The Deadly Sin
In her short story “Everything That Rises Must Converge,” Flannery O’Connor weaves pride throughout the story in order to reveal the deadly effects of it. O’Connor begins her story by introducing the reader to Julian’s mother, whom she never gives a name—always Julian’s mother; she has high blood pressure and has been told by the doctor that she must lose twenty pounds because of it.
Julian’s mother decides to attend a reducing class at the YMCA, but since the buses are integrated, she does not want to ride to the YMCA by herself. Julian, therefore, although unwilling, is compelled to ride the bus with her and walk her to the class every Wednesday. Throughout the story, the readers sees unbelievable pride in all the characters introduced; the mother has an extreme contempt for black people as does the woman on the bus “with protruding teeth.” Julian, on the other hand, scorns people like his mother who refuse to associate with black people; he moves in the opposite direction and goes out of his way to make a black friend. O’Connor also includes a prideful black woman whose character reveals to the reader that all people have pride regardless of race.
By introducing the haughty black woman, O’Connor critiques white supremacists who think they are the only people who have any right to be proud, illustrating the inborn pride of every human being. Although instances of pride permeate the story, Julian’s mother’s attitude is by far the most distinctly prideful and disdainful. From the beginning, the reader knows that she hates black people and thinks them far below her as evidenced by her conversation with her son when speaking about the reducing class. She haughtily declares, “‘Most of them in it are not our kind of people,’ she said, ‘but I can be gracious to anybody. I know who I am'” (480). Clearly, she does not view them as equals, but another kind of people whom she can deign to bestow her graciousness upon.
She does not see the black people as equals, because she believes that a person remained in whatever social class their ancestors were. O’Connor writes, “‘You remain what you are,’ she said. ‘Your great-grandfather had a plantation and two hundred slaves.’ ‘There are no more slaves,’ he said irritably. ‘They were better off when they were,’ she said” (480).
Since they were slaves years ago, according to Julian’s mother, they should still be slaves or at least should be treated as lowly creatures. Not only does she voice her prideful opinion to her son, but she also speaks her mind to strangers. On the bus, she sits down and begins to talk about the weather, but, immediately following, she makes an incredibly prideful statement when she sees that everyone was white. Arrogantly, she states, “‘I see we have the bus to ourselves,’ she said. Julian cringed” (482).
Julian’s mother’s does not even recognize black people as human beings. The other women on the bus agree with her and start a conversation—loudly voicing their opinions of the integrated bus system. One of the women on the bus declares, “‘I come on one the other day and they were thick as fleas—up front and all through.’ ‘The world is in a mess everywhere,’ his mother said. ‘I don’t know how we’ve let it get in this fix'” (483).
According to the mom, since the buses are integrated and black people have social status, the world is in dire straits. Her pride affects all of her words and actions towards other people—especially towards black people. Just like his mother, Julian possesses a very prideful personality and attitude as well, but his pride is the opposite of that of his mother. Julian does not despise black people, so he says, but openly displays his far-reaching contempt for the whites who think they are morally superior to black people. He does not like the way his mother acts, and in defiance of her, acts as badly as he can when he is around her.
He does these things in order to embarrass her and demonstrate that he does not feel the need to identify himself with his social class. Also unlike his mother, Julian strives to make friends with black people, so that he can say that he has a black friend, but this, in and of itself, is pride as well—just a different form. Instead of truly caring for the people, he merely wants to publicize his ability to reach out of his social class and actually talk to those “other people.” On the way to the bus stop, Julian exhibits his antagonistic pride when his mother starts to annoy him. She is wearing a hat that looks utterly ridiculous, and she is very self-conscious about the way she looks to other people. After a while, Julian grows so tired of her arrogance that he rips off his tie just to annoy her.
O’Connor writes, “There was in him an evil urge to break her spirit. He suddenly unloosened his tie and pulled it off and put it in his pocket” (482). Knowing that he would embarrass his mother, Julian demonstrates that he does not care what he looks like, and he does not care what his mother looks like when seen with him. She finally nags him enough, and he puts the tie back on, but he does so with utter sarcasm and reluctance. “Rolling his eyes upward, he put his tie back on. ‘Restored to my class,’ he muttered.
