Jane Elizabeth Archer


Flannery O’Connor’s fiction fascinates literary critics, as they argue that, for an age and reading public grown increasingly secular, she has determinedly presented a vision of life rooted in her firm Catholic beliefs. She, in fact, demands that the reader confront the sudden and violent realities of Christian faith, just as her characters experience revelations as starkly grotesque as they themselves are. The critics have also placed her work within a series of literary traditions. She has been cited as continuing the American Romance tradition, falling in line behind Melville, Hawthorne, and Poe, but bringing to it her Catholic vision.1 She has been labeled a Gothic writer, using her exaggerated characters as symbols of narcissistic love leading to a disintegration of the family.2 More recently, literary critics have changed the label of Gothic Writer to Grotesque Writer, citing her indebtedness not only to Southwestern humor, but to Nathanael West and various cartoons for the combination of humor and horror.3 She is credited with inventing a new form of humor based on secular characters acting in a naturalistic situation which suddenly becomes metaphysical, making violent means produce a Christian end for that humor,4 thereby devising a divine comedy of sorts. Finally, she is Southern, located within a Faulknerian tradition which holds Southern characters up as archetypal men in conflict with modern America, appropriating them as scapegoats for America’s feeling of frustration and guilt.5

In light of all this tradition—secular and doctrinal—the place Flannery O’Connor’s fiction holds in film inherits such a literary landscape for critics and filmmakers. In a comment typical of critics who discuss fiction in terms of film, Miles Orvell suggests that a "characteristic of O’Connor’s comedy is its cinematic quality. With a sharp focus of a camera-eye, she will isolate details and shift our attention to create a tense comic effect."6 The remark, while interesting for its label cinematic, actually does little to explain exactly how the fiction is cinematic; nor does it provide a clue for what happens to her meanings when her fiction becomes realized in film. Despite the several fictional characteristics which seem easily transferred—the specific description of characters, the colors of her settings, her deceptively simple plot arrangement, and interestingly


enough, her humor—to call her prose cinematic is not really to understand the availability of that prose for filming, or to question how a writer’s fiction, laced with so many literary and religious resonances, takes on meaning when her short stories are filmed.

So far, five of her short stories have been produced as short films of one hour or less: "The Life You Save May Be Your Own," "The Comforts of Home," "A Circle in the Fire," "Good Country People," and "The Displaced Person."7 Except for "The Life You Save May Be Your Own," the first short story she sold to television and the only one in which the ending was changed to a happy one,8 the four other films follow the organic form of her stories rather faithfully: they proceed somewhat slowly through a Southern terrain until a swift resolution collapses the conflicts and imagery, yoking character, setting, symbol, and theme together in violence. The films in essence preserve the regional character types and do not deviate from her order of narration (the action of the story) except to make the narrative unfold more chronologically. As a result, the filmmakers have seemed to use O’Connor’s stories almost as blueprints. Consequently realizing a new set of thematic concerns—more surprising and more secular—they have filmed her stories by exchanging shot for descriptive sentence, by transposing film sequence for bits of narrative action, and by preserving intact almost all of the dialog.

Not so easily transferred, however, are the intricacies of her metaphor or the ambiguities of her meanings for good and evil. In O’Connor’s short story "A Circle in the Fire," for example, three teenage boys visit Mrs. Cope’s farm, because one of them (Powell) had once lived there and remembered its natural pleasures. Despite Mrs. Cope’s self-righteous courtesies, her claims of ownership, and her threats to them, the boys ride her horses, let out her bull, stay in her barn, throw rocks at her mailbox, and set fire to her woods. As Mrs. Cope and her young daughter, who has watched in secret the earlier antics of the boys dancing in the flames of destruction, stand and look woefully at the fire, the daughter realizes her mother’s kinship in misery to other people who really don’t own anything—Negro, European, or Powell himself.

