Flannery O'Connor and the irony of self-creation
Blakely, Sara Anne
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This thesis examines self-creation in Flannery O'Connor's Wise Blood , The Violent Bear It Away , "Good Country People" and "A Good Man is Hard to Find" in terms of the ontological category of "nothing." Specifically, it interrogates O'Connor's work in terms of Richard Rorty's conception of the "ironist theorist," a figure who is able to articulate his own historical contingency by divorcing himself from dominant culture and redescribing its conditions on a personal scale. I argue in this paper that the possibility for this radical self-creation and autonomy require the category of nothing as the location for a rift in the logic of causality, a logic which would otherwise pull the ironist theorist back into the culture he seeks to redefine. Using Martin Heidegger's initial question ("Why is there something rather than nothing?"), I argue that the category of "nothing" allows the paradox of infinite regress to correspond to the ironist theorist's self-creation, and argue specifically that the ways in which O'Connor's characters use language point to Heidegger's notion of language as not fated and not necessary, continually constituting identity rather than completing it as such. In Chapter One I argue that Hazel Motes in Wise Blood is unable to redefine his conditions on a personal scale because he implicates himself in the Catholic rhetoric he seeks to overcome, and read his ambiguous origins and obsession with mortality as contributing to his inability to redefine his identity. In Chapter Two I read Joy/Hulga, the atheist and nihilist in "Good Country People" who claims herself as her own authority through her self-naming, as radically entrenched in the reactive nihilism that acts as the total organization of culture. In the same chapter, I argue that although the The Misfit in "A Good Man is Hard to Find" successfully re-names himself as such, his signing of his crimes with this name rearticulates his failure to apprehend a precise congruence between his crimes and punishments, for this signing functions as an outward manifestation of an inner epistemological failure. Finally, in the Conclusion, I read O'Connor's use of ghosts and shadows in The Violent Bear It Away as present absences, implicating the modalities being and non-being within each other in the development of young Tarwater's identity and concomitant movement toward the home from which he wants to escape.