"A man though not yet a whole one": Flannery O'Connor's vision of the human dilemma

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

It is now almost universally accepted that Flannery O'Connor's fiction can be interpreted only in terms of Christian orthodoxy, and that the scope of her work remains, at its broadest, narrowly theological and limited in implication. In truth, however, there remains at least one significant aspect of O'Connor's fiction that is not wholly religious, but pervasively human. In all of her works, O'Connor deals with the serious problem of human selfishness and its ugly effects: man's eventual isolation from those around him; ultimately, his insulation from meaning and life itself. Embodying her message in her characters, returning in each of her works to a similar pattern of character development and thematic representation, O'Connor exemplifies in all of her protagonists a similar emblematic experience: wrapped in their own selfish natures, her characters must either grow to an understanding that embraces others, or perish in isolation.

The purpose of this thesis, is to trace the development of Flannery O'Connor's protagonists both as they embody the theme of human isolation and as they determine fictional structure, while at the same time focusing upon the specific nature of each character's selfishness in the illustration of theme. In accomplishing this objective, this work demonstrates that, far from being narrow in scope, O'Connor's fiction illustrates a shared human dilemma that possesses relevance for us all.