My major project for my first summer school class on Contemporary Trends in Literature is a review of literature on a contemporary trend (duh, right?). At first I had no idea what to write about; I was really interested in John Updike but unsure of a topic. Then, in the middle of class once night, I had a sudden thought (aren’t those great?) about violence as a catalyst for grace in one of Updike’s short stories. I started scrawling notes on my page and realized that this trend also appeared in Flannery O’Connor’s short stories–and then I found my topic.
Eventually, I dropped Updike altogether; there’s just too much good research on Flannery, and the essay should only be five pages–a bit more if necessary (I’m already past 5, of course).
So here’s my idea (and other critics’, of course): Flannery, the good Catholic living in the Christ-haunted South, saw violence as shocking enough to bring about redemption. Moments of violence are often so intense and real that salvation is a direct result.
On one of my long drives home from class one night, I thought about this intersection of violence and grace. My salvation story is far from violent. I didn’t watch my family get slaughtered by a convict called the Misfit and his cronies; I didn’t have a Bible salesman steal my wooden leg. Violence just isn’t a part of my own story of grace. Then I realized that even if, personally, I haven’t experienced that kind of violence, the grace that led to my own salvation is absolutely rooted in the darkest violence imaginable. What could be more violent that my Savior, the Son of God, being crucified? Flannery O’Connor, in interweaving grace and violence, is only re-telling the most beautiful story ever written: grace is so wonderful because it is triumphant over violence.
I’m so gonna love talking about this idea in class on Monday night. 🙂