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CHAPTER THREE The Double Conflict, often violent conflict, is at the very center of Flannery O'Connor's fiction. Characters mutter, snarl, and rage at one another until the rising pressure of the action forces a climactic clash, a bursting of tensions often both physical and deadly.Yetthose same angry figures are viewed from a comic distance so severe that they hover on the edge of—and sometimes fall over into—caricature. O'Connor's people are among the least introspective in modernfiction , with minds at once so unaware and so absurdly assured that they have refused to acknowledgeany deeper self. None of them are interested in what one character calls his "underhead," and the result is the very fury of their responses, for the unconscious exists in O'Connor's fiction not as a psychic area to be probed but as a violent force denied. The ironic upshot of their denial is that her characters thereby become obsessive figures, clinging in outrage to their narrowly rigid self-definitions in the face of all challenges. Incapableof doubt or self-questioning,her protagonists are incapable of the flexibility of development, and the climaxes of the stories confront them with the startling image of all they have denied. Their eyes are finally "shocked clean," but the shock is sometimes sufficient to kill them as well. As the screw of the action turns and tensions rise, again and again there appears before those self-denying characters a creature both strange and yet in some way familiar, like a distorting mirror whose image they at once repudiate but cannot quite turn away from—in short, a double figure. An expression in character and action of 95 FLANNERY O'CONNOR O'Connor's characteristic duality, the pattern recurs so often that it can only be called obsessive. Albert J. Guerard has justly remarked that "the word double is embarrassingly vague as used in literary criticism,"l but in her work the configuration always takes one of two classic forms. Either one character discovers that another is a replica ofhimself, an almost identical reflection—here the paradigm would be twins—or, much more often, one character is presented as the alter ego of another, the embodiment of qualities suppressed or ignored by the first, a mirror image or inverse reflection. Here the paradigm perhaps receives its best expression in the myth of the Symposium that for each of us there exists a complementary self to which we were once physically attached; Freud's observation that two dramatized figures may together constitute a complete personality is its psycholiterary counterpart.2 Yetwhichever form the double takes, he signals a widening split within the protagonist and is felt as an opposing self. The sense of uncanniness that always marks his appearance is sometimes muted in O'Connor, for since most of her works focus on relationships within a family the double figure may retain a surface plausibility. But the dismaying discovery of unwanted kinship can extend well beyond the family, and in fact beyond the human world altogether. The heroes of both of the novels are deeply split within themselves . Almost inevitably, it seems, they also encounter everywhere Doppelgangers who reflect aspects of their self-division. In the more compressed form of the story the central figures may not be so obviously dramatized as internally divided, but they are nevertheless forced again and again to gaze into an appalling mirror.3 Language and imagery heralding the Doppelganger abounds. "That was your black double" (p. 419) the son of "Everything That Rises Must Converge " archly confides to his dying mother, without considering the implications for himself; for if the large Negro woman of this story embodies a side of life his mother has refused to see, then to whom does her dependent little boy correspond? Old Mark Fortune of "A View of the Woods" complacently recognizes in his granddaughter a "small replica" of himself, a recognition that becomes intolerable when at the story's end "his own image" turns "triumphant and hostile " (pp. 336, 355). The only literal twins in O'Connor's fiction are the mysterious brothers of "Greenleaf," but it is no accident, as we 96 THE DOUBLE shall see, that the protagonist of "The Comforts of Home" is called Thomas, a name which means "twin." From twins it is but a short step to brothers: near the beginning of "The Artificial Nigger," we recall, Mr. Head and Nelson "looked enough alike to be brothers and brothers not...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780820340272
Related ISBN
9780820305929
MARC Record
OCLC
714811888
Pages
280
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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