Everything That Rises Must Converge | Study Guide

Flannery O'Connor

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Everything That Rises Must Converge | A View of the Woods | Summary

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Summary

Mary Fortune Pitts is the granddaughter of a land-rich 79-year-old man, who hates his son-in-law. When the story opens, Fortune and his granddaughter are watching a bulldozer on a tract of land the old man has recently sold off and that is destined to become a fishing club near the lake. Both man and child come every day to watch the digging. The young girl looks just like her grandfather, who thinks she is the "smartest and prettiest child he had ever seen." Mr. Fortune's daughter and her husband, Mr. Pitts, have seven children, but the old man cares only for this child, named after his mother. Although the family has been living on the Fortune land for a decade, and Mrs. Pitts looks after her father, he sells off a piece of land periodically to show he is still boss. These sales infuriate Mr. Pitts because he would like to buy the land himself. Mr. Fortune has left the land in trust to his granddaughter, who he believes has his intelligence, strong will, and drive. He has already sold off 125 acres of his 800-acre property.

Mary Fortune ignores her grandfather when he tells her not to walk too close to the edge of the embankment, where she could fall in. The old man admires Mary Fortune's spunk and never hits her, but he can't prevent her father from whipping her. Periodically Pitts gets angry for no discernible reason and takes Mary Fortune down the road, beating her around the ankles with his belt. One day Mr. Fortune watches this beating and then berates the child for not fighting back, to which Mary Fortune replies, "Nobody's ever beat me in my life and if anybody did, I'd kill him."

The old man works out that Pitts gets his revenge on him by beating his favorite granddaughter. To retaliate against Pitts, Mr. Fortune decides to sell a piece of land prized by Pitts—the area in front of the house called the "lawn," where the children play. When the old man tells Mary Fortune of his plan, she stridently objects. If he sells the lawn, they won't be able to see the woods from the porch. Further, this is the area where her father grazes his calves. Grandfather and granddaughter argue vociferously, and Mr. Fortune wishes he could teach her to stand up to her father the way she stands up to him. In his mind her submissiveness to her father is cowardice, which he takes personally, as if the cowardice belonged to him.

When Mr. Fortune tells the family he is negotiating to sell the lawn, they are upset. Pitts blames Mary Fortune, who meekly objects, but her father takes her outside for a beating anyway. The old man berates his daughter for allowing her husband to beat "an innocent child," and Mrs. Pitts responds that Mary Fortune put him up to selling the land, which he denies, calling his daughter a "disgrace." The old man suffers through the afternoon, feeling as he often does when the child is beaten—that his heart is getting larger. Nonetheless, he is more determined than ever to sell.

The next day the old man takes his granddaughter with him to see the buyer, Mr. Tilman. When he comes out of Mr. Tilman's store, Mary Fortune has disappeared, having left with her father. The old man is angry at the child for giving in to her father when he ordered her into his truck, and Mary Fortune is angry with him for selling the land. When she explains to the old man again why she is upset, he says she is acting more like a Pitts than a Fortune. At supper, no one in the family speaks to Mr. Fortune. The next day, for the first time, Mary Fortune does not come into her grandfather's room to wake him up. Nonetheless, he invites her to town to look at the boats in the boat store. Although she consents to go, she continues to give him the cold shoulder, and when he asks why, she brings up the land sale. Mr. Fortune reminds the girl that her father beats her, so why should she care about his calves? For the third time, she denies anyone beats her. When he asks her if she is a "Fortune" or a "Pitts," she responds she is "Mary—Fortune—Pitts."

Before going home, Mr. Fortune stops at Mr. Tilman's store to close the land deal. After the papers are signed, the child appears at the door and begins hurling bottles at the two men. Her grandfather finally catches her up and puts her in the car, where she sits, "snuffling and heaving." Mr. Fortune is astonished, for he has never seen a child behave this way, and she has been his constant companion for nine years. He thinks he has been too easy on her and is now determined to beat her for what she has done. When he takes her to the spot where Pitts usually punishes her, Mary Fortune turns belligerent, once again saying no one has ever beat her and she will kill anyone who tries. She jumps on her grandfather and begins beating him ferociously and biting him. By now the two of them are on the ground. She pauses and asks him, "Have you had enough?" When Mr. Fortune looks at her, he sees the child as "PURE Pitts." He gets hold of her throat, and they reverse positions, so that he is on top of her. He lifts her head and cracks it against the rock, then hits her head against the rock twice more. He looks at the still figure for a long time and then falls back, "his heart expanded ... with a convulsive motion." There is no one to help him—only the machinery on the side of the road, "gorging itself on clay."

