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Flannery O Connor

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English Literature

Conversations about the American South do not typically begin with talk of the region's literary excellence. It is a beautiful and complicated part of the world, with a history of racism alongside poverty, mixed in with a close connection to the land. As a result of this culture, however, the South has turned out some of the most culturally significant writers of all time. The genre of Southern Gothic literature is a staple of American writing, created by authors who do not shy away from the often dark themes that are present in this region. Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964) was one such author. She is known for her novels and short fiction and is considered a prime example of the Southern Gothic style.

Other Southern Gothic authors include William Faulkner, Truman Capote, and even Edgar Allan Poe.

Flannery O'Connor, Spanish moss representing the influence of the South, StudySmarterAncient Oak trees draped in Spanish Moss, Pixabay

Flannery O'Connor Biography

Mary Flannery O’Connor was born in Savannah, Georgia, in 1925. Her upbringing in the South heavily influenced her writing, which often features unfiltered and twisted imagery and characters, as well as issues of morality, disability, and racism.

O'Connor is considered part of the Religious Realism movement. Well-known for her dark wit, she is quoted as saying: “Anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic.1


This iconic Southern Gothic author was born in 1925 in Savannah and moved to Milledgeville, Georgia, where she would return later in life. Her family was devoutly Catholic, a theme that would show up often in her later writings.

Her father died of lupus the year before her high school graduation. Nevertheless, she was accepted to Georgia State College for Women. She worked for the student newspaper drawing cartoons and graduated in 1945 with degrees in Sociology and Literature after completing a three-year accelerated program. Her early life can be seen as an influence on the dark humor in her later work.


After graduation, Flannery O’Connor was accepted to the State University of Iowa, where she participated in the prestigious Iowa Writer's Workshop under Paul Engle. The literary journal Accent published her first story, titled 'The Geranium' (1946). This story was one of a collection of short stories also named The Geranium (1947), which became her thesis.

O'Connor acquired a Master's of Fine Arts after two years at the State University of Iowa. She stayed one more year in Iowa before traveling to Saratoga Springs in New York State, where she stayed at the Yaddo artist colony. From there, she moved to New York City and met friends who would have a significant effect on her: Robert Fitzgerald, the poet, and his wife, Sally Fitzgerald. They became close friends, even living together in Ridgefield, Connecticut. Sally became the keeper of Flannery’s work.

Yaddo is a prestigious artist colony situated on a 400-acre estate in Saratoga Springs, New York. First purchased by Spencer and Katrina Trask in 1881, it was converted into the retreat it became known for after the untimely deaths of their four children. Artists of all mediums and styles have come through, winning together a combined 66 Pulitzer Prizes, 27 MacArthur Fellowships, 61 National Book Awards, a Nobel Prize, and countless other awards.

 Flannery O'Connor, Yaddo artist colony, StudySmarterYaddo, c. 1905. Wikimedia Commons


In total, Flannery O’Connor wrote two novels and thirty-two short stories. Later in life, she gave religion and literature lectures. In 1950, she began to suffer from lupus, just like her father. Because of her health, she returned to Milledgeville and lived on her family's farm with her mother. While living there, she finished her novel Wise Blood (1952), plus two collections of short stories: A Good Man is Hard to Find (1955), her most well-known collection, and The Violent Bear It Away (1960).

O'Connor died on August 3, 1964. She has won numerous awards, including the National Book Award for Fiction, though this one came posthumously in 1972 for her collected Complete Stories (1971). She has grown more famous since her death and has left a lasting influence on the Southern Gothic genre of American fiction, and on literature as a whole.

O'Connor lived for 14 years after she was diagnosed with lupus, 9 years longer than her doctor's original five-year projection.

Flannery O'Connor's Short Stories

Though she also published two novels, O'Connor is remembered most for being a master craftsman of the short story.

'A Good Man is Hard to Find' (1953)

Published in O'Connor's collection of the same name, 'A Good Man is Hard to Find' is easily O'Connor's most well-known work. The story depicts a family driving from Georgia to Florida for a vacation. On the way, the grandmother makes several observations: how there is a convict known as The Misfit on the loose; how seeing a naked black child waving at the car is quaint; how the scenery reminds her of Gone With the Wind (1939); and how children were more respectful in her younger days (in reference to her grandchildren, who often disparage the things she says).

After stopping for lunch, the grandmother is convinced there is a plantation in the area she wishes to visit. She convinces her son, Bailey, to turn down a rocky road. She realizes she mistook the area and didn't actually know where they were, but it's too late. She accidentally disturbs her cat, who has been sleeping between her feet; the cat leaps on Bailey, causing him to lose control of the car and crash into a ditch. Though no one is hurt, the accident was witnessed by three men, one of whom the grandmother recognizes as The Misfit.

In short order, The Misfit has his companions take the family into the woods and shoot them. The grandmother pleads for her life, but The Misfit is unmoved and shoots her as well, blaming Jesus Christ for all the troubles and general state of the world.

The story's religious leanings, especially at the end, are paramount to understanding the story. The Misfit is assuredly a sociopath, yet he rails against the suffering he has seen in his own life, believing humanity's punishment for original sin unjust. To him, death is not a punishment, but a release. By killing his victims, he removes them from the oppression of suffering.