Victor Nuñez, the director for A Circle in the Fire, has discussed his problems in filming the short story: "From the start I wanted to be as faithful to the story as possible, not only to the events in the story, but to the feeling and spirit. To do this on one level is hard enough but to try and convey even part of the multi-layered quality of Flannery O’Connor’s writing seems challenging to say the least."9


Answering that challenge in one instance, Nuñez confronts O’Connor’s specific description of character: "The three boys looked something alike except that the middle-sized one wore silver-rimmed spectacles and carried the suitcase. One of his eyes had a slight cast to it so that his gaze seemed to be coming from two directions at once as if it had them [Mrs. Cope, her daughter, and Mrs. Pritchard] surrounded. He had on a sweat shirt with a faded destroyer printed on it but his chest was so hollow that the destroyer was broken in the middle and seemed on the point of going under. His hair was stuck to his forehead with sweat. He looked to be about thirteen."10

Nuñez dressed his actor in the silver-rimmed glasses and the decorated sweat shirt, but to call immediate attention to Powell and to sustain the texture of the prose description associated with the character, Nuñez chooses a tall, slender, blond boy. More handsome than his two shorter, greasy, acne-plagued companions on either side of him, Powell is not only blond and a head taller than the other two boys, and the only one wearing glasses, but he also carries a black suitcase which seems too heavy for him. Nuñez foregoes the boys’ looking "something alike" and the description of Powell’s gouch-eye and hollow chest to preserve the focus on Powell as the potential threat to the Cope farm in other filmic ways: his size, his coloring, and his position on camera.

Besides troublesome metaphors and foreshadowings, characteristic also of O’Connor’s narrative style is her sudden shift in perspective at the conclusion of a short story from the point of view of the protagonist to the consciousness of another character who watches the events or the protagonist. Such a shift is certainly understandable in terms of the social context of the narrative, but for a filmmaker worried about unity, the change in point of view can be structurally disconcerting. Solving that dilemma for himself in A Circle in the Fire, Nuñez suggests, "The point of view of the story, with the young girl in the role of observer, seemed interesting for the film—the camera would be watching with the girl."11 By choosing the perspective of the little girl, he foregrounds the tensions between the generations (between the child and her mother, and between the mother and the teenage boys) and accentuates the sexual awareness that the teenage boys bring to the child. Whereas the short story demonstrates the foolishness of Mrs. Cope’s self-righteous pride in ownership, the film becomes a story of an initiation into mysteries and miseries previously unknown to the bookish little girl, protected as she has been on the farm.


In switching the perspective to the child’s, Nuñez has included a number of shots which show her peeking out over her upstairs window sill at the events occurring outside, or peering out at her mother from inside a darkened room. In addition to keeping her nose in a book most of the time, she has big blue eyes that are framed by glasses. Outside the circle of life, the child (Sarah Virginia) watches but does not participate. Even her mother excludes giving thanks for her when cataloging the things for which she is grateful. The child’s watching the boys in the woods parallels the other scenes in which she has watched, but the scene’s bizarre, uninhibited rites (the boys’ skinny-dipping in the stock tank and setting fire to the woods) shock the little girl into an awareness she has not had before. The boys cavort with a Dionysian abandon, certainly a departure from the rather sterile, female-dominated environment of the farm, as they obviously delight in the lack of restraints and their destructiveness. The fire and the mother’s reaction to it give the passive Sarah Virginia the opportunity finally to act, to heal the rift between them, for she puts her hand in her mother’s to comfort her.

Plagued by the realization that a film audience usually sees the film only once in contrast to the attention a reader might give the story, Nuñez understood exactly what implications O’Connor’s narrative had for his film. He comments, "The external descriptive quality made the adapting seem deceptively simple at times. Always, however, there were the descriptive aside and the quick metaphor, the weight and meaning of which had to be given some visual equivalent. There was also the cumulative impact of these asides that needed to be understood."12 In the short story, for example, the theological meaning of the circle in the fire beams out in the last sentence’s allusion to the three Old Testament prophets and King Nebuchadnezzar: "She [Sarah Virginia] stood taut, listening, and could just catch in the distance a few wild high shrieks of joy as if the prophets were dancing in the fiery furnace, in the circle the angel had cleared for them" (CF, 232). Prior to that moment, in complex image patterns of circles and fires, the prose alludes to folklore and scripture.

Nuñez resolves his difficulties with O’Connor’s descriptive asides and quick metaphors by appropriating the film medium’s unique properties of color and movement. He uncovers the kinetic quality of the short story by swinging a tracking camera in a circle, establishing for his audience a gestalt of circling. As the naked boys whoop and holler, running in circles around the woods which hide Sarah Virginia, the camera swings dizzily around with them, after


first revealing the little girl trapped in the middle of the woods.

