Tuesday, December 3, 2013

On Reading Flannery O'Connor's "The Crop"

Post five of my tour through Flannery O’Connor The Complete Stories concentrates on “The Crop.” This piece is number four of six of O’Connor’s master’s thesis from the Iowa Writers Workshop. Like the other six that start her collected works, the piece never saw print in her lifetime.

“The Crop” focusses on Miss Willerton, a woman determined to be important. She is typical of the southern women O’Connor portrays, a woman who finds solace in the fact that she is better than those around her. The fact that she may not be fails to cross her mind and matters little. Thus Willerton takes a job as simple as scraping the crumbs off of the table and justifies the act as an act that creates self-worth, a fact that is established in the story’s opening lines: “Miss Willerton,always crumbed the table. It was her particular household accomplishment” (O’Connor 33). She continues her haughty ways when addressing family members and gathering groceries, always judging and placing herself on a pedestal of sorts. This personal prominence transfers into the action of the story itself where Willerton operates as a writer. This vocation matters to Willerton, and she constantly grapples with the social and familial perception of her work: “She liked to plan passions scenes … when she came to write them, she always began to feel peculiar and to wonder what the family would say” (36).

The plot of the story leads Willerton down a path where she must first find inspiration and then create a first draft of a story from the act. Thus Willerton searches for a topic, one that is worthy of social discourse. She wants to make a splash, and fails to focus on craft outside of her first sentences, lines she considers to be the pinnacle of her writing: “Willerton always did her best work on the first sentence” (35). If the best work comes first, is there really a story after? Will the reader enjoy an experience that slowly glides downhill? Willerton does not realize the predicament, and seems almost content to live through the story as if in a daydream.

In a way, as Willerton stands as an author searching for a topic and a writer longing for a theme. In this way, she embodies youthful O’Connor venturing out into her career. Where will the writing go and what should be said? In practice the story mentions many things that a writer frets over: first sentences, appropriate topics, plot twists, the sound of our sentences as they roll off the tongue, and of course the casual insertion of the author into the work. Writers constantly battle the temptation to blend fact and fiction, to cross the line and craft a tale based on reality, but cast in a fictional realm. Further writers question the quality and validity of their work at all times no matter how grand. With these ideas in mind, the metafictional nature of the piece only serves to reveal the  insecurities of both authors, fictional and real, as the strive to be wanted and desired by those around them. This quandary remains unsettled as the story expires, leaving the reader to consider the answer.

Favorite lines: “Willie woke in the night conscious of a pain. It was a soft, green pain with purple lights running through it” (39).   

Other posts on the The Complete Stories include “The Life You Save May Be Your Own,” “The Geranium,” “The Barber,” “The Wildcat,” “The Crop,” “The Turkey,” “The Train,” “The Peeler,”“The Heart of the Park,” “A Stroke of Good Fortune,” “Enoch and the Gorilla,” “A Late Encounter with the Enemy,” “The River,” “A Circle in the Fire,” and “A Good Man is Hard to Find. If the book interests you, please use the link in the first paragraph or click the picture to support my efforts when you purchase the text.

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