Academic journal article Flannery O'Connor Review

A-Building: Industrial Progress and the Drowned Landscape in Flannery O'Connor and Harriette Simpson Arnow

Academic journal article Flannery O'Connor Review

A-Building: Industrial Progress and the Drowned Landscape in Flannery O'Connor and Harriette Simpson Arnow

Article excerpt

I Never Ast for That Lake

An indignant fourteen-year-old boy stands in the lobby of a seedy motel set next to a lake. The lake is where the boy will try to escape the vocation God made for "him to be trained for a prophet, even though he was a bastard" (CW 356). There is a child, a "dim-witted" (335) cousin, who stands at the gateway to Francis Marion Tarwater's fate: "The Lord out of dust had created [Tarwater] . . . and set him in a world of loss and fire all to baptize one idiot child that He need not have created in the first place and to cry out a gospel just as foolish" (389). To put an end to this prophecy nonsense, the boy intends to reject his fate in the most demonstrative way: he will not baptize little Cousin Bishop but drown him instead (432-33). This looks like a satisfactory plan; as the diabolical voice in his head ("his friend") tells Tarwater, "If you baptize once, you'll be doing it the rest of your life. . . . Save yourself while the hour of salvation is at hand" (433). But "[b]lasphemy never changed a plan of the Lord's" (377). In an ironic, or perhaps mysterious, reversal that should surprise none of O'Connor's faithful readers, Tarwater deliberately drowns Bishop while also managing to baptize the child at the same instant. He will, after all, "meet his appalling destiny" (456) and do the work God has laid out for him.

But Tarwater has not yet secured his doom when he stands fuming in the lobby of the Cherokee Lodge. "I never ast to come here," Tarwater tells the desk clerk. "I never ast for that lake to be set down in front of me" (CW 428). Through non-chronological plotting, O'Connor momentarily conceals why Tarwater's second complaint ends in the passive voice. Several pages along, the reader discovers that he has already settled on the homicidal plan that will allow him to escape his vocation. When he first "got out of the car" (434), Tarwater had observed the lake and, rejecting a moment's temptation, recognized it as his murder weapon:

It lay there, glass-like, still, reflecting a crown of trees and an infinite overarching sky. It looked so unused that it might only the moment before have been set down by four strapping angels for him to baptize the child in. . . . Steady, his friend said, everywhere you go you'll find water. It wasn't invented yesterday. But remember: water is made for more than one thing. Hasn't the time come? (434)

In fact, like the vast preponderance of lakes in the American South, this particular body of water was "invented yesterday" (or fairly close to yesterday in geological time). The Cherokee Lodge is a dump, its "long front side . . . plastered with beer and cigarette signs," that used to be a warehouse (423). The lake, then, must be manmade: why build a two-story warehouse next to a lake and then convert it to a motel? Tarwater did not "ast" that the lake be "set down in front of me"; as a cog in the machinery of his doom, it was provided without his asking. But neither had "four strapping angels" set down before Tarwater a lake in which to baptize or drown (or both) his innocent cousin. Instead, the instrument of God's will and sign of God's omnipotence is the Tennessee Valley Authority or perhaps the Army Corps of Engineers.

Below the Blue

When it was updated a scant dozen years after initial publication, Georgia: A Guide to Its Towns and Countryside (1952) already had considerable catching up to do. The original Guide (1940), developed by the Federal Writers Project, comprised "material, gathered patiently across [the] several very lean years" of the Depression (McGill vi), when the Peach State was far more rural than it would become during the Second World War and "the extraordinary industrial, technological and scientific developments which followed" (McGill vi). As Ralph McGill writes in his foreword to the update, "Since 1940 Georgia has . . . escaped from the tyranny of the row crop into the green pastures. . . . Her burgeoning cities testify both to the revolution in agriculture and the coming of industry to absorb those no longer required on the land" (vi). …

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