He thrust his face toward her and hissed, ‘True culture is in the mind, the mind,’ he said, and tapped his head, ‘the mind'” (482). Even though Julian performs the outward motions of a person in his class, he hates the people around him and feels far superior to them in many ways as evidenced by his actions on the bus. When they finally board the bus, Julian is once again annoyed by what happens around him; his mother discusses integration and children with the other women on the bus, and Julian looks on with contempt. As they ride, Julian withdraws into himself where, O’Connor states, he can truly get away from the stupidity of his fellow men: “From it he could see out and judge but in it he was safe from any kind of penetration from without. It was the only place where he felt free of the general idiocy of his fellows” (483).
Since Julian is so prideful, he believes that all other people are inferior to him and should be judged without he himself receiving any kind of judgment. Further exemplifying his attitude toward proud white people, Julian leaves the seat by his mother and sits beside a black man who has just entered the bus. The author writes, “He would have liked to get in conversation with the Negro and to talk with him about art or politics or any subject that would be above the comprehension of those around them, but the man remained entrenched behind his paper” (484-485). Julian pridefully uses the black man to show both his mother and the other white people in the bus that he is not concerned with what they think. The black man is not the only colored person Julian exploits to make a statement to his mother. After the black man gets off the bus, a big, black woman with her son boards the bus and sits next to Julian.
At first, Julian does not recognize what seems familiar about the woman, but then he realizes that she is wearing the exact type of hat that his mother is wearing. Julian thinks this so funny that he laughs out loud, and his mother looks at him with “bruised purple” eyes (487). O’Connor describes the scene, “For a moment he had an uncomfortable sense of her innocence, but it lasted only a second before principle rescued him. Justice entitled him to laugh. His grin hardened until it said to her as plainly as if he were saying aloud: Your punishment exactly fits your pettiness.
This should teach you a permanent lesson” (487). He is arrogant enough to hurt his mother and enjoy her anxiety. In this instance of the identical hats, O’Connor conveys to the reader that all people have pride—as witnessed by the reaction of the black woman to Julian’s mother’s attempt at charity later in the story. O’Connor does not only discuss the taint of pride in white people; she also discusses it in black people. When they all get off the bus, Julian’s mother wants to give the young black boy a nickel. All she has is a penny, but she offers it to him despite Julian’s protesting.
The haughty black woman takes Julian’s mother’s offer as an extremely insulting gesture. “Julian saw the black fist swing out with the red pocketbook. He shut his eyes and cringed as he heard the woman shout, ‘He don’t take nobody’s pennies!’ When he opened his eyes, the woman was disappearing down the street with the little boy staring wide-eyed over her shoulder. Julian’s mother was sitting on the sidewalk” (489). When she first introduced the black woman, O’Connor described her as having a “haughty face,” and she further demonstrates the woman’s arrogance in her vicious actions towards Julian’s mother which after a short time cause the mother to suffer a stroke (487).
Throughout her short story, O’Connor makes it vividly clear that every person—no matter what race—has pride. She masterfully illustrated the hubris of the mother in her thoughts and actions toward black people, and, contrastingly in word but not in idea, exemplifies the twisted pride of Julian and his contempt for upper class white people. To further emphasize her point that race does not matter, O’Connor skillfully displays the great pride bound up in the heart of the black woman on the bus. O’Connor’s title provides unity to both her entire story and its themes—”Everything That Rises Must Converge.” She conveys to the reader that pride puffs people up, and all people who have pride are, in a sense, the same; they come together on that point. No matter who you are, where you are from, or what race you are, O’Connor screams that pride is an inescapable, disgraceful part of human nature.
Works Cited O’Connor, Flannery. “Everything That Rises Must Converge.” Perrine’s Literature: Structure, Sound, and Sense. Ed. Thomas R.
Arp and Greg Johnson. Boston: Wadsworth, 2012. 478-491. Print.