Flannery O'Connor's Themes


Religion played a key role in her stories, partially because she believed most religious literature on the market to be of low quality. Rather than depicting art through a Catholic's eyes, she strove to depict Catholicism through an artist's eyes, saying, "There is a moment in every great story in which the presence of grace can be felt as it waits to be accepted or rejected, even though the reader may not recognize this moment."

God was in everything, she believed, though he often would turn up in unexpected - and often unpleasant - ways. Reoccurring themes of spirituality, faith, God, and redemption are all woven throughout her writing to reflect God's presence.


Violence is a common theme in many of O'Connor's short stories and novels. Her characters either encounter violence at some point in the story or are violent themselves. The violent act is often the turning point for a character for them to see a different reality or to give them an eye-opening moment. O'Connor has said about violence in her writing, "I suppose the reasons for the use of so much violence in modern fiction will differ with each writer who uses it, but in my own stories I have found that violence is strangely capable of returning my characters to reality and preparing them to accept their moment of grace."2

In 'A Good Man is Hard to Find', the Misfit murders the entire family except for the grandmother. Afterward, the grandmother and the Misfit have a moment together in a ditch where the grandmother realizes that she is responsible for the Misfit. She accepts her moment of grace, and then he kills her too.

Dark Humor

Flannery O'Connor uses dark humor in her writing to make light of extreme or violent situations. Simultaneously using humor and violence emphasizes the severity of both by creating a noticeable contrast between them. O'Connor stated, "In my own experience, everything funny I have written is more terrible than it is funny, or only funny because it is terrible, or only terrible because it is funny." 3

She uses over-the-top and absurd violence to provoke discomfort or amusement in the reader, which results in stories that engage an audience who may not necessarily be interested in stories with religious themes.

Flannery O'Connor's Quotes

The following quotes from some of Flannery O’Connor’s works of fiction provide examples of her witty and dark style of writing, but also commonly used themes of nature, religion, violence, and disability.

Where you come from is gone, where you thought you were going to was never there, and where you are is no good unless you can get away from it. Where is there a place for you to be? No place... Nothing outside you can give you any place... In yourself right now is all the place you've got." (Wise Blood, 1952)

Hazel Motes, the protagonist in Wise Blood, is not a believer in religion as practiced by most people, though he does have an obsession with saving humans from sin. He claims here that "in yourself right now" is all that we have, which implies that redemption can be found within yourself.

It was love without reason, love for something futureless, love that appeared to exist only to be itself, imperious and all demanding, the kind that would cause him to make a fool of himself in an instant." (The Violent Bear it Away, 1960)

Tarwater's love in The Violent Bear it Away as seen in this quote is then starkly contrasted with his anger for having these feelings. This anger he has about his ability to have affection later provokes violence in Tarwater.

'Jesus was the only One that ever raised the dead,' The Misfit continued, 'and He shouldn't have done it. He shown everything off balance. If He did what He said, then it's nothing for you to do but throw away everything and follow Him, and if He didn't, then it's nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can by killing somebody or burning down his house or doing some other meanness to him. No pleasure but meanness...'" (A Good Man is Hard to Find, 1953).

O'Connor's religious themes are sometimes very obvious, as seen in this conversation between the grandmother and the Misfit. The two have a long conversation about Jesus, and the Misfit doubts his soul will be saved. As a result, the Misfit does some "meanness" to the grandmother and kills her to enjoy the last few minutes he has left.


1. Flannery O'Connor, Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose, 1970.

2. Flannery O'Connor, Reading at Hollins College, 1963.

3. Sally Fitzgerald, The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O'Connor, 1979.

Flannery O Connor - Key takeaways

  • Flannery O’Connor was a writer of Southern Gothic Fiction novels and short stories

  • She attended Georgia State College for Women for her undergraduate degree and the State College of Iowa for her Master’s.

  • She often employed religious, violent, grotesque, humorous and cultural themes in her writing, as well as themes of the South.

  • She moved back to her family farm Andalusia when she fell ill with lupus and finished many of her most famous works.

  • She died of lupus on August 3, 1964.

  • She received the National Book Award for Fiction in 1972.

Flannery O Connor

Flannery O'Connor is a Southern Gothic author best known for incorporating dark religious themes in her writing.

O'Connor is one of America's best short fiction writers, as well as a Roman Catholic apologist. She would incorporate religion in her writing, making it clear she had strong religious beliefs while still critiquing those beliefs through her fiction.

O'Connor never married nor had any children, likely because of her lupus diagnosis.

O'Connor is a pinnacle of Southern Gothic and Religious Realism.

O'Connor died of lupus on August 3, 1964, at the age of 39. She had lived with the disease for 14 years.

Final Flannery O Connor Quiz


How did Flannery O'Connor die?

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What is O'Connor's best-known story?

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'A Good Man is Hard to Find'

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Which writer's retreat did O'Connor attend?

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Which town was O'Connor born in?

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Which with literary movement is O'Connor associated?

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Southern Gothic

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When did O'Connor win the National Book Award?

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1972, 8 years after her death.

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Which religion did O'Connor practice?

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Roman Catholicism

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How did O'Connor incorporate religion into her writing?

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She would use religion as a way to critique the nature of humanity.

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What was O'Connor's first novel?

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Wise Blood, published in 1952.

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Which prestigious writer's workshop did O'Connor attend?

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The Iowa Writer's Workshop

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