainless and brainy depravity are enough, respectively, to bring down in ruin an irritable academic and a self-regarding do-gooder.

Sarah Ham is a concentration of the malign? As far as I can tell she doesn't act with malice toward anyone but herself in the entire story--not like some characters I could name. (She doesn't act with regard for anyone but herself either, but that's somewhat par for the course with Flannery O.) The contrast with Rufus Johnson in "The Lame Shall Enter First" is stark--Rufus does carry out a campaign against Sheppard, because Sheppard's there (and because Sheppard patronizes him). But Sarah, I think, is more weak than anything else, and the highest concentration of the malign in the story is in the voice of Thomas's father, speaking in his head.

So I think, anyway. Anyone agree with Fitzgerald? Is it that he takes depravity more seriously than I do?

(While typing that about the weakness of O'Connor's characters, I thought, "Why doesn't she write any nice stories with happy endings? Well, there's "Revelation." I think I need to read another author for a while. Not Gene Wolfe, either.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at September 21, 2005 08:17 PM