"O'Connor, Falwell, Robertson, and the Theologico-Political
of 9/11" by Benjamin D. Carson
In the world of Flannery O'Connor the self-righteous, the prideful, the pious frauds, and the know-it-all intellectuals (like Hulga in "Good Country People") who, in the words of the Misfit, "don't want no hep," are inevitably punished, and often, as in "A Good Man in Hard to Find" and "Greenleaf," they are punished by violent means. Violence, for O'Connor, is often the only means necessary to make these sinners recognize that they've cut themselves off from Grace and that they need God's "hep."
It is through her encounter with the Misfit that the grandmother (a pious fraud par excellence), in "A Good Man is Hard to Find," receives Grace. Before the critical moment when the Misfit "sprang back as if a snake had bitten him and shot her three times through the chest," the grandmother concerned herself with her appearance and fancied herself "a lady" who, like Mrs. Turpin in "Revelation" and Mrs. Hopewell in "Good Country People," was above trash. And like Mrs. Hopewell, the
grandmother invokes religion oppotunistically, which betrays her lack of sincerity in matters of spirituality. It is this lack of sincerity which gets the grandmother killed, and then, paradoxically, redeemed. The grandmother was forced to her knees by the Misfit: "the grandmother ... half sat and half lay in a puddle of blood with her legs crossed under her like a child's and her face smiling up at the cloudless sky" (22).
It was only in death that the grandmother was able to "look inside and see what [she was] not" ("Good Country People" 174). It is through the grandmother's violent encounter with the Misfit that she receives Grace, and yet the irony of this encounter is that the Misfit, far from being simply evil, in this instance becomes an instrument of God's Grace--the Misfit functioning, here, as a catalyst for the grandmother's redemption. O'Connor's use of the Misfit in "A Good Man is Hard to Find" is surprisingly analogous, both politically and theologically, to Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell's rational (expressed in a conversation on
the 700 Club on Sept. 13, 2001) for the events of 9/11. As Falwell explains, "what we saw on Tuesday, as terrible as it is, could be miniscule if, in fact--if, in fact--God continues to lift the curtain and allow the enemies of America to give us probably what we deserve."
Like the pious frauds and the intellectuals in O'Connor's world (who always get what they deserve), it is, for Falwell and Robertson, the abortionists, the homosexuals, the ACLU, etc., who are trying to secularize America, to throw "God out of the public square, out of schools." If the Misfit brought the grandmother to her knees, similarly, with the bombing of the World Trade Towers, Osama bin Laden brought America to her knees. And, in the words of Falwell, "when the nation is
on its knees, the only normal and natural and spiritual thing to do is what we ought to be doing all the time--calling upon God."
After 9/11 Falwell suggests America should "look inside ... and see what [she was] not," sincerely pious. This is a chance, in other words, for America to be, like the grandmother after her death, "a good woman." I argue that what Robertson and Falwell are suggesting is that "[America] would have been a good [nation] ... if it had been somebody there to [bomb the
World Trade Towers] every minute of her life" ("A Good Man is Hard to Find" 22). Like O'Connor's Misfit, Osama bin Laden has become, inadvertently, an instrument of God, a God who has taken recourse in violent means to wake up a prideful, self-righteous nation who thinks it doesn't need "no hep." Far from being a man of (pure) evil, then, as George W. Bush has characterized him on a number of occasions, Osama bin Laden is now not only a dangerous player on the international political
stage, but also an agent of divine intervention.
Benjamin D. Carson is a Ph.D. student at the University of
Nebraska-Lincoln, specializing in Critical Theory, and American
Postmodernism and Ethnicity: Fiction and Theory. His essay "'That
Doubled Vision': Edith Wharton and The House of Mirth" is forthcoming in
Women's Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal.
Benjamin D. Carson
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Department of English