Written by Flannery O’Connor in 1965, “Everything That Rises Must Converge” is one of author Flannery O’Connor’s more memorable works that she had written prior to her death and was published posthumously. It is a story that makes one look back on the early days of desegregation and the way the people of the South adapted to it. Some accepted and embraced it. While others wanted to cling to a past that no longer existed. That is the situation that the main character in the story, Julian, found himself in together with his mother, Mrs. Chestney. Julian represented the progressive thought of the time while his mother depicted the old world ways that no longer had a place in the present.
The irony of their parent-child relationship is that they seem to embody the social war that was going on at the time. While Mrs. Chestney believed that that the world was becoming a dangerous place to live in because the Negro’s were not free to go into the world and act the same way as the white man, her son saw the effects of desegregation as a balancing tool of the new world. Each person had the freedom to be who he wanted to be. Every man now had the right to live his life how he wanted to. More importantly, justice and human rights now had a level playing field, with every person, regardless of color or race, had the right to be treated humanly and with the utmost of respect.
Julian’s view of his position in the social class strata of the time differed highly from his mother’s. While his mother believed that a person is born into society and therefore should know his place, Julian wanted desperately for his mother to learn that the place that existed in her head no longer existed and that she would be facing heartache if she continued to insist on standing by her beliefs. He believes that his mother is incapable of teaching him anything of value that he can use in his modern world of desegregation. The only thing he believes that she had taught him pertains to continuing the Old South legacy of racism. Something that he is totally against because he had experienced and education that opened his mind to the harshness of the segregated past.
In order to understand why Julian has a highly different stand on the social class standing in the new south, we first have to understand what his mother had tried to ingrain into him from childhood. That he was better than the Negro’s because he came from a highly respected Old South family that had a rich social legacy. Therefore, he should act according to his station in life. Even if that station only existed in her mind.
What Julian fails to recognize however is that he is exactly like his mother whom he hates with much gusto. He begrudges his mother her whims of fancy when she recalls how their family lived during segregation. They had slaves and a mansion to be proud of. But that was all lost and though he despises his mother for constantly discussing the past, he too clings to the past that he barely knew. He clings to it because it gives him a reason to hate his mother for losing what he thought should have naturally been his. Without realizing it, Julian too longed for the segregated South when he could be one of the top dogs of the area where they now resided.
Much of the irony in Julian’s character can also be seen in the portions of the short story that discuss Julian’s ideas of sense and sensibility, actions which are right and wrong. He fails to realize that the Negro’s that he seeks to mingle with in his daily life were all influenced by what his mother had taught him about representing one’s station in life. These ideas of his mother were the very reason what he prejudged the Negro’s he spoke to based upon how they dressed and appeared in public. Without admitting it, in the deep recesses of his mind, the words of his mother saying “how you do things is because of who you are” was exactly how he chose which Negro’s he spoke to and mingled with. Even though he was more often than not unsuccessful at times.
He should have realized that his assumption that social classes and breeding were of no importance in the world he was living had no basis in reality when his mother tried to give the Negro mother and child a penny because she felt something for them. The reaction of the child’s mother obviously pointed to the fact that racism and segregation still existed, although on a much more complex level that the peopled living during that era had yet to understand.
Looking deeper into the character of Julian, one can deduce that he is constantly trying to cut the invisible umbilical cord that exists between him and his mother. He constantly disobeys and embarrasses her in an ongoing effort to show her that he is his own person who won’t take orders from her and merely tolerates her presence because he must. Just like any other child, his defiance stems mostly from the fact that he refuses to acknowledge his failures in life as being his own doing. Instead, he turns upon the one person who serves as his cheering squad and who believes that he can still achieve that which he dreams of in due time.
Ironically, Julian is proven to be more racist that his mother as the story progresses. Although he often finds himself daydreaming of various ways to get his mother’s goat by mingling with Negro’s, going perhaps to the extent of even marrying one, he never allows himself to act upon the impulses. This proves that he shares his mother’s point of view to a certain degree. After all, even though he was the product of a third rate education, he still believed himself to be far superior intellectually than the Negro’s that now surrounded him.
Seeing the Negro woman wearing the same hat as his mother, and the events that unfolded after it, was an ironic symbolism in the story that, in Julian’s view, was meant to happen in order to show his mother that the world she had conjured in her mind no longer existed and that the Whites of the time were no better off than the Blacks were.
In the end, the ironic tragedy of the story was that even though he had successfully managed to detach himself from everything that he considered arrogant or stupid of his mother, the reality was that he was the only person to blame for all the things that he perceived to be cruelty and selfishness on his mother’s part in terms of the way she viewed and treated the Negro’s.
O’Connor, Flannery. Three By Flannery O’Connor. New York: Penguin Books, 1983.