He has also filmed several key scenes with the brilliantly pervasive red color of the Southern summer sunset, reinforcing O’Connor’s fire metaphor. At the beginning of the film, Mrs. Cope chides her child to make her look at the glories of the sunset, although Sarah Virginia continues to read her book in the last light. Matching the reddish glow of that initial shot, the final burning woods sequence completes the circle motif by a telescopic freeze-frame: a fiery-red sun sets in the west behind the burned woods. On camera the audience sees a recognizable circle in the fire, and hears in the musical accompaniment the thematic echoes of an ironic circle. The initial pleasure the mother took in the setting sun, that for which she gave thanks, has come to haunt her, as it glows through signs of destruction and evil and high-spirited abandon.

The film manages several impressive effects with traditional symbols and color stock, but the meaning of that fiery sun does not necessarily call to mind for the average viewer Nebuchadnezzar’s fire or the three prophets and the angel who danced in the midst of the furnace. Instead, the actions of the boys, running around the field nude, suggest a primitive circle dance, anticipating their Indian-like glee at their bonfire. And the sun, like an enormous red wafer, glares back into the camera—awesome, beautiful, and blank.


Generally, the other films have tried to be as true to O’Connor’s prose as Nuñez indicates he chose to be. Her deliberate ambiguity in humor and seriousness, however, does sometimes present problems to a director editing a particular scene. An incident from "The Displaced Person"—Guizac’s accidental death under the wheels of a tractor—is a case in point. In the short story, Mrs. McIntyre, at the urging of the Catholic priest, has reluctantly accepted a Polish refugee family, the Guizacs, to work on her farm, despite the vocal and silent protests from her white helpers (the Shortleys) and her Negroes (Astor and Sulk). Industrious and hardworking, Mr. Guizac almost single-handedly turns the farm into a prosperous one and disrupts its lazy harmony. The Shortleys leave, Mrs. Shortley dies, Mr. Shortley returns, and Mrs. McIntyre determines to fire Mr. Guizac. Before she can, he dies under the wheels of an unmanned tractor in front of Mrs. McIntyre and her other help, and Mrs. McIntyre collapses. Suffering from physical and emotional debilitation, she is gradually abandoned by her employees, her farm is sold, and she is left to the occasional ministrations of the local priest.


Scriptwriter Horton Foote, in adapting the short story to film, agonized over the particular moment of Mr. Guizac’s death, because he was never really sure the three—Mrs. McIntyre, Sulk, and Mr. Shortley—were guilty of actual murder. In an interview about his adaptation, he suggests that the scene as played was truly the director’s choice. He continues, "As a writer I don’t think I ever made a choice. I simply said, well, here are the facts presented to me, technically; I know that he was under the machine; I know that Mr. Shortley came up on another machine; I know that they were all there; I know that you could say the brakes didn’t work on the machine Mr. Shortley was on; I know the machine rolled down; and I guess I know that three people watched this and didn’t stop it. Now whether it happened so quickly that they couldn’t, whether they simply didn’t know how to, whether they were willful conspirators . . . I think it’s very clear in the film. In the film you do know they know it."13

The way that the film The Displaced Person insists the three are guilty is by changing the short story’s point of view. The prose description in the short story reads:

Mr. Shortley had got on the large tractor and was backing it out from under the shed. He seemed to be warmed by it as if its heat and strength sent impulses up through him that obeyed instantly. He had headed it toward the small tractor but he braked it on a slight incline and jumped off and turned back toward the shed. Mrs. McIntyre was looking fixedly at Mr. Guizac’s legs lying flat on the ground now. She heard the brake on the large tractor slip and, looking up, she saw it move forward, calculating its own path. Later she remembered that she had seen the Negro jump silently out of the way as if a spring in the earth had released him and that she had seen Mr. Shortley turn his head with incredible slowness and stare silently over his shoulder and that she had started to shout to the Displaced Person but that she had not. She had felt her eyes and Mr. Shortley’s eyes and the Negro’s eyes come together in one look that froze them in collusion forever, and she had heard the little noise the Pole made as the tractor wheel broke his backbone. The two men ran forward to help, and she fainted.14

In the film, three separate shots juxtapose Mr. Shortley’s, Sulk’s, and Mrs. McIntyre’s faces as they look and lean toward the tractor rolling downhill upon Mr. Guizac. The effect is not slow motion, as it could very easily have been by the director’s choice, but arrested motion. The shots are juxtaposed in silence, making the three characters’ intentions not to act clear. Any one of the three could have spoken to Mr. Guizac; all chose not to. The quick cuts, yoking


the characters together in guilt, reinforce their conscious, collective decision not to call out a warning.

