Everything That Rises Must Converge | Study Guide

Flannery O'Connor

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Everything That Rises Must Converge | The Comforts of Home | Summary

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Summary

Thomas, a 35-year-old historian who lives with his charitable-minded mother, is enraged at her friendship with a young woman whom he considers a "little slut" and an unrepentant criminal. Now "his mother, with her daredevil charity, was about to wreck the peace of the house," the narrator says. The previous night the girl had come into his room, and he chased her out, holding a chair in front of him "like an animal trainer driving out a dangerous cat." He tells his mother he won't put up with it and will leave the house if the girl stays. His mother tells him the girl can't help herself because she is a "nimpermaniac," whom Thomas sees merely as a "moral moron."

Thomas loves his mother, the narrator says, but he sometimes cannot "endure her love for him," which often seems to be "pure idiot mystery" powered by forces outside his control. He believes his mother suffers from an "excess of virtue." In Thomas's view, Christian history proves that "a moderation of good produces likewise a moderation of evil." He believes in virtue as an ordering principle that makes life bearable, but when it gets out of hand, as it does with his mother, he feels the presence of invisible devils nearby.

The next part of the story is told as a flashback. Thomas's mother first sees the girl's picture in the newspaper after she has been jailed for passing a bad check. Because the miscreant is only 19 and does not look like a bad girl, Thomas's mother decides to take her a box of candy. When she comes back from the jail, Thomas's mother reveals a few details about the girl's tragic and sordid life. The young woman calls herself Star Drake, although her real name is Sarah Ham. Thomas is sorry his father is not alive, for although he hated his father, the old man would not have allowed his mother to engage in foolish charity. One way or another, he would have gotten rid of the girl, perhaps by pulling strings with local law enforcement to move her to the state penitentiary.

Thomas's mother later finds out from Star's lawyer that Star is a pathological liar and most of her story is untrue, but this news makes the older woman only feel sorrier for her. Star has been to several psychiatrists, who have been unable to help her. The lawyer gets Star paroled and released into the older woman's custody. She gets Star a job in a pet store and a place to board. Thomas is aghast at his mother's activities, especially after she brings Star to the house for dinner and Star begins flirting with him. Thomas knows immediately he is "in the presence of the very stuff of corruption, but blameless corruption because there was no responsible faculty behind it." When he drives Star home at his mother's request, the young woman makes sexual advances, which he repulses.

At breakfast the next morning, he tells his mother the girl is promiscuous and had made fun of her behind her back. This news doesn't change his mother's desire to save Star from herself. She reminds her son he's had "all the comforts of home. And morals ... No bad inclinations, nothing bad you were born with." However, she agrees not to invite the girl again. Still, Thomas is shaken, "as if he had seen a tornado pass ... and had an intimation that it would turn again and head directly for him."

A few days later, the woman boarding Star kicks her out for drunkenness, and Thomas's mother must pick her up. Star is supposed to stay at Thomas's house for only one night but ends up staying for eight days, and continues to sexually harass him. Star responds to Thomas's rejection and loathing by threatening to kill herself, and one night she stages a fake suicide attempt, barely damaging her arm with a superficial cut. The next day his mother demands Thomas lock up his father's gun, which he keeps in a drawer in his room. He refuses, knowing Star has no intention of killing herself. Nonetheless, the gun is missing when he next goes to look for it. At breakfast he gives his mother an ultimatum: either she gets rid of the girl or he will move out of the house, but by afternoon both have returned, which is where the reader first encounters them at the beginning of the story.

In present time, Thomas hears his father's voice in his head, telling him to go to the sheriff. He knows the sheriff is corrupt but approaches him anyway, telling him the girl took his gun. The sheriff advises him to go home and stay out of the way. At 6 p.m. he will come by the house to take Star into custody and tells Thomas to leave the door unlatched. When Thomas gets home, he sees Star has put the gun back in the drawer. She is upstairs taking a bath, so he removes the gun and puts it in her purse. Unfortunately, Star comes down in time to catch him in the act, just as his mother wakes up from a nap. Star tells Thomas's mother what he has done, but Thomas denies his action, shouting, "The dirty criminal slut stole my gun." The two reach for the gun, and Thomas gets it first. Star then lunges at Thomas's throat, but his mother gets in front of her, to protect her. At this point, Thomas hears the voice of his father again, telling him to fire, and he does. But the person he shoots is his mother, who now lies dead on the floor. The sheriff arrives, instantly deciding the pair are in cahoots and had planned to kill Thomas's mother all along. The sheriff "was accustomed to enter upon scenes that were not as bad as he hoped to find them, but this one met his expectations," the narrator says at the end of the story.

Analysis

In "The Comforts of Home" the Lucifer-Trickster, or tempter, appears as a voice in the protagonist's head—specifically, his aggressive and merciless father, who accuses him of not being man enough to take care of his business and control his mother at home. Thomas's father is dead, but he is resurrected as the poisonous voice in his son's head. As a result, the mild-mannered and previously righteous Thomas ends up killing his beloved mother. Thomas is said by the narrator to have "inherited his father's reason without his ruthlessness and his mother's love of good without her tendency to pursue it." Nonetheless, he either loses his reason or acquires his father's ruthlessness, as he fires the weapon that kills his mother.

