Everything That Rises Must Converge | Study Guide

Flannery O'Connor

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Everything That Rises Must Converge | Plot Summary

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Summary

Everything That Rises Must Converge

Julian has a love-hate relationship with his self-righteous mother, with whom he lives while he is attempting to establish himself after graduating from college. His mother is overweight, with high blood pressure, so he takes her downtown on the bus to an exercise class because she is fearful of riding alone now that buses are integrated. Smug in her genteel poverty, she is wearing an ugly new hat. He is infuriated by his mother's condescending Southern, ladylike ways and ingrained racism. A black woman who boards the bus with a child is wearing the same hat as Julian's mother. Julian's mother insists on engaging with the child even though the woman is clearly annoyed by her condescension. They all get off at the same stop, and when Julian's mother tries to give the child a penny, the black woman hits her and walks off. Julian's mother has fallen down, and Julian begins to scold her harshly, saying she got what she deserved. A few minutes later, when she has a stroke on the pavement, he begins calling her "Mamma!" He runs to get help, but his mother is already dead.

Greenleaf

Mrs. May, a widow who runs a dairy farm, has a long-standing adversarial relationship with the hired man, Mr. Greenleaf. After years together, they feel mutual loathing for each other. She has two sullen grown sons who still live with her and show nothing but disrespect. A stray bull has found its way onto Mrs. May's property, and one of her sons spitefully informs her the bull belongs to Mr. Greenleaf's twin sons, who have done well since they left the army, even starting their own farm. Mrs. May cannot help but compare the Greenleaf boys to her own, especially because the Greenleafs are unrefined and ignorant, and Mrs. Greenleaf practices an exaggerated form of prayer healing of which Mrs. May disapproves. Mrs. May insists Greenleaf go after the bull and kill it, once she realizes his sons have no intention of retrieving the animal. The Greenleaf sons bought the animal for its meat, but it keeps running away. Mr. Greenleaf doesn't want to shoot the bull, so he ends up drawing out the chase while Mrs. May waits in the pasture. He throws sharp rocks at the animal so it will run farther away, but the bull becomes enraged and runs out from some underbrush, goring Mrs. May to death.

A View of the Woods

Mr. Fortune is a land-rich, stubborn old man who lives with his daughter and her family on his own land. He hates his son-in-law and has no use for his daughter's children, except for nine-year-old Mary Fortune, named after his mother. Mary Fortune Pitts—who looks like him, is smart like him, and has his stubborn nature—is his constant companion. The old man has been periodically selling off acreage, mostly to spite his son-in-law, who would prefer to purchase the land himself. Mr. Pitts periodically beats Mary Fortune with a belt to get even with his father-in-law. The child submits stoically to these beatings. When her grandfather asks why she doesn't stand up to her father, she denies the beatings and says she would kill anybody who tried to beat her.

Mr. Fortune's plan to sell a tract of land in front of the house, a move that will block the view of the woods, upsets his family. Although Mary Fortune takes her father's side and fights with her grandfather, she is beaten again and blamed by her parents for putting her grandfather up to the sale. When Mary Fortune goes to town with her grandfather to close the deal, she begins wrecking the store of the buyer. Deciding he has been too lenient, Mr. Fortune takes her home. When he tries to beat her, she viciously attacks him. For a while she has the upper hand, but when he gets on top of her, he knocks her head against a stone inadvertently killing her.

The Enduring Chill

Asbury gets very ill in New York City and returns to his hated home in the South because he believes he is about to die. His mother, Mrs. Fox, is a widow who runs a successful dairy farm. When her son arrives, she calls in the local doctor, although Asbury has little use for local doctors. Nonetheless, the doctor takes his blood and keeps coming to check on him. An unsuccessful writer, Asbury has been spoiled by his mother, whom he blames for his failed aspirations. He is planning to leave her a letter to read after he dies, forgiving her for stifling his poetic soul. A water stain on Asbury's ceiling looks like a menacing bird.

Asbury had worked in his mother's dairy for a short time and attempted to befriend the black dairymen by smoking with them and encouraging them to share fresh milk from the same glass, which they refuse to do because they are forbidden to drink the milk. However, Asbury drinks this milk for several days simply to defy his mother. By the end of the story, the local doctor finally figures out Asbury has undulant fever, a chronic, but not critical, illness caused by unpasteurized milk. Upon receiving this news, he believes he experiences a vision of the Holy Ghost, which begins with the transformation of the water stain into a fierce bird descending on him. He realizes he must now live a new life "in the face of that purifying terror."

The Comforts of Home

Thomas is a 35-year-old historian who lives with his widowed mother, whom he loves but who is engaged in "daredevil charity," which is "about to wreck the peace of the house." His mother has taken it upon herself to mentor a 19-year-old woman—a petty criminal, nymphomaniac, and compulsive liar. After the young woman is thrown out of a respectable boarding house for drunkenness, Thomas's mother takes her to live with them. Star, as she calls herself, pretends to commit suicide because Thomas rejects her. She then steals his dead father's gun, presumably for the same purpose, although she is simply being melodramatic. Thomas goes to the corrupt sheriff, who advises him to leave the door to his home unlatched and to stay out of the way. The sheriff intends to catch Star red-handed with the stolen gun. When Thomas gets home, however, he sees she has returned the gun to his desk. He then tries to sneak it into her bag, but she catches him in the act, which he denies in front of his mother. Star and Thomas both reach for the gun, and when he wrestles it from her, she physically attacks him. He then shoots her, but his mother steps in front of Star and ends up getting shot. When the sheriff arrives, he assumes the two young people conspired to kill Thomas's mother all along.