Analysis

"A View of the Woods" is perhaps the most brutal of the nine stories in this volume, with its chronicle of the violent murder of a child, who inadvertently becomes her grandfather's nemesis and metes out the wages of his grossly narcissistic sin. The third-person narrator stays mostly with Mr. Fortune throughout the story. Not surprisingly, however, O'Connor's narrators are ambivalent—both despising and loving the fallen characters and cherishing a world that is spiritually blind. Even in this story, in which Mr. Fortune is small minded in his treatment of the family and bestial in the murder of his granddaughter, the reader can't help but feel some sympathy when he remonstrates, "I'm an old man! ... Leave me alone!" The narrator adds, "But she did not stop. She began a fresh assault on his jaw. "'Stop stop!' he wheezed. 'I'm your grandfather!'"

The reader may waffle in judging whether Mr. Fortune has real love for his granddaughter or whether she is merely his narcissistic project. To ask this question, however, is to raise a second, more philosophical question: What is the nature of love anyway, and isn't all human love in some form or another merely self-love, in which people see a reflection of themselves in the eyes of the other? Mr. Fortune is given many opportunities to come down from his high horse and compromise with his family, but he never does, and the reader cannot help but lament the hubris and spiritual blindness that have led to tragic consequences.

The unfortunate Mary Fortune ends up as a pawn in a game of chess being played by her grandfather against her immediate family, particularly her father. Mr. Fortune aligns himself with the currents of progress—the fallen world in which custom and tradition are devalued and spirituality has lost its place. Critic Bryan N. Wyatt reads the woods as symbolic of the divine, particularly, Jesus Christ, while Tilman is a "Luciferian character." The old man allies himself with the destroyers of nature, but his desire to confound his son-in-law is at least as strong as his desire to see the town grow and perhaps carry his own name into the future.

Therefore, because Mary Fortune is his very own "mini-me," he intends to leave her whatever is left of his property when he dies. He loves her because she looks like him and has his personality. Her likeness to him is necessary to fuel his love, and in his outsized narcissism, the reader perhaps sees the magnification of everyday human ego in human relationships, masquerading as something more refined.

In his favoritism of Mary Fortune, whom he has fashioned into his double, the old man turns the rest of the family against her. Time and again, he has the opportunity to put his love for the child on a higher footing. He is stymied by her submitting to her father's beatings, which he takes as a personal affront. It should be easy for Mr. Fortune to see that the child's father is punishing him through the child. But instead of trying to repair familial relationships, he doubles down and retaliates against Pitts by selling off more land. Mr. Fortune is too ignorant to see that Mary Fortune submits to the beatings because it is her way of acknowledging she belongs to him and the Pitt family. In saying the beatings never happened, she is telling her grandfather they are insignificant because she is her father's child. Her reasoning is lost on Mr. Fortune, however, who just keeps haranguing her for giving in. When the "lawn" in front of the house becomes a bone of contention and Mr. Fortune sees how upset his granddaughter is about its loss, he again has a chance to back off. The child clearly tells him the family will lose its view of the woods and her father will be unable to graze his calves. But Mr. Fortune can only focus on how the child has aligned herself with her family against him and will not entertain, even for a moment, a change of heart.

As Mary Fortune and her grandfather argue over the sale, he becomes increasingly outraged. At one point he demands to know whether the child is a Fortune or a Pitts, and she responds that her name is "Mary—Fortune—Pitts," to which he replies, "Well I ... am PURE Fortune." The narrator describes Mary Fortune as defeated after the metaphorical rejection by her grandfather. This conversation is a turning point, in which things go from bad to worse. Mary Fortune has been dragged to town to witness the dreaded sale, even though she stays in the car. She knows what is going on, however, and thus smashes up Tilman's shop, an act against the "devil."

Once again, Mr. Fortune has an opportunity to reach beyond his own narcissism to connect with his granddaughter, who has been sent over the edge by the sale of the lawn. Instead he decides it is his turn to beat her, and because he has both repudiated her (I am pure Fortune) and betrayed her, she turns on him like a force of nature. She will not be beaten by this man who is not her father, and he recognizes nothing of himself when she looks up at him. Indeed, he sees he has been defeated by "PURE Pitts." In a rage he kills Mary Fortune by knocking her head, not once, but three times, against a stone until she is dead. "The eyes had rolled back down and were set in a fixed glare that did not take him in," the narrator says, even as the old man says, "This ought to teach you a good lesson." In this moment of reckoning, he cannot reckon with what he has done. Overwhelmed by the events of the day and his terrible crime, the old man has either a major stroke or heart attack. There is no one to help him and no one to save him. It seems he has bypassed the grace of God because his outsized self-love makes redemption impossible.

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