In this story the reader meets still another widowed matriarch taking care of an "intellectual" adult child. Two mothers of ungrateful children—Mrs. May in "Greenleaf" and Mrs. Fox in "The Enduring Chill"—are dairy farmers (like Flanner O'Connor's mother, Regina Cline O'Connor), and both cope with ungrateful sons. Julian's widowed mother in "Everything That Rises Must Converge" dies as a result of aggressive action taken by her son to punish her social behavior. Similarly, Thomas, in this story, kills his mother, albeit accidentally, to punish her private behavior: exaggerated charity, as he sees it—favoring someone else over him. Like the first story in the collection, the protagonist's mother is not named and thus appears to be more an archetype than a fully realized portrait. The difference between Julian and Thomas, however, is that Julian does not acknowledge his love for and dependence on his mother until the end, whereas Thomas has a history of loving and depending on his mother. Yet when she fails to meet his expectations, he kills her.

O'Connor plays with time in this story, opening in the middle of their disagreement, which has come to a crisis. The flashback reveals, however, that until Star Drake (a.k.a. Sarah Ham) showed up, mother and son lived in harmony. Thomas's mother has broken her promise to shelter Star for only one night. After Star has been in Thomas's home for several days and has accosted him in his bedroom, Thomas gives his mother an ultimatum. Thomas sometimes cannot endure his mother's love for him, the narrator says, because it is excessive, just like her extreme Christian charity, which results in her bringing an unrepentant sociopath under her roof. In his view, Christian history advises moderation in goodness, which is more likely to produce moderation of evil. This logic doesn't hold up though, because evil doesn't necessarily evolve from goodness, and it is not logical to assume that more charity will produce more evil rather than less.

In The Habit of Being, O'Connor comments on this story, saying no one is redeemed at the end. She also says Thomas's mother holds the "right position," and "the one who is right is usually the victim." Her radical charity closely follows the teachings of Jesus, although one critic, Walter Sullivan, sees the woman's charitable gesture as self-serving. There is no real evidence of the mother's selfishness in the story, however, and she keeps thinking about how Star could be one of her children. She tries to enlist Thomas's support in rehabilitating Star by saying she has not had the advantages her son has had: "Think of the poor girl ... with nothing ... And we have everything." She is not deterred when Thomas informs her Star thinks of her as a relic of the past and an old windbag. Thomas's mother does not expect gratitude, and she is following Jesus's teaching to "take up your cross and follow me." However, the question remains whether she has a greater responsibility to her son than to Star. Taking in the sociopathic girl wreaks havoc on his life, and perhaps she does not have the right to insist he also take up the cross.

Thomas's test comes with the problem his mother brings into the house. He considers himself a good man and recognizes Star as a malignant innocent, someone who doesn't know she is bad and who can't control her behavior. While Star hasn't yet done anything shockingly evil, she has the capacity to do so. What is the responsibility of moral persons to such human beings? Thomas asked himself "what the attitude of God was to this, meaning if possible to adopt it." But to think he can adopt the attitude of God toward a sociopath shows he overestimates himself and is suffering from the sin of pride.

Thomas exhibits moral laziness in addition to pride. If he had made good on his threat to leave the house, he would have avoided a confrontation with Star and the shooting of his mother. But he is unwilling to sacrifice "the comforts of home" to challenge his mother's position with maturity. No doubt she understands her son well enough to know he is unlikely to make good on his threat. But if he had taken a different position, he could have either forced his mother's hand or at least waited out her experiment with Star. Instead, he resurrects his immoral and aggressive father to help him deal with the problem—by going to a corrupt sheriff to help him get Star out of the house. When his plan backfires, he lies to his mother about planting the gun. "The dirty criminal slut stole my gun!" he says, and his mother blanches to hear that other voice—his father—in her son's tone.

The narrator says Thomas snatches the gun from Star, and when she goes for his throat, his mother throws herself forward to protect her. But why would she attempt to protect Star when the one in danger is her son? The most likely answer is that she sees her son has become his father, and she anticipates he will shoot the girl. Thus, in an ultimate act of sacrifice, she puts her body between Star and her son. Does he shoot his mother unconsciously—perhaps because he is angry with her for taking Star's side? The narrator implies he meant to shoot Star: "The blast was like a sound meant to bring an end to evil in the world. Thomas heard it as a sound that would shatter the laughter of sluts." Thomas's great sin is to believe too strongly in his own righteousness and confuse his need to restore the equilibrium in his life with his fabricated obligation to "bring an end to evil in the world." Neither he nor any other human being has the power to end evil, and the best he can do is not add to it. Because of his egotism, Thomas leaves the side of the angels and joins the dark forces in the world.

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