The Lame Shall Enter First

Sheppard is a recreation director and part-time guidance counselor at the reformatory, recently widowed, with a 10-year-old son named Norton. He believes his son is stupid, selfish, and mediocre and that his continual grieving for his mother is another sign of selfishness. Sheppard prefers the highly intelligent 14-year-old delinquent Rufus Johnson. After working with this boy for a year, Sheppard takes him into his house upon his release from the reformatory. A fundamentalist Christian who believes he is going to hell, Rufus disrespects Sheppard and comes to hate him for his atheism. While staying with Sheppard, he breaks into houses, but the police can't arrest him because they have insufficient evidence.

Sheppard has bought a telescope for the boys, mostly to interest Johnson in astronomy. After Rufus begins teaching Norton about heaven and hell, the younger boy develops an interest in looking through the telescope, and one day he tells his father he has seen his mother. Johnson and Sheppard continue to argue about God until one day the boy storms out of Sheppard's home for good and is then caught breaking into a house. Sheppard finally realizes his failure with Rufus and neglect of his own son. He vows to make it up to him, but when he goes to the attic to look for Norton, the boy is hanging from a beam outside the window, apparently after launching himself in flight toward his mother.

Revelation

Mrs. Turpin is a chubby, self-satisfied white woman who thinks she is a good person and much better than most other people, especially "white trash" and black people. She and her husband, Claud, are in the doctor's waiting room because Claud has an ulcerated leg, about which Mrs. Turpin informs the others in the crowded room. Mrs. Turpin strikes up a conversation with a refined woman waiting with her college-age daughter. As Mrs. Turpin complains about the laziness of her black workers, who now want to "be right up there with the white folks," a "white-trash woman," by Mrs. Turpin's definition, chimes in, agreeing. A racist conversation continues, while the college-age daughter, who goes to school in the North, becomes more and more infuriated. She finally throws the book she is reading at Mrs. Turpin and physically attacks her. The girl is pulled off the older woman and sedated but not before she has called her an "old warthog." Mrs. Turpin takes this act as a sign and believes it comes from God. When she gets home, she rails against God because she is in the habit of showing charity to all people, including so-called "white trash" and black people. She doesn't understand why God would single her out for punishment. At the end of the story she has a vision of a motley group of people—all classes and colors, from all walks of life, including the freakish and the lunatic—marching toward heaven and salvation.

Parker's Back

O.E. Parker is an itinerant handyman who ends up marrying a fundamentalist Christian woman, almost against his natural inclinations. He is tattooed on most of his body, and he gets tattoos whenever he feels dissatisfied with his life situation. His wife hates his tattoos, although she has married him and is now pregnant. Parker is thinking about leaving his coldhearted, judgmental wife, who is in the habit of threatening him with damnation if he doesn't change his ways. One day as he is mowing his employer's hay with a broken-down tractor, it seems to him as if he is being grabbed by a tree and saved. During his vision he does in fact crash the tractor into a tree. The tractor catches fire, which spreads instantaneously to the tree. Parker leaves the scene and drives to town to get a tattoo—asking for a picture of God. He chooses a large tattoo of a stern Byzantine Christ for his back, believing his wife will not be able to turn away from the image. Instead, when he gets home, she upbraids him for idolatry and beats him, raising welts on the face of Christ on his back. While she remains cold and adamant, he runs out of the house and cries "like a baby," leaning against a tree.

Judgement Day

Tanner, an old, feeble man, has moved to New York City to live with his daughter rather than stay behind and work for a black man on whose land he has been squatting. In his hometown of Corinth, Georgia, he had been living with his black friend Coleman in a shack they built and making illegal whiskey. When the owner of the land demands he run the illegal still for him, Tanner leaves. New York City turns out to be a nightmare for Tanner, however, and he hates living in the cramped quarters of an apartment. One day he sees a black couple moving in next door. Unaccustomed to integrated housing in New York and not knowing urban ways, Tanner believes the man is from Alabama and tries to strike up a conversation, calling him "Preacher." After Tanner makes a few attempts to befriend the neighbor, using the racist conventions he is accustomed to using in the South, the man, a New York actor, roughs him up and hurts him, possibly causing a stroke. After a little time passes, Tanner decides to go back home to Georgia. One day when his daughter goes shopping, he tries to leave the house, thinking he will walk to the freight yards and catch a train, but he falls halfway down the stairs. He is found by the black couple, but they don't help him or call an ambulance. Later, his daughter finds him dead, with his face, head, and arms thrust into the bannister of the stairway. Tanner's daughter, against her promise and her father's wishes, buries him in New York. However, she feels guilty and has his body disinterred and reburied in the South.

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