Flannery O'Connor

Flannery O’Connor: Literature, Violence, and the American Gothic

Instructor: Jude Webre
This is an online course (Eastern Time)

Over the course of her brief but prolific career, Flannery O’Connor carved out a sui generis place in American letters. An heir to the flowering of Southern literature after Faulkner in its most gothic form, O’Connor also took conscious aim at liberal intellectuals in the North to satirize facile notions of social and racial progress. Writing in prose of great clarity and folksy humor, O’Connor depicted tensions barely concealed beneath genteel Southern society, as scathing and often grotesque backwoods characters undermined the fragile hierarchies and delusions of their social betters. Using moments of shocking violence and psychological rupture, she depicted the South in the era of “massive resistance” as the racial certainties of the Jim Crow order gave way to turbulent and, in O’Connor’s Catholic view, manifestly evil expressions of human behavior. As we continue to grapple with the legacy and persistence of American racism, what does O’Connor’s work have to offer as a counterpoint to contemporary narratives of progress and as a literary window onto the recent past?

In this course, we will read a selection of O’Connor’s short stories and critical essays as well as her second novel, The Violent Bear It Away, as we grapple with the context, meaning, and raw power of O’Conner’s singular fiction. We’ll consider her influences, both literary and religious, as well as the gothic mode in which she wrote, her stylistic employment of vernacular and irony, and her critical relationship to the prevailing ideas of her times, from liberalism to anticommunism to existentialism. In turn, we will situate O’Connor’s satirical voice in debates over desegregation at the time through select biographical and historical sources, as well as essays by her contemporaries such as Faulkner, Ralph Ellison, and James Baldwin. As a critic of simplistic liberal ideas of racial progress, did O’Connor offer a more complex account of the varied delusions of Southern whiteness as well as the central influence of Black culture in the South? If so, what were the political and social implications of her perspective? Does O’Connor present a pessimistic view of a fallen world or do the provocations in her stories point a way forward beyond the fears and anxieties of her—and our—transformative periods?

Course Schedule

Wednesday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
September 15 — October 06, 2021
4 weeks


Registration Open

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