Thursday, December 19, 2013

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



As Flannery O’Connor often does in her work, “The Train” puts you in the head of a character that feels absolutely certain about his convictions, so certain that his views of the world can be nothing else but stilted and convoluted. This time the title character comes in the form of Haze, Haze from Eastrod, Tennessee. Eastrod means something to him, and he affirms this fact over and over, uttering it mentally and verbally in an effort to both earn respect and goad the train’s negro porter into a state of fear: “I was raised in Eastrod, Eastrod Tennessee; he thought about the porter again. He was going to ask the porter… the porter would know Eastrod” (O’Connor 55-56). Yet, as mentioned above, O’Connor delves into Haze’s uncertainties. At one moment he loves the women he is to share a car with as she is chatting his ear off, the next he loathes her, only to soon have a reversal of fortunes. Likewise, in his memories, his mother always started conversations only to later, when he loathes his travel-mate, be characterized as the exact opposite.

Haze thus exemplifies characters that dot O’Connor's literature, ones with no certain home, no certain realm, and an overall lack of personal understanding despite their thoughts to the contrary. They are uniquely honest and human, just like the reader, and this quality draws one in, forcing us to acknowledge our own deficiencies. Adding to Haze’s problems comes his overall lack of confidence—he wants to investigate the porter but is afraid to go there, he wants to enter the dining car, but when told to wait feels a wave of embarrassment that haunts him. All eyes are on him, judging, condemning, looking down on the man from Eastrod, because he is from Eastrod: “He ordered the first thing on the menu, and when it came, ate it without thinking what it might be. The people he was sitting with had finished and, he could tell, were waiting, watching him eat” (59). These people are most likely not only ignoring Haze, but probable would have cared about his presence only enough to start casual conversation.

As expected, Haze is to confront the porter multiple times, and in doing so, he is to question the man, probing his past, trying to see if he is related to Cash from Eastrod. In Haze’s mind, this fact is a resounding yes. The porter must be Cash’s kin, must be his son, and due to this fact, the confrontation displays a moment one expects from O’Connor, where the title character, feeling all high and mighty, is ripped from their throne and tossed into a sea of uncertainty. It is with this feeling that the piece culminates, leaving the reader uncertain as to fate of Haze, his mother, the porter, and little Eastrod.

Favorite lines: “The way things happened, one thing right after another, it seemed like time went by so fast, you couldn’t tell if you were old or young. She looked as if it had been cheating her, going double quick when she was asleep and couldn’t watch it” (55). It exhibits the grace that O’Connor often has and works to keep common idioms fresh and new.

“He wanted it all dark, he didn’t want it diluted” (61). The line resonates, speaks to Haze’s mindset while giving a strong physical description of the setting.

“The tracks curved and he fell back sick into the rushing stillness of the train” (62).


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.

2 comments:

  1. Thank you for this post. I'm reading Flannery O'Connor's "The Complete Stories" and I appreciate your analysis.

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    1. Thank you for that. I've stalled a bit but plan to keep going on with her work.

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