In the short story, on the other hand, the action of the narrative account is interrupted. Mrs. McIntyre hears "the brake of the large tractor slip," and when she looks up, she sees "it move forward, calculating its own path." At that point the dramatic present tense of the narrative jumps forward so that Mrs. McIntyre accounts for the results of the tractor’s motion (that is, the subsequent death of Mr. Guizac under its wheels) only through her memories of the incident. The guilt of the three is thus implied as it filters through Mrs. McIntyre’s memory, because the actual death of Mr. Guizac is not narrated to the reader directly. All of the "facts," therefore, which Horton Foote has worked from are not the facts of an objective, reliable narrator at all, but the remembered impressions of a guilt-ridden woman.

This incident, which perhaps does not seem an important set of decisions by the scriptwriter and filmmaker, is nevertheless directed at the very soul of the thematic differences in the short stories and the film. In the short story "The Displaced Person," the feelings of guilt, like her timely fainting and her subsequent perception of the murder, are Mrs. McIntyre’s. The moment is a private revelation which only later appears to be socialized, as the hired help leave her and her health degenerates. The tone in the prose description of the last events is, moreover, humorous, as O’Connor’s word play puns the characters in and out of clichés. Even Mrs. McIntyre’s "nervous affliction" becomes comic because her increasing physical grotesqueness parodies her earlier grotesque soul. O’Connor intends ironic laughter at Mrs. McIntyre’s fate.

The filmmakers, however, perhaps overcome by the priest’s presence at Mrs. McIntyre’s bedside, change the conclusion’s tone into an elegy. The pacing of the last series of dissolves is regular, slow, orderly, and predictable, as the director sacrifices speed and precision for commercial art, producing a film that genuflects to the religious metaphors in O’Connor’s prose.

Of course, balancing the religious against the comic determines a film’s tone as, for example, in "The Comforts of Home," a short story in which Thomas’s complacent life at home with his mother is disrupted first by his mother’s adopting the "nimpermaniac" Sarah Ham (who calls herself Star), and second by Thomas’s attempt to get rid of Star by shooting her. With his dead father’s voice prodding him, Thomas accidentally shoots his mother in the struggle over the


gun, just as the condescending sheriff pulls up outside. The story, rich with comic potential, carries its humor over into the film, because the director deliberately uses religious imagery as background for only one of its scenes.

After Star sneaks nude into Thomas’s bedroom, he argues with his mother over Star’s basic incontinent nature, depraved as Thomas defines it, pitiable and excusable as his mother views her. For their conversation, the room is lighted by the mother’s bedside reading lamp. As she and Thomas sit on opposite twin beds, the lamp burns between them, softly illuminating a cross which hangs above the lamp. The scene is wry, for both of them are in night clothes, the mother with pink curlers in her hair, debating whether Star is to be damned or redeemed. A parody of the confessional, the scene’s setting is the only time O’Connor’s religious allusions are actually used imagistically within the film, amplifying Thomas’s stuffiness and the mother’s obtuse fascination with the bizarre, and preserving in their argument over human nature the basic comic structure of the short story.

The most successfully humorous short film of O’Connor’s work is Good Country People. Although the other films have had various degrees of humor, the violence and pathos attached to the conclusions and their conscious use of the religious metaphors have undercut the comic tones. The short story depicts Joy (who renames herself Hulga), a thirty-two-year-old Ph.D. in philosophy, with one wooden leg, who thinks she will seduce a young Bible salesman, Manley Pointer, only to have him redefine her belief in nothing and skip out across the fields, leaving Hulga in the barn loft, her wooden leg now a trophy in his suitcase. The film spotlights Manley Pointer and burlesques the Southern setting. The butts of the jokes are the women: Mrs. Hopewell, Hulga’s mother, because she is so vapidly well-meaning; Mrs. Freeman, the mother’s employee, because she is so coarse and sneering; and Hulga, because she is so doggedly intellectual and sexually naive. Hugla’s stolid clumping and expressionless acting style provide a comic contrast to Manley Pointer’s constant movement and busy seduction. Their difference in height, Hulga the taller of course, develops the comic dimensions as do their costumes. Hulga wears her yellow sweat shirt with the bucking cowboy on it and her black-rimmed glasses. When she begins to seduce Manley Pointer, she takes off those glasses—a reverberating action in O’Connor’s prose—but here just as clichéd and stagey a gesture as any repressed pedant ever performed. Manley Pointer


