Everything That Rises Must Converge - O'Connor
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In this short story a refrain that comes up often is “I know who I am.” Julian’s mother says: “…if you know who you are, you can go anywhere…I can be gracious to anybody. I know who I am.” However, the story causes us to wonder does she really understand herself; and that also can be asked of Julian. Julian’s mother displays the remnants of a segregated social order. She speaks down about black people, even suggesting “They were better off” as slaves. Julian rightly finds this kind of talk disturbing. He goes on to say that “true culture is in the mind.”
At first view one would simply be horrified by Julian’s mother and admire Julian’s sentiments. But Flannery O’Connor’s stories are rarely what they seem to be at first. If one notices how Julian and his mother treat their fellow black citizens a different picture might develop. Julian’s mother despite her off-putting language seems to treat black people with a kind of dignity. Even her interaction with the black child on the bus could be looked at that way, (however that is a debatable point.) Julian’s behavior is more troublesome. He is in many ways a failure himself, and he treats his mother quite poorly, even though she has sacrificed for him. More troubling is his treatment of the blacks he encounters. He seems to want to use them to make a point. He seeks out ways to engage black people to show everyone, especially his mother, how tolerant he is. But does he really understand himself? He hopes to sit next to a black man who is well dressed, only to be disappointed when a black woman with her child sits next to him. He fantasizes about making friends with black, even marrying a black woman, just to cause a reaction among others. In his own way, he is treating black people as a means for his own ends.
“Everything that rises must converge” is an intriguing story that has subtle depth, and it also serves as a good vehicle to discuss self-awareness and genuine compassion. Julian claims that true culture is in the mind, but the story suggests that that is not so. True culture begins with respect and honest dealings with one’s family and neighbors. It is brought about by deeds not words.
Does Julian’s mother know who she is?
Does Julian know who he is?
Why does Julian feel guilt and sorrow at the end of the story?
Race and Bigotry - Everything That Rises Must Converge, O'Connor; The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Twain; Beloved, Morrison; Letter from Birmingham Jail, King.