Donnie's Reviews > The Violent Bear It Away

The Violent Bear It Away by Flannery O'Connor
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's review
Nov 14, 2010

really liked it

This book made me think a whole lot. Primarily about the ongoing civil war in our country between urban culture and rural culture.

Whereas, many authors seem to come down hard on one side of this war, O'Connor rides the neutral territory between the two in her effort to depict a clash between men: 1 poindexter scientific-like teacher and one deranged bear of a man who is deluded enough to fancy himself a prophet. They have a historical struggle over the fate of a child. The teacher wants to rescue him from a life of ignorance through education and good upbringing, while the "prophet" wants to save him from a life of damnation through baptism and a righteous fire and brimstone upbringing.

Clearly these two represent polarities, but through their conflict the reader is asked to see the perversions of hubris both bring to the table and the destructive elements embedded in each. The "prophet" makes the mistake of certainty in matters of faith, leading to fanaticism and violence, while the teacher makes the mistake of dissembling life into a purely rational endeavor. Both existences breed dysfunction--one by way of ignorance and intolerance, the other by cold insensitive rationality in the face human suffering.

It was an interesting read, and I still am thinking about it months later. It is hard to see a way out of the world she presents. In the end, the child caught between these two men literally burns his world down after suffering sexual abuse by a stranger. Caught between two worlds, both created on selfish premises--premises that shrink the world into easily digestible explanations--the child turns toward fire when dealt a blow that cannot be explained through either worldview. I think the lesson here is that as tempting as it is to want to understand supernatural and the physical world around us, we must be on guard against the walls we build around ourselves through the process of trying to explain it all. Don't drink too much of your own cool-aid.

Oh, and in all your attempts to organize the world through religion or through rationality be sure not to forget about love. There is this one part in the book where the science guy thinks about love. He claims that love was something giant in him and that if given into would "drag him backwards to what he knew to be madness."

"The affliction was in the family. It lay hidden in the line of blood that touched them, flowing from some ancient source, some desert prophet or polesitter, until, its power unabated, it appeared in the old man ["the prophet"] and him and, he surmised, in the boy. Those it touched were condemned to fight it constantly or be ruled by it."

He chose to fight it, and maybe that kept his world fairly static and organized, but ultimately it created an environment with no room for growth or healing. So, when the child was violated what were his choices ? He could see it as a wretched symbol of his spiritual status or he could see it as product of a rational world, neither remotely satisfying. The only way out was fire.
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S Suzanne Donnie - I felt much the same as you on many points. This is certainly not a novel with the's asking us to get inside ourselves and pose questions, and though it takes place in the rural south, these are eternal questions.

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