Flannery O’Connor’s short story could be interpreted in many ways: some people would say that it is a cruel and exaggerated anti-racist moralistic tale while the others would see it as African-American manifestation of hatred. However, both approaches would be biased and, therefore, virtually wrong after all, O’Connor was doing anything but propagating violence and increasing cultural gap between ethnicities. Her somewhat humorous tale leaves one thinking that everybody got what they deserve agreeably, it is not a feeling particularly common for works that deal with racism and similarly complicated social issues. It appears that O’Connor’s short novel is a fair warning against venturing into attempts to close cultural gaps unprepared and predisposed to bias.
‘Everything that Rises Must Converge’ tells a story of a subtly racist overweight woman and her semi-progressive son who wants to mend his mother’s attitude toward ethnical minorities. At some point in the plot the mother asks her son (Julian) to start commuting with her to fitness class in his car. The amount of African-Americans in public transport tends to distress this woman and make her nervous. Open expression of these undoubtedly racist (albeit harmless) views exasperates Julian beyond measure; he develops a plan to change his mother’s attitude and, by a coincidence, this plan includes using a regular bus instead of a car.
An attempt to force Julian’s mother into a conversation with black-skinned strangers, however keeps failing until the former notices a cute African-American boy. Lively conversation with him makes his parent anything but happy; Julian’s mother attempt to give boy a penny enrages the African-American woman even more which results in open hostility and a quarrel. Since Julian’s mother has a weak heart, the stress literally kills her. The story finished with Julian getting out for help to help his mother. He didn’t mean for her to end up wiped out from every one of his exercises. He just couldn’t enable her to proceed with that negative manner of thinking.
O’Connor clearly does not wish to mock whether ethnical minorities or majorities by her writing. In other words, the ideas expressed through the novel do not fall into category of reverse racism (making African-Americans look dignified and oppressed by swinish majority). One could think that the author criticizes racism, but it is not the case either – after all, any hostilities between the characters are caused by forcedly established contact and foolishness rather than sought-after conflicts.
It can be easily proven by Julian’s mother’s initial unwillingness to even contact with ‘black’, least she should be harassed: ‘She would not ride the buses by herself at night since they had been integrated’ (O’Connor 273). The meaning of the only contact’s outcome is truly enlightening in terms of understanding the story’s message. Even though the intentions of Julian and his mother were not exactly hostile, the fashion in which the attempt at integration was made hints at forcedness of it: ‘He began to imagine various unlikely ways by which he could teach her a lesson’ (O’Connor 278).
The following conflict, of course, is a combination of ill luck but one could say that it is exactly what happens when two person predisposed to hostility actually have to communicate. Julian’s mother’s intentions were harmless at first; she says: ‘I want to give the little boy a nickel’ (O’Connor 279). Lack of cultural understanding and appreciation of African-American dignity, of course, quickly turns the following scene into chaos.
The story is rather unrelated to my personal experience. I have to admit that the issue of starting a conflict because of a forced cultural confrontation is something I have always tried to avoid. Probably, in this sense I closely resemble Julian’s mother; it might be bad enough, but it is better to come prepared when you are dealing with representatives of another culture. In light of this I might say that O’Connor’s short story is a great representation of my own insecurity regarding intercultural integration.
Close analysis makes it obvious that O’Connor’s novel is about taking things slow when it comes to eliminating cultural barriers. However, it is not so clear upon the first reading the meaning stated above is hidden and, therefore, initial response tends to be overly simplified. Critical thinking and critical analysis used to derive real implications of the author’s goal are necessary to apply in further studies of literary works in order to avoid bias.