Flannery O'Connor and the Overwhelming Power of Grace

Billboard: Don't make me come down there. God.
In O'Connor's stories, God sends billboards.
I had a friend who used to say, "Sometimes God gives you a sign, sometimes BILLBOARDS!" Flannery O'Connor is famous for saying that her characters were so colorful (critics like to call them "grotesque") because you have to draw large pictures for the blind and shout at the deaf: "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." I'll admit that, fascinated as I was with her work when I first began to read it, I was often puzzled as to what was going on. I remember waking up in the dark hours of the night, years after first reading "A Good Man is Hard to Find," with a sudden understanding of what the Misfit meant when he said, "She would of been a good woman, if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life."

For anyone similarly puzzled, my advice is to read "Revelation," which probably makes clearer than any of her other stories just what Flannery is up to. (See my analysis of the climactic scene here.) If I'd read that one before I read "A Good Man is Hard to Find," maybe my sleep wouldn't have been disturbed at 3 a.m. years later. Then again, maybe not. Perhaps I had to learn something about the nature of Grace before I could get over being blind and deaf to what O'Connor was going on about. The great thing about her stories is that they fascinate even those who haven't a clue about God or His grace or how it operates in the soul. Such readers will remember her strange characters and puzzle over their behavior, perhaps until one night God bonks them on the head and shouts, "Wake up, dummy!"

©2015 Lisa A. Nicholas

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