Magazine article New Oxford Review

Dark Faith: New Essays on Flannery O'Connor's the Violent Bear It Away

Magazine article New Oxford Review

Dark Faith: New Essays on Flannery O'Connor's the Violent Bear It Away

Article excerpt

Dark Faith: New Essays on Flannery O'Connor's The Violent Bear It Away. Edited by Susan Srigley. University of Note Dame Press. 212 pages. $28.

To offer a critique of critiques is akin to interpreting interpretations. However, the task here is eased because each of the essays in Dark Faith presents a unique focus on the celebrated second novel of Flannery O'Connor (1925-1964). The Violent Bear It Away, written in the Southern Gothic tradition, examines the struggles between faith and secularism through a prophet, a nihilist, a rationalist, and a child - all males of three generations. The novel is awash with religious allusions, imagery, and poetic metaphors, and no moral relativism is found therein, as each of the nine esteemed essayists attests.

Richard Giannone, professor emeritus of English at Fordham University, finds that, for O'Connor, "darkness is the condition of the modern age." He declares that darkness is part of seeking belief: "All feith is dark. For God, who is incomprehensible, is like the dark to the human spirit." O'Connor's haunting symbols of pits, or ditches that suck folks into nihilism, are scattered throughout her book. The novel's sullen teenage nihilist, educated by an elderly prophet to continue the old man's tradition, fell into "the godlessness of the modern age" - one of O'Connor's darkest pits. Giannone observes, however, that darkness enables belief to spring forth from "the ruins of individual human evil and political annihilation." The darkness of feith is also explored by Professor Gary M. Ciuba of Kent State, who remarks concerning O'Connor's view of Hell, "Children know by instinct that hell is an absence of love, and they can pick out theirs without missing." Ciuba observes that ditches motivate the sinner "to assume responsibility in a feilen world." Both essayists see a thorough scourging at the ditch's bottom as the impetus that propels one upward. Sin exacts its own penance.

Karl E. Martin of Point Loma Nazarene University discusses parallels between the novel's elderly prophet and John the Baptist, wilderness men preaching baptism and repentance as escape routes out of the ditch. The nihilist is led by a child who presents "an alternative way of being in the world." The little one's baptism and death serve in a sacramental manner to aid the nihilist's move from a "prophetic kingdom to the messianic kingdom of heaven." Ruthann Knechel Johansen, emerita professorat the University of Notre Dame, posits "an intellectual-spiritual kinship between O'Connor and [Simone] Weil" derived from Weil's essays and O'Connor's novel. Johansen points to O'Connor's depiction of how "three implicit forms of the love of God - the religious ceremony of baptism, the beauty of the world, and the love of neighbor - can be perverted through rebellion, denial, and violation." These perversions, or ditches, can serve as turning points to faith for errant souls who are well and truly beaten.

Professor John F. Desmond of Whitman College probes the novel's rationalist character: a condescending, confrontational, and coarse stooge with a mindset acting "as a defense against the vulnerabilities and needs of his heart and the deprivations and confusion he experienced as a child. …

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