This project addresses the narrative voice(s) in Flannery O’Connor’s short stories, particularly in relation to her conception of art. O’Connor critics often polarize the cultural and religious worth of her stories. As a Catholic, O’Connor was convinced that the “the ultimate reality is the Incarnation” (HB 92). As an artist, O’Connor believed that fiction should begin with a writer’s attention to the natural world as she comprehends it through the senses. It is no wonder, then, that her fiction lends itself well to critics interested in both her theology and her presentation of issues of race, class, and gender.
My project describes how O’Connor’s use of free indirect discourse, a narrative mode that blends third and first person narrative elements, positions her theology within her culture especially in the short story form. While many O’Connor critics address issues of narrative voice, few have explored O’Connor’s use of free indirect discourse, a characteristic feature of her stories. Through free indirect discourse, O’Connor presents third person stories through a single character’s perspective, a perspective that proves insufficient by the story’s epiphanic end. That character’s perspective, rooted in O’Connor’s observations of a racially charged Southern climate in the mid-twentieth century, speaks to his cultural situation. Because O’Connor positions the perspectives of her characters within a larger framework that questions their validity, she draws on her character’s cultural situations to reveal human limitation and disconnectedness, both important elements of her theology. My project shifts its focus to race to emphasize the extent to which O’Connor is drawing on her culture.
Ultimately, O’Connor’s stories, when analyzed through their use of free indirect discourse, answer how manners reveal mystery, how culture informs theology, and finally, how we might investigate O’Connor’s stories, mindful of both their religious and cultural impact.