wears a wide-brimmed hat, the bright blue suit of those called by the Lord into service, and yellow socks. His oily, slicked-back hair, protruding nose and teeth, and open-toed bounce parody even the exaggeratedly Southern circuit riders or flim-flam men. Repulsive and disgusting but entertainingly energetic, Manley skins the henhouse, pandering Jesus in return for fried chicken.

Neatly capturing the story’s religious allusions, the opening three title cards summarize Hulga’s past: "There once was a little girl named Joy, who liked to go hunting with her daddy / At the age of ten Joy was in a hunting accident / She is now thirty-six years old and has a serious heart condition." On every card the t’s are drawn taller than the other letters and crossed in a way to look like crucifixes. These title cards, because of their ironic conflation of the events in Joy’s life, contradict any serious tone which the crosses might establish. Of all the films, this one falls most clearly into the comic grotesque tradition of the middle Georgia humor, whose structure, different from the other narrative patterns, exploits the surprise ending format to its full comic dimensions, profaning the sacred in order to ridicule hypocrisy.

The flexibility of the short stories’ structure in producing both humor and seriousness is apparent by the contrast in the tones of Good Country People and The Displaced Person. If in Good Country People the film celebrates a trickster’s vigor, vulgarly entertaining in his ability to dupe the hypocritical, naive, and more intelligent women, The Displaced Person elegizes a completely different trickster—a serious, sacrificial outsider. The most interesting aspect of the latter film is its ability to reverse the metaphoric flow, making the religious a metaphor for the secular. In a short story rife with mystic visions, a priest, allusions to Christ, and a scapegoat, who is earlier called Mrs. McIntyre’s "salvation," escaping the Christian framework for the film is impossible. Yet what dominates the conflicts within the system as portrayed by the film are two sensitive issues—one Southern and one American. No one in contemporary America can watch a 1976 television production about displaced people in which one character tries to get his white cousin out of a labor camp by marrying her off to a Negro, and in which another character claims that as a veteran he deserves better employment status—no one can watch such a production without responding out of a civil rights and Viet Nam social consciousness. The religious dimensions, essential in O’Connor’s short story for the depiction of original sin and the human condition, are mediated into secular themes by the mere filming of her short story. The farm represents


the South on one hand and America on the other—with social and political systems which are shown to be hypocritical. As a Pole, the intruder has not inherited the set of American prejudices; because he does not know his place in the balance of that system, he up sets the balance.

Mrs. McIntyre’s sensitivity to that balance is clear. In one scene during the film she stands inside the barn lecturing her employees on the importance of her role as owner. She talks to Mr. Guizac as he fiddles with milk cans. At one end of the open barn Mr. Shortley enters, and at the other open end the two Negroes appear. She is literally and metaphorically the center of the system as she loudly and almost hysterically demands that they understand she holds the system together, although she avoids responsibility while claiming she is responsible. Such hypocrisy leads to the collapse of the system.

At the end of the film, after the series of slow dissolves, the priest comes to visit her because she has been the victim of a stroke. In a most cinematically gripping scene and a deliberate change from the intentions of O’Connor’s prose, the priest sits down to explain the doctrines of the church, and the filmmaker has him drone on about the meaning of PURGATORY. The camera then cuts to an exterior shot of the house and farm, dollying back to expand the locale, while the priest’s voice-over continues its incantation about immortality of the soul. The purgatory which the priest in his quiet brogue begins explaining to the vacant-looking invalid carries a double weight of imagery—both religious and secular.

