The Christian Humanism of Flannery O'ConnorBook - 1972
Flannery O'Connor was concerned, above all, with man's wholeness and the ways in which that wholeness is broken and possibly restored. Since these subjects are central to so much of modern theology, her religious concerns often parallel those of such influential modern theologians and religious philosophers as Kierkegaard, Maritain, Tillich, Niebuhr, Guardini, and D'Arcy. But the fiction writer is more interested in individuals, even if representative ones, than in mankind in the abstract; and Miss O'Connor's characters are as interesting to the clinical psychologist as to the theologian. In her works spiritual wholeness and incompleteness manifest themselves as neurosis and sanity. And since the spiritually alienated and neurotic characters express themselves in social gestures, Miss O'Connor also presents them in terms of important problems in human relationships, of the destructive idolatry of progress, the dehumanization of urban collectives, and the reduction of other people to objects in compulsive social rituals.
The humanistic approach of this study shows how Miss O'Connor integrates many perspectives on man's nature. She may fuse a religious allegory with a Freudian case study into an analysis of despair as precise and suggestive as Kierkegaard's. She may associate a fear of God with a neurotic fear of sexuality, or a religious awakening with the anxious experience of puberty. She may show a perverse, Manichaen religion manifested as a sadomasochistic personality and as a cultural obsession with technology and individualism. She may use mythic and biblical archetypes, Freudian patterns, comic conventions, social stereotypes, and theological systems-all of which she integrates into a view of man as unified as it is complex. Through close analysis of her two novels and her best stories, this study also shows that such humanistic methods are as central to her craftsmanship as they are to the breadth and importance of her main concerns.