“All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful.” These words of Flannery O’Connor give us the interpretive key to understanding her fiction. At the heart of all of her short stories is a moment of grace, where a character is faced with a decision to either accept or reject an offering of grace. O’Connor often uses violent and grotesque scenes to show this moment, because accepting grace is difficult and painful. When a person welcomes the grace of God into his life he must turn away from his previous life of sin and begin anew. The gruesome episodes found in O’Connor’s short stories are physical manifestations of the interior movements of the soul when it comes into contact with the Divine. No one has been able to capture this redemptive act in literature quite like O’Connor, which is why Catholics should become familiar with her short stories.
Here are five great short stories by Flannery O’Connor that will introduce you to her work, writing style, and redemptive themes. All of these stories can be found in The Complete Stories by Flannery O’Connor.
1. “A Good Man is Hard to Find”
O’Connor’s most famous work is also one of her most grotesque. In this masterpiece, God’s grace abounds in a hail of gun fire on country road in Georgia. The theme of redemption is central in this story and is most visible on the last page of the text.
2. “Everything that Rises Must Converge”
Julien is a young college graduate, who finds himself selling typewriters and living with his mother. He wants to put his education to good use, so he sets about teaching his mother a lesson and eradicating prejudice from her life. What he finds is that prejudice is not so easily removed or recognizable.
3. “A Temple of the Holy Ghost”
This is probably the most accessible story on the list. In this story, a young girl spends a few days with two of her troubled cousins and lets her curiosity get the best of her when she attends a Freak Show at the local circus. O’Connor beautifully parallels the young girl’s encounter at the Freak Show with the Eucharist, providing the reader with a powerful reflection on God’s grace.
4. “The Life You Save May Be Your Own”
A disfigured drifter named Shiftlet arrives at the home of Mrs. Crater, where he is introduced to her deaf daughter Lucynell. Mrs. Crater is keen on getting her daughter hitched and sees the poor Shiftlet as a worthy candidate. Like all of O’Connor’s stories, grace finds a way of invading the lives of the characters, which results in a surprise ending.
5. “The River”
This haunting tale draws upon the Gospel story of the demonic pigs being cast into the sea. In the story, a neglected young boy has an encounter with Christ during his baptism in the river, and he spends the rest of the story trying to get back to that moment of grace.