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The Violent Bear It Away: A Novel (FSG Classics) Paperback – June 12, 2007
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“I am sure her books will live on and on in American Literature” ―Elizabeth Bishop
“There is very little contemporary fiction which touches the level of Flannery O'Connor at her best.” ―Alan Pryce-Jones, New York Herald Tribune
About the Author
Flannery O'Connor was born in Savannah, Georgia, in 1925. When she died at the age of thirty-nine, America lost one of its most gifted writers at the height of her powers. O'Connor wrote two novels, Wise Blood (1952) and The Violent Bear It Away (1960), and two story collections, A Good Man Is Hard to Find (1955) and Everything That Rises Must Converge (1964). Her Complete Stories, published posthumously in 1972, won the National Book Award that year, and in a 2009 online poll it was voted as the best book to have won the award in the contest's 60-year history. Her essays were published in Mystery and Manners (1969) and her letters in The Habit of Being (1979). In 1988 the Library of America published her Collected Works; she was the first postwar writer to be so honored. O'Connor was educated at the Georgia State College for Women, studied writing at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and wrote much of Wise Blood at the Yaddo artists' colony in upstate New York. A devout Catholic, she lived most of her life on a farm in Milledgeville, Georgia, where she raised peacocks and wrote.
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Flannery O'Connor, a devout Catholic, was super-critical of fundamentalist Protestants. Her short stories and two novels either explored dark religious themes or were tinged with often morbid religious undertones.
THE VIOLENT BEAR IT AWAY's title is taken from a verse in the Douay-Rhiens Catholic Bible at Matthew 11:12: "From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away."
I'll forego delving into possible meanings of the title, and any discussion of the novel gives away what happens at and near the end of the book. I'll just say that it's a BRUTAL book, dealing with a 14-year-old boy, fanatical, Southern fundamentalists and the related themes of destruction and redemption.
If you are looking for an enjoyable summer read, perhaps you should look elsewhere. If you'd like to get a sampling of the deeply dark, morbid and haunting world of Southern fundamentalist ol' time religion, purchase now.
Do a little background reading about the Old Testament prophets: what their relationship with God was, what their mission was.
And pay more attention to the devil. Not just the one who talks to Tarwater in his head, but the one who shows up periodically in the guise of human beings (or humans who are doing the devil’s work). These are not the main characters in the book, but incidental ones, like the old drunk on the bench who encourages Tarwater in his rebellion.
These characters are one of the keys to the novel. When Tarwater hears the devil’s voice in his head, he considers him a friend. But when he sees the old man on the bench, he’s repulsed. Remember that old man when the man with the lavender and cream car shows up. (Tarwater is too sick from shock and thirst to be repulsed by the lavender man, but the reader is certainly meant to be.)
Tarwater does his own will – or what he thinks is his own will – when the innocent baby is drowned. But has God’s will not been done, then? What is the significance of Old Tarwater getting his proper buried after all, and of the baby being baptized after all? Note that Tarwater sees the grave at the end, when Buford points it out to him.
As for the scripture quote on the title page, “…the Kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence,” remember that suffereth means “allows.” Tie this into the idea of God allowing the baby to be drowned, the lavender man to mess with Tarwater, etc. And consider the possibility that the “it” in “…the violent bear it away” is an understanding of (and ability to preach to others) what the Kingdom is.
Compare Tarwater’s message at the end (“the terrible swiftness of God’s mercy”) with the pop culture phrase, “What goes around, comes around.” And please, please remember that Christians believe in an afterlife – mercy is often the chance to see your mistakes and repent of them, not to live happily ever after here on Earth.
(And remember that, for O’Connor, babies like sweet little Bishop end up in the God’s lap. Note the contrast between the religious people’s view of little Bishop – the woman who gives him a green popsicle, for instance – and the atheist Raybur’s.)
Remember that, when the book was written, such a scene as the one with the lavender man was truly horrific. It was not thrown in to be edgy and controversial. It was meant to horrify and to sicken.
Finally, ask yourself, at the end, what (who) was it that God finally allowed Tarwater to fully see (and understand the horror of)? When Tarwater sets fire to the trees in the woods near his home, creating a wall of fire between him and the other, who is he separating himself from?
It has taken me several readings over many years to appreciate this work (my problem) to realize that this is unique satire about religion and faith. No one believes that Swift's "reasonable proposal" actually espoused cannibalism and O'Connor certainly did not think that she was "reporting" about Southern Christian practices. What she was did was lampoon much of what occurs in a uniquely Southern American society. She painted a picture without showing the brush strokes.
So, take a stroll on the wild side and think Swift, "Animal Farm," Kingsley Amis, et al and enter a very personal world told in a very comedic and satirical manner. Remember, this "parochial" old fashioned writer was and still is ahead of the literary curve.
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Characters are fascinating and well developed, but their actions.....oh, their actions!!Read more
A good many of the reviews could be about either novella.