On one level purgatory means for the general audience a place of endless waiting, neither paradiso nor inferno. On screen is Mrs. McIntyre, victimized previously by her inability to fire Mr. Guizac; she, in fact, has waited for something to happen, something to prod her into an action she can’t seem to make. As a result of that waiting, she was incapable of warning (or refused to call out a warning) to Mr. Guizac prior to his death; and in one flash, Mrs. McIntyre finally sees what being responsible for just one of the world’s extra people means, and experiences true guilt. In her debilitated condition, now, she waits again, this time for her place, which only God knows. No one—not the priest, not the audience, not even Mrs. McIntyre—can be sure exactly where she is or where she belongs. For the priest to be on screen with Mrs. McIntyre, going on and on about Purgatory, itself an environment for souls displaced and not yet pure enough to enter Paradise, is an apparent religious connection; however, the scene is not a scene of compassion or


reassurance, but one of pathos, showing the ineffectiveness of religion to communicate within the system.

On a second level, for a secular audience the scene’s meaning converts from an exclusively religious message to a social one. As the last scene depicts the horror of the collapsed social system, the community, overturned by the death of the Displaced Person, has no hope of regenerating itself. The social message of the last scene comes from the continued lack of communication, the priest’s droning above the bed, Mrs. McIntyre staring vacantly into the camera, her head turned away from the priest. The film’s final shot of the house and farm (real places in Georgia—the homesite of Flannery O’Connor at the time of her death), turns the community—Southern and American—which produced the incident into a purgatory for its own members. Like Mrs. McIntyre, that community—filmic characters and general audience—now appears immobilized and guilty, awaiting the mysterious dispensation of God’s grace.


Despite the close adherence to O’Connor’s narrative and the conscious appropriation of her metaphors, then, the films foreground thematic conflicts which are actually secondary in O’Connor’s fiction. What in O’Connor’s short stories is a personal crisis in belief, or self-perception, or faith for a character becomes on screen a crisis for the established family or regional structures. In her fiction, the external conflicts between parent and child, or between male and female, while humorous, serve to parallel the internal conflict between good and evil within the protagonist. Generally, the protagonist thinks himself good (or saved, or above redemption), only to discover his own unconscious and short-sighted penchant for evil (or foolishness, or absurdity, or violence). His realization of his own ironic position is the archetypal Fall of Man told in terms of the Old Testament God of harsh judgments; yet this same realization of his guilt (the sin of pride) grants him the grace of the New Testament Jesus. Most often an outside figure triggers the chain of events leading to his revelation, and the revelations of his guilt and the grace granted him occur simultaneously, usually at the moment of his death, and usually without their significances being understood or even recognized by the other tag-end characters. Flannery O’Connor handles this moment of the protagonist’s enlightenment—his sudden and violent experience with self-knowledge—in an unsentimental, objective style, whose toughness betrays the humor, although the thematic tensions and meanings within the story are complex ones.


When the short story is transferred to the screen, the narrative point of view shifts from third person limited, so that the thematic emphasis in the film is not upon one person’s crisis of faith and his realization of his own previous pretenses, but upon the falseness within the community, whether that community is a family unit or a working farm. Whereas the short stories point to shocking and personal insights—revelations ironically parallel to the sudden and violent revelation of Paul’s Damascus Road experience—the films use the pretentious characters to point to the false social structure. The fictional protagonist, certainly not forsaken in the film or blurred into the film’s background scenery, centers the social hypocrisy, because he owns something and takes pride in the stability and feelings of superiority his ownership brings him.

Without exception, the four films uncover that social hypocrisy, as it appears in the guise of the intellectual, moral, or social pride which the owner possesses, by showing the protagonist bested. For example, in the film A Circle in the Fire, Mrs. Cope pauses from her weed-pulling to look up at Mrs. Pritchard and to say firmly: "I have the best kept place in the county and do you know why? Because I work. I’ve had to work to save this place and work to keep it. I don’t let anything get ahead of me and I’m not always looking for trouble. I take it as it comes." Although in the short story those same self-righteous comments of Mrs. Cope make her subject for irony when trouble comes to destroy the locus of her pride—that is, the best kept place in the county—in the film version the irony attached to Mrs. Cope’s comments is not personal but social. Nothing is more central to an American social structure than the value of work; yet the product of the value system—a character like Mrs. Cope—shows the structure to be a façade which gives way under pressure and deserves to be toppled.

