Academic journal article Flannery O'Connor Review

Miscegenation and Communism in Flannery O'Connor's "The Displaced Person"

Academic journal article Flannery O'Connor Review

Miscegenation and Communism in Flannery O'Connor's "The Displaced Person"

Article excerpt

Winner of the 2013 Sarah Gordon Award

n 1956, Herbert Ravenel Sass wrote, "It is the deep conviction of nearly all white Southerners in the states which have large Negro populations that the mingling or integration of white and Negro children in the South's primary schools would open the gates to miscegenation and widespread racial amalgamation" (1-2). Sass's article, titled "Mixed Schools and Mixed Blood," was printed as a pamphlet for the Citizens' Council of Mississippi and was also published in the Nov. 1956 issue of The Atlantic. Concern about miscegenation was a strong persuasive element for many southerners, and segregationists used a platform of anti-Communism to further their agenda. Sass argues, "It must be realized too that the Negroes of the U.S.A. are today by far the most fortunate members of their race to be found anywhere on earth. . . . What America, including the South, has done for the Negro is the truth which should be trumpeted abroad in rebuttal of the Communist propaganda" (2). By associating Communism with miscegenation, segregationists spread the notion that to be antiCommunist, and therefore patriotic and American, was to be supportive of segregation and opposed to miscegenation.

For southerners, this loyalty extended even further. To be a segregationist, against any type of integration but particularly miscegenation, was to be a supporter of southern identity. Jon Lance Bacon1 writes that in Black Monday, a 1956 pamphlet, Tom P. Brady claimed that "U.S. Communists adopted their 'plan to abolish segregation' after the failure of an earlier plot 'to destroy the South'" (qtd. in Bacon 94). During this period of racial conflict and Cold War fear, Flannery O'Connor wrote and published her 1954 short story "The Displaced Person," a story that focuses not only on the anxiety caused by the presence of a foreigner in the rural South, but also on the anxiety created by the potential for race mixing. My focus is on the function of miscegenation in "The Displaced Person" and its link to the fear that pervaded the US in the years of the Cold War following World War II. Though the story is intensely regional, and southern beliefs about race mixing are central to the plot, the impact of the entire country's anxiety about Communism is felt throughout the story. As O'Connor stated,

As a fiction writer who is a Southerner, I use the idiom and the manners of the country I know, but I don't consider that I write about the South. So far as I am concerned as a novelist, a bomb on Hiroshima affects my judgment of life in rural Georgia, and this is not the result of taking a relative view and judging one thing by another, but of taking an absolute view and judging all things together; for a view taken in light of the absolute will include a good deal more than one taken merely in the light provided by a house-to-house survey. (MM 133-34)

O'Connor's fiction encompasses mid-century culture in the South and beyond it, but she portrays the events of the world by examining in her writing how that culture impacts a few characters at a time, mostly in the South. Though "The Displaced Person" is a story largely concerned with southern racial tension, I argue that it portrays a southern anxiety about miscegenation that is strongly supported by American anxiety about Communism and that the story reveals the ways in which Cold War fear further complicated racial tensions in the mid-twentieth-century South.

O'Connor herself was involved in activity connected to the Red Scare during her stay at the artists' colony of Yaddo in New York. O'Connor wrote, "We have been very upset at Yaddo lately and all the guests are leaving in a group Tuesday-the revolution" (24 Feb. 1949, HE 11). Sally Fitzgerald explains that the incident O'Connor mentions is about journalist Agnes Smedley, "who by all accounts made no attempt to disguise the fact that she was a Communist Party member in good standing" {HE 11). Robert Lowell led a group of four Yaddo residents in meeting with the board of directors and calling for the removal of Elizabeth Ames as head of Yaddo. …

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