Flannery O’Connor’s “Everything That Rises Must Converge” is about a woman and her son Julian. They take a trip to the YMCA because the old woman has to take a class to lower her blood pressure. Julian is dramatically depressed about having to go with her because he really dislikes her and doesn’t seem to care about her at all. They have to take the bus. The old lady and some other bus passengers make some racist comments and a black man gets on the bus. Julian wants to make some point about how he is on the side of the black man to make his mother upset but instead embarrasses himself. Julian daydreams about how to terrorize his racist mother with black people, like making her use a black doctor and marrying a black girl. A black woman and her very young son get on the bus. The old woman seems to enjoy the son even though his mother doesn’t ever want them to interact. When they are all about to get off the bus at the same stop, the old woman looks for a nickel to give the young boy, which Julian knows is a bad idea. He tries to stop her but she offers the boy a penny and the boy’s mother hits the old woman with her pocketbook. Julian begins to yell at the old woman about how times are changing and she can’t do things like be patronizing or racist as she tries to walk home. Then the old woman begins to lose it, asking for her old black nanny Caroline, and Julian freaks out and tries to do something but can’t, so the old woman dies.
Chronic tension: Racial tension/the old woman being racist
Acute tension: Julian and his mother have to make this journey to the YMCA
Racism was a really big part in this story. It turns the reader against the mother when she first says black people were “were better off when they were” slaves. We realize that she is not simply an old woman with high blood pressure and an ugly hat. She then continues to be racist on the bus, getting other people to be racist with her, with comments like “I don’t know how we’ve let it get in this fix” about racial integration. She’s only racist towards adults, as she seems to enjoy the young boy who sits next to her on the bus, until the end when the mother gets fed up with her patronizing tone. Except the last person she calls out to is Caroline, her black nurse from her childhood, which was interesting.
Julian is not racist on the same levels that she is, but he definitely is a little racist. He thinks of black people as a way to exact revenge on his mother, using them almost as a tool to ruin his mother’s life, like describing bringing home a black woman or only finding his mother a black doctor if she was in the hospital. While he acknowledges things about these people, that they are accomplished and intelligent and dimensional, he still only thinks of them as a way to raise his mother’s blood pressure, which almost makes him no better than his mother in the end. But he does seem to realize, at the end of the story, that things are changing and that “the whole colored race which will no longer take your condescending pennies.”
There is a theme of “do you know yourself” which is really heavy at the beginning and comes back again in the end. This really highlights the generational differences between the two, and is brought up again at the end. The mother really believes that she knows herself.
“I most certainly do know who I am,” she said, “and if you don’t know who you are, I’m ashamed of you.”
Julian is so sure of himself throughout the story, and is so sure that he is different from his mother, claiming
…in spite of growing up dominated by a small mind, he had ended up with a large one; in spite of all her foolish views, he was free of prejudice and unafraid to face facts. Most miraculous of all, instead of being blinded by love for her as she was for him, he had cut himself emotionally free of her and could see her with complete objectivity.
However, when she is dying he freaks out and is calling for help and panicking, showing that he is obviously not emotionally free from her.
He spends the whole story attempting to contrast from her and using generational difference to point out how they are separate. I think three aspects of this story are working really closely together. Racism and generational differences intersect a lot, along with the idea of knowing oneself. Julian attributes his mother’s racism to growing up in a different time period and ultimately being closed-minded.
The third person omniscient, close to Julian, was super effective in this story. It gives the reader insight into the mind of one of the characters. The parentheses that we get, like when he says
…he had turned out so well-good looking (her teeth had gone unfilled so that his could be straightened), intelligent (he realized he was too intelligent to be a success), and with a future ahead of him (there was of course no future ahead of him).
are all coming from Julian’s internal voice. I also like the idea of Julian not being as different as he credits himself to be from his mother.
The introduction of an overarching question, do you know who you are, which kind of sandwiched this story was really good in creating a strong sense of the two characters. It was emphasized through a number of of ways, like the generational gap and the theme of racism. These three things, the racism, generational gap, and the question, all work together and play each other up throughout the entire story which was also really nice.
- Do you think Julian’s depression was caused by his mother or by something else?
- We would like to think that Julian is so adverse to his mother because of her racist beliefs, but do you think that is truly what makes him hate her?
- What is converging in this story?
- Did the mother truly know herself? Did Julian?