Everything That Rises Must Converge | Study Guide

Flannery O'Connor

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Everything That Rises Must Converge | Symbols


The Doppelgänger

Flannery O'Connor makes liberal use of the doppelgänger as a symbol in her stories. Doppelgängers, or characters who meet their apparent doubles, appear frequently in fairy tales, myths, and Gothic literature. However, in realistic fiction, a doppelgänger is not a literal double, but a second character who shares characteristics or a fate with a first character but is in some way opposite or different. A doppelgänger of this sort often acts as a mirror for a primary character to see themselves with more self-awareness through their "other." In "Everything That Rises Must Converge," the black woman on the bus who is wearing the same ugly green and purple hat as Julian's mother serves as her double, or negative image. She symbolizes black rage, which results from the treatment she has suffered at the hands of white people like Julian's mother, and thus they are intimately connected. After the black woman hits Julian's mother and knocks her down, Julian comments: "That was your black double. She can wear the same hat as you, and to be sure ... it looked better on her than it did on you." He says his mother's double has appeared to remind her that her old world is gone, her "old manners are obsolete," and her condescending "graciousness is not worth a damn."

In "A View of the Woods," the child Mary Fortune is the doppelgänger of her grandfather. She looks like him and has his temperament, and he attempts to make her entirely his "mini-me" by turning her against her father and eradicating any trace of the Pitts family. The child symbolizes Mr. Fortune's stubbornness, which she has inherited from him and which he has also taught her. Mary Fortune, her grandfather's nemesis, represents his oversized ego in her refusal to submit to his physical chastisement. Just like him, she would rather die than give in. When he tries to whip her, she turns her temper on him and beats him. In the end he kills her to teach her a lesson and inevitably kills himself as well, from the shock, with a massive heart attack. The Greenleaf twins are the doubles of Mrs. May's nasty sons, Schofield and Wesley in "Greenleaf." About the same age as her sons, the Greenleaf boys, offspring of "white trash," have done well for themselves—going to college, marrying French women, raising children who speak French (considered very sophisticated), and buying their own dairy farm. Mrs. May envies these boys, for her sons are barely getting by financially and have not married. Moreover, her sons are disrespectful to their mother, whereas the Greenleaf boys appear to have a good relationship with their parents.

The Sun

In Flannery O'Connor's fiction, the sun is often a symbol of Jesus Christ and a harbinger of a spiritual awakening. In "Revelation," immediately before Mrs. Turpin experiences her vision, she sees the crimson sky of the sunset. When only a purple streak of sky remains, she sees "a vast swinging bridge extending upward from the earth through a field of living fire." On the bridge she sees "a vast horde" of souls "rumbling toward heaven." In "The Enduring Chill," Asbury sees himself in the mirror and then turns toward the window, where he sees "a blinding red-gold sun." Below it the black "treeline ... formed a brittle wall, standing as if it were the frail defense he had set up in his mind to protect him from what was coming." In this moment Asbury has the opportunity to receive the grace of self-knowledge, but he turns his face away from the window as well. Instead, in his fever he has a vision of the Holy Ghost delivering ice rather than fire, but this is a hallucination, created by the conversation he had earlier with the priest who came to visit. The hallucination is likely precipitated by fever.

The Bull

The bull in the story "Greenleaf" is a symbol of chaos associated with nature and the material world, as well as the chaos sometimes sent by God to shake people out of their destructive patterns. Mrs. May, the protagonist of the story, wishes to control everything—from her dairy cattle to her sons to the Greenleafs. She thinks everything should be done in moderation, including worship. Her excessive need for order cuts her off from having meaningful relationships with other people, and it has completely choked off her spiritual life. The appearance of the bull is an opportunity for Mrs. May to start on a different footing with Mr. Greenleaf and examine how her need to micromanage alienates others. Instead, Mrs. May escalates the conflict between her and Mr. Greenleaf. As a result, the bull ends up goring her to death.


In the story "Revelation," Mrs. Turpin is shocked out of her complacency when a young woman attacks her and calls her a warthog. Pigs are animals often associated with sloth and uncleanliness, although Mrs. Turpin's pigs stay clean in her up-to-date "pig parlor." Still, she is excessively offended by the insult because she believes the reprimand from Mary Grace, the adolescent who attacks her in the doctor's office, comes directly from God. While Mrs. Turpin is washing down her pigs and berating God, she finally sees that the mother sow is a selfless creature, feeding and nurturing her young. The scene in the pig pen suddenly takes on significance: "they had settled all in one corner around the old sow who was grunting softly. A red glow suffused them. They appeared to pant with secret life." Immediately following this scene, Mrs. Turpin sees the pilgrim bridge to heaven. Thus, the pigs represent the carnal aspect of life, which sometimes takes place in the gutter and sometimes is the conduit of grace. In Flannery O'Connor's worldview, grace must always travel through a channel that runs through the material world.

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