Radical AmbivalenceRace in Flannery O'Connor

Radical AmbivalenceRace in Flannery O'Connor

Angela Alaimo O'Donnell

Print publication date: 2021

ISBN: 9780823288243

Publisher: Fordham University Press

Abstract

Radical Ambivalence: Race in Flannery O’Connor is the first book-length study of O’Connor’s attitude toward race in her fiction and correspondence and is the first study to include controversial material from unpublished letters that reveals the complex and troubling nature of her thoughts on the subject. O’Connor lived and wrote in her native Georgia during the tumultuous years of the Civil Rights movement. In one of her letters, O’Connor frankly expresses her double-mindedness regarding the social and political upheaval taking place in the U.S.: “I hope that to be of two minds about some things is not to be neutral.” This double-mindedness also manifests itself in O’Connor’s fiction. Drawing on critical whiteness studies, this study analyzes the ways in which O’Connor critiques the unjust racial practices of the South in her stories and other writings yet unconsciously upholds them; explores O’Connor’s ambivalence with regard to contemporary politics; considers the influence of theology and the Catholic Church on O’Connor’s attitudes; examines the complex role played by “Africanist” presence in the construction of white consciousness in O’Connor’s stories; and explores the theme of thwarted communion between the races in her fiction and correspondence. The study concludes that O’Connor’s race-haunted writing serves as the literary incarnation of her uncertainty about the great question of her era and of her urgent need, despite considerable reluctance, to address the fraught relationship between the races.