To look at a photo of Flannery O'Connor (born in 1925 and died in 1964) would probably lead one to conclude she was a bit of a prig, especially when it comes to attitudes on human sexuality and racial equality (she was born and bread Southern).
However, I'm currently reading her collected works (a rather lengthy endeavor), which includes both novels and a collection of her letters. The letters are fascinating because they demonstrate a rather complex intellect dealing with a very complex time, and a time of great change for the South, which is an institution that handles change poorly, to put it mildly. As such, reading her fiction and then letters places one back to a time in American history that is both dark, but filled with light as we went through a very difficult time of transition.
These letters also highlight the type of person she was and perhaps exemplify the challenges, intellectual as well as cultural and social, posed to a Southern liberal seeking to refigure the balance between the South's historical, political, racial, and cultural legacy and the change that could not be denied.
For example, in one letter to Maryat Lee on May 21, 1964, she writes, "About the Negroes, the kind I don't like is the philosophising prophesying pontificating kind, the James Baldwin kind. Very ignorant, but never silent." She then asks if people such as Baldwin, ML King, and Ossie Davis would be endurable if they were white.
Then in another letter she encourages a friend to see an interview of Cassius Clay (Muhamad Ali) by Eric Severide in which Clay discusses how he reacts to the violent racism of the time. The preceding pragraphs include an example of that violent for of Southern racism that O'Connor witnessed while in a doctor's waiting room and was horrified and disgusted by it.
Throughout these letters, when discussing race, she seems to with one hand want to hold onto some of the cultural aspects of the South she adores, while refuting the very hard and obviously wrong aspects she abhors. Within this search is a very tough balancing act that in today's world likely would have labeled her as a racist.
Then there is O'Connor on religion. With one hand she writes on conversion, "I think once the process is begun and continues that you are continually turning inward toward God and away from your own egocentricity...I measure God by everything that I am not. I begin with that." She also professes to believe that faith is a great sustainer of morality, which she defines in relatively classic Southern, if not 1950s terms (she castigates the Beats saying they should not be read and that they are too busy trying to live like and smell like poets).
Then with the other she abhors the childish faith of those who blindly follow organized religions, especially Catholicism) and says it is perfectly fine and good to question faith.
Throughout, she seems to take on a rather prudish attitude in most things and by all acounts led a moral life exemplary of her time. And then in the first novel in the book she writes this line that I found stunning for its succinct and simple ability to understand human nature, "The blind man's mouth thinned slightly, 'I can smell the sin on your breath,' he said."
Anyway, there is much, much more to read (the book is more than 1,200 pages) and I have only read a very small portion, but these lines stood out and thought I would share them.
Causes James Buchanan Supports
Expanding health care in the US, ending war as a viable tool of foreign policy, and issues related to social justice in general.