Department of English
Master of Arts
Flannery O'Connor had a penchant for repetition, often revisiting the same character types, plot devices, and overriding ideas in two or more stories. This repetition always goes hand in hand with reinterpretation. Even when the characters and plots seem suspiciously similar, the differences signal both O'Connor's fascination with her subject and her persistent attempts to understand it. This thesis will explore O'Connor's revisions of stories in which child characters play an integral part. The later story in the three pairs I will examine gives a clearer picture of what O'Connor believed were the freedoms of childhood. O'Connor's adults rarely arouse much pity because they move decisively toward either redemption or damnation. Her child characters, however, aren't quite as rigidly written. They do not suffer from O'Connor's predestination; they can accept or reject the future offered to them in a way the adults cannot. While some of these children seem to serve only as pawns in the adults' confrontations with grace, others are the focus of their own stories. All, however, control their own fates, even when they are least likely to have that power. The depiction of childhood in O'Connor's short stories goes beyond simply seeing the world as it is, reporting the inflexibility of adulthood. O'Connor asks her readers to recognize the benefits of becoming childlike themselves. A simple faith opens adults' eyes and allows them to accept both their weaknesses and the strength of God that accompanies awareness of weakness. O'Connor also shows us that if we refuse to become childlike, if we do not let a child's life influence ours, we may end up influencing theirs. Just as it is important to soften ourselves for our own sakes, it is doubly important that we do so to keep them from learning our bad habits.
English Language and Literature
Matheny, Kathryn, "The Freedom of Flexibility: Lessons from the Child Characters in Flannery O'Connor" (2005). Masters Theses & Specialist Projects. Paper 508.