Academic journal article Flannery O'Connor Review

Exposing the Victim and Victimizing the Exposé: Persecution and Parody in O'Connor's "The Partridge Festival"

Academic journal article Flannery O'Connor Review

Exposing the Victim and Victimizing the Exposé: Persecution and Parody in O'Connor's "The Partridge Festival"

Article excerpt

When Flannery O'Connor was compiling what would eventually become Everything That Rises Must Converge, she considered including "The Partridge Festival" as part of her second collection of short stories.1 However, as O'Connor worked further on the prospective book, she reconsidered its place and decided on excluding it from the volume.2 As she wrote in letters, she judged "The Partridge Festival" "a very sorry story" that was "just not up to the others" (21 May 1964, HB 579). Perhaps it seemed just too "lightweight" and too much of a "farce," as O'Connor earlier described it in correspondence, especially compared to the elegiac "Judgment Day" that replaced it (6 Sept. 1959, HB 348; 10 Aug. 1960, HB 404). Such marginalization beset the story from its initial publication. O'Connor had been worried about its allusions to the sensational crimes of Marion Stembridge, a deeply troubled storekeeper and moneylender in Milledgeville, who in 1953 shot two lawyers and then killed himself. So, she consigned "The Partridge Festival" to The Critic, a Catholic magazine more known for its book reviews than for its fiction (10 Aug. 1960, HB 405). Readers have sometimes followed O'Connor's example and relegated the story to second-class status. For example, Brainard Cheney wrote to O'Connor on its publication, "Perhaps the story is not one of your great ones, but I found it very amusing" (Correspondence 131). And Pete Dexter, whose National Book Award-winning Paris Trout (1988) was inspired by the same notorious murders in Milledgeville, deemed it "a real minor story" (qtd. in Robillard 72).3 The ultimate criticism, a word with its roots in the Greek for "cut," may be that "The Partridge Festival" often gets cut out of much critical commentary about O'Connor, for it is one of her least frequently discussed stories.4 "The Partridge Festival" has suffered exclusion upon expulsion upon excision.

Has O'Connor's story about writing, mass killing, and scapegoating been too summarily written off, especially for the post-Columbine, post-Aurora, post-Newtown, and post-Fort Hood era?5 Its peripheral status might be ironically appropriate, for no story by O'Connor is more self-conscious of its concern with exclusionary mechanisms in society than the excluded "The Partridge Festival." Indeed, its hyper-awareness of victimization may explain why the story has not been more often included: it seems to lack the elusive and everdeepening mystery that O'Connor herself required in a good story (MM 92, 98). Calhoun and Mary Elizabeth, would-be writers and cultural critics, are explicit in identifying the outcast Singleton as the scapegoat. Their case might seem far from obvious. After being confined to the stocks and then to a privy because he would not buy a badge for the town festival of the title, Singleton killed six citizens and was sentenced to a mental institution. However, Mary Elizabeth claims, "He was the scapegoat. While Partridge flings itself about selecting Miss Partridge Azalea, Singleton suffers at Quincy. He expiates . . ." (CW787). Calhoun sounds exactly like Mary Elizabeth as he repeatedly claims that Singleton bears no direct responsibility for the bloodshed: "He's the scapegoat. He's laden with the sins of the community. Sacrificed for the guilt of others" (783).

Although Calhoun and Mary Elizabeth seem too blatant and insistent, they echo O'Connor's own concerns with scapegoating. Her frequent justifications for writing about the poor and the grotesque indicate her desire not to exclude those who were typically excluded-excluded by the postwar culture of commercialism and conformity and excluded by a region whose identity has often been based on defining itself against the threatening other (MM 129-34).6 But if the marginalized are not rejected from her fiction, they are often rejected in her fiction. Commenting on the mother shot by her son in "The Comforts of Home," O'Connor writes that ". . . the one who is right is usually the victim" (3 Mar. …

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