Even though inherently decadent, therefore, the social structures in the films are maintained in a delicate balance, because the members of the community know and accept their places, however grudgingly. For Flannery O’Connor the sense of place meant place in the kingdom of God, but for a twentieth century, primarily secular audience, the sense of place translates through the films into terms of sex roles, social classes, regions, and brotherhood of man.

Disrupting the balance is the outsider, a character who does not share the same values or moral system as those locked within the society. Whether the character is a force for good or evil remains ambiguous in the fiction; yet certainly the consequences of his


actions or conditions resulting from his presence are violent. In the films, the outsider poses not so much a moral threat, but a sexual confrontation, revolutionary in spirit, usually comic in tone. Whereas the sparrings between stuffy owner and free-spirited intruder remain understated as sexual resonances in O’Connor’s fiction, paling beside the more theological concerns revealed through the point of view, the films, in recording the narrative more objectively, highlight the conflicts as primarily male-female struggles. The films reveal varying degrees of humor attached to those confrontations-from the pathos of human absurdity in The Displaced Person to the wildly comic Good Country People—but the thematic evidence of the films is the same for all of them. Despite their conscious attention to religious significance in O’Connor’s stories, the films (including The Displaced Person, which uses the religious commentary added to the film as a metaphor for the secular) mediate the religious overtones into social messages about structures which are corrupt and should be overturned, although the promise of a Great Society formed out of the overthrow of the old one will not be necessarily fulfilled.



    1Miles Orvell, Invisible Parade: The Fiction of Flannery O’Connor (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1972), pp. 32–39.
   2Irving Malin, New American Gothic (Carbondale: Southern Illinois Press, 1962), pp. 5–12.
   3See Carter Martin, The True Country (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 1968); Gilbert Muller. Nightmares and Visions: Flannery O’Connor and the Catholic Grotesque (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1972); and Robert Drake, "Flannery O’Connor and American Literature," The Flannery O’Connor Bulletin, 3 (Autumn 1974), 1–22.
   4Brainard Cheney, "Flannery O’Connor’s Campaign for Her Country," Sewanee Review, 72 (1964), rpt. in Flannery O’Connor, ed. Robert Reiter (St. Louis: B. Herder Book Co., 1969), pp. 1–4
   5C. Hugh Holman, "The Southerner as American Writer," The Southerner as American, ed. Charles Sellers (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1960), pp. 180–199.
   6Orvell, p. 50.
   7The five films include: The Life You Save May Be Your Own, produced in the late 1950s for the Schlitz Theater; A Circle In The Fire (Script and direction by victor Nuñez. Color; 45 minutes; 1972); The Comforts of Home (Script by Jerry Shore and Fred Shore; directed by Jerry Shore. Color; 40 minutes; 1973); Good Country People (Script and direction by Jeff Jackson. Color; 32 minutes; 1975); The Displaced Person (Script by Horton Foote; directed by Glen Jordan. Color; 60 minutes; 1976). This last film, produced for the Public Broadcasting Service, records part of its film script in The American Short Story, ed. Calvin Skaggs (New York: Dell Publishing Co., 1977), pp. 324–328.


    8Melvin J. Friedman and Lewis A. Lawson, eds., The Added Dimension. The Art and Mind of Flannery O’Connor (New York: Fordham University Press, 1966), pp. 13–14; and Muller, p. 33. Both report the comments O’Connor made when the Schlitz Production changed her story: "I didn’t recognize the television version. . . . Gene Kelly played Mr. Shiftlet and for the idiot daughter they got some young actress who had just been voted one of the ten most beautiful women in the world, and they changed the ending just a bit by having Shiftlet suddenly get a conscience and come back for the girl." Originally her comments appeared in The Critic (August-September 1962).
   9"Flannery O’Connor and the Filmmakers," The Flannery O’Connor Bulletin, 5 (Autumn 1976), p. 102
   10Flannery O’Connor, "A Circle in the Fire." Three by Flannery O’Connor. (New York: New American Library. 1962), p. 218. Further references to the story will be abbreviated CF and will be enclosed with the page numbers in parentheses within the body of the text.
   11"Flannery O’Connor and the Filmmakers," p. 101.
   12"Flannery O’Connor and the Filmmakers," p. 102.
   13"The Interview with Horton Foote," The American Short Story, ed. Calvin Skaggs (New York).
   14Flannery O’Connor, "The Displaced Person," Three By Flannery O’Connor, p. 298.


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