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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Violent Rapture in the Age of Comfort: Mapping Chardinian Convergence in O'Connor's South

  • Author(s): Wilson, Scarlett
  • Advisor(s): Gallagher, Lowell
  • et al.

The body of scholarship regarding Flannery O’Connor generally falls into one of three camps: biographical or historical readings of her work that attempt to either characterize a period of her life or ascertain her political beliefs, using her stories to reveal religious allusions that show her attempt to reinforce Christian morals, or, finally, readings engaging with a generally Girardian framework to show her criticism of Christianity itself. Biographical documents show O’Connor’s lifelong devotion to the Catholic faith, which, for many readers, problematizes the subversive prevalence of violence and blasphemous imagery in her body of work. However, these perspectives overlook the immense impact that 20th-century French Jesuit theologian and paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin had on her work, especially during her final years. As my argument will show, O’Connor critically responds to Teilhard de Chardin’s theory of convergence in a way that anticipates the later theories of French anthropologist René Girard regarding the social connections between violence and religion. Using the theories of these two thinkers in conjunction with discourse from the tradition of kenotic Christology, (a line of theological thinking which assumes that God partially or totally emptied himself of power when incarnating as Christ), I analyze four recurring stylistic devices that illuminate O’Connor’s own original theological framework: setting, pedagogical encounters, disfigurement, and the role of violence in relationship to revelation.

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