Ryan's Reviews > The Violent Bear It Away

The Violent Bear It Away by Flannery O'Connor
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Oct 06, 2010

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Read from October 06 to 10, 2010

I certainly liked this more than her first novel, Wise Blood, but it still doesn’t come close to her short stories. All her work centers around religious themes, symbolism, and overall message; but whereas her short stories seem to be universal enough to encompass all ways of living, expose hypocrisy, and present a more satisfying awakening for the characters, I think that her novels present more of a “bash-you-over-the-head” format with characters names, plot devices, and overall narratives leaving nothing to the imagination.

The characters (in Wise Blood as well) are prophets, everyone is “blind” and/or “hungry”, everyone is clear-cut in their religious views where they either speak adamantly against religion or prophecy blatantly for it. My biggest criticism of this novel is that – as opposed to her short stories where hypocrisy is vilified at the end, the prophets are incorrectly preaching the message, and the overwhelming desire to save the ones who refuse to be converted are later shown to be neglecting the ones closest to them and in greater need – here it appears that the lunatics and the radicals are portrayed as being “the ones who get it.” The insane great-uncle (who repeatedly tries to kidnap relatives to baptize them, who shoots people trying to retrieve their own kin, who seems to be the type from O’Connor’s short stories who are the hypocritical and manipulated misled) turns out to be the one who was correct in his ridiculous prophecies. The logical uncle (who feels that children are brainwashed at an early age where they have no real understanding of the world, who makes it his mission to present a balanced view of the world, who continues to feel love for his mentally handicapped son and care for him despite his wife’s abandonment) is supposed to be viewed as the evil one, the devil, and who doesn’t end up feeling the presence of God at any point – again, much in contrast to how O’Connor would probably resolve his character in a short story. I’m all about Good vs. Evil symbolism, and I see that it’s set up to portray the inner battle waging in each of us as everyone searches for meaning, to still “the hunger” inside, but why are the “Good Guys” in this story the ones who kidnap others and forcefully perform religious rites against their views and wishes? Our “hero” becomes a prophet at the end, just like his great-uncle prophesized he would – but what does that show? That the lunatic great-uncle – who kidnapped him and kept him secluded in the woods for 14 years until he couldn’t take it any more, who couldn’t walk down the streets without staring at a loaf of bread (the bread of life) in a store window without recalling his early teachings – was justified?

The book read a lot smoother than Wise Blood, and there was more of a cohesive story that unfolded throughout, rather than focusing on patched-together chapters focusing on “the bizarre” that seemed to lose the central thread. And she definitely displays a mastery of style with her symbolism, her descriptions (rich Gothic writing!), and her message. It is clear to see who she feels have the right view on life and who doesn’t. I’m sure that she intended this not as a realistic portrayal of people and their actions but more as a allegory of Faith vs. Reason, the blind and those who see, The Word vs. The World – but as a testament of the experience we all share on this planet, I just don’t think it captures Truth as well as she thinks it does.
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