Racism by the Time "Everything That Rises Research Proposal

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Racism

By the time "Everything that Rises Must Converge" was published in 1965, Flannery O'Connor had been known to be a "powerful cultural critic," (Rath and Shaw 21). The power of O'Connor is in her ability to craft dark tales like "Everything Rises Must Converge" imbued with social commentary. O'Connor's focal point was the American South, but Robillard likewise refers to the "universality" of O'Connor's message (142). In "Everything that Rises Must Converge," O'Connor critiques Julian's crude self-righteousness as much as she does the racism that permeates Southern culture. Doing so universalizes racism, making the problem of prejudice disconnected to skin color. Julian comes across as being disrespectful not just of his mother but also of the African-Americans he tries so hard to champion. Julian's ambiguous character and the unreliable narrator makes "Everything that Rises Must Converge" a difficult story to interpret.

"Everything that Rises Must Converge" illustrates how by the 1960s racism had become fully ingrained in the Southern psyche. The reader ironically feels more sympathy for Julian's bigoted mother than for Julian. Julian believes in equality and cringes when his mother makes statements like, "They should rise, yes, but on their own side of the fence." However, Julian's mother is depicted as the sad product of Southern culture, its intellectual victim clinging to outmoded beliefs. She makes statements that are almost comical in their condescension. "The ones I feel sorry for," she said, "are the ones that are half white. They're tragic." Her worldview is segregated, whereas Julian came of age during the Civil Rights era. Integration entailed the convergence of black and white southern cultures.

Julian, on the other hand, believes himself to be morally superior to his mother because of his politically correct education. He is angry, bitter, and resentful, which mirrors his mother's racism. His behavior signals a genuine desire to extricate racism from the culture of the South. Yet instead of transforming his desire for social equality into political activism or compassion, Julian fumes with hatred for his mother. His actions indirectly cause her death. Thus, the reader is faced with a moral dilemma. Julian is correct in his assessment of his mother's racism but he is wrong in the way he treats her. Julian's mother is bigoted and condescending but she does not seem aggressive in any way. In fact, the mother is pitiable. Her similar appearance to the old African-American woman adds to the irony.

Julian is the story's tragic hero. His hubris comes in the way of his being able to channel is youthful energy into a productive enterprise. Julian blames his mother for mismanaging the family fortune when in fact, the breakdown of the old social structures of the south were to blame for their loss.

The narrator of "Everything that Rises Must Converge" lends some insight into Julian's internal dialogue. Unfortunately, Julian has no cognitive means of dealing with convergence. At times Julian seems more concerned about changing his mother than he does about racial parity. At other times Julian only appears consumed with hatred for his mother. The story begins with Julian focusing on her hideous hat and then later starts seething with anger and vindictiveness. The narrator builds to the climax by revealing the extent to which Julian is willing to go to use his mother as a whipping post for Southern culture. Julian starts saying things like, "it looked better on her than it did on you," as if by hurting his mother she will come to accept the convergence of the races. Instead, Julian lives to regret his words and his behavior because his mother died at the end of the story.

The title of "Everything that Rises Must Converge" refers in part to the rise of African-American culture in the south. Long suppressed under Jim Crow laws and legal segregation, African-American culture rose up to converge with the dominant white society. Yet integration cannot erase centuries of slavery and oppression. The narrator does make clear the fact that racism persists in spite of integration. In "Everything that Rises Must Converge," O'Connor ridicules the idea that deep ideological transformations do not change in one generation. At one point Julian "savagely" says, "Knowing who you are is good for one generation only." The narrator implies that Julian is wise about human nature and the evolution of cultures. At the end of the story, Julian also states, "The old manners are obsolete and your graciousness is not worth a damn." His wisdom is tempered by his poor manners, disrespect for his mother, and his own condescending behavior towards African-Americans.

Julian is as prone to generalizing about African-Americans as his mother is. For example, he speaks about bringing home an African-American girlfriend just to irk his mom. He talks about befriending African-American friends, but only so long as they are of good social standing like doctors. The unreliable narrator gets across the irony of his wanting to befriend someone -- or sit next to someone on a bus -- because of race. Plus in spite of the narrator being unreliable, the tone of the story remains poignantly pessimistic. The younger generation, symbolized by Julian, is still trapped by the mistakes made in the past. At the end of the story, the narrator does not hint what will become of Julian now that he is entering "into the world of guilt and sorrow." The narrator does hint that racism is directly related to general feelings of anger, hatred and resentment. Julian might not hate African-American people, but he did hate his mother. His hatred is shown to be as revolting as hers.

Julian's behavior ironically converges with that of his mother. For example, he purposely sits down next to the African-American man on the bus because of his race. He uses the man as a means to teach his mother a lesson when in fact the act itself is highly condescending. The narrator notes, "When he got on a bus by himself, he made it a point to sit down beside a Negro, in reparation as it were for his mother's sins." Julian's act of reparation could be construed as a genuine attempt to create social justice in the world around him.

Because the narrator makes Julian an unsympathetic protagonist, the moral meaning of the story is ambiguous. O'Connor is making a powerful statement about the roots of racism. The author also underscores the resistance to change that characterizes the American South. Through Julian, O'Connor also reveals how political correctness does not make up for centuries of social oppression. When that which rises does converge, what takes place is a confrontation like that one between Julian's mother and her doppelganger.

Julian tries hard to prove himself different from old Southern gentry. For instance, even though he cannot smoke on the bus, Julian asks an African-American man for a light only so that he can prove that he isn't like his mother. The narrator notes the discomfort and annoyance on the man's face as if he knew he was being used for immature mind games. Therefore, when the mother finds African-American children "cuter" than white children, she seems much more amusing than Julian does. The narrator falls short of wanting readers to sympathize more with the mother, though. Ultimately Julian is the hero of the story, albeit a tragic one. The mother cannot see the problem with offering the child a penny, or by calling African-American children "cuter" than white children. Julian is aware of his mother's racism, and unfortunately feels hatred instead of compassion. If Julian had cared for his mother, then he would have been able to address his cognitive dissonance through "unconditional love," ("Analysis"). As Beck-Watt points out, "O'Connor illustrates the continuous racism in American culture through personal, historical, and social prejudice."

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