Sunday, February 2, 2014

On Reading Flannery O'Connor's "The Heart of The Park"

While existing as a separate story, “The Heart of the Park” brings back Enoch Emery, a recurrent character for O’Connor, and Hazel “Haze” Weaver from The Peeler.” While the overall tension of the past piece has diminished, the characters come together and pickup as if little overall has changed.

Here, Enoch reasserts himself with the same grotesque innocence that he held before. Enoch represents the inexperienced youth, the teenager that purports to know everything, following a thin selection of the rules, yet at the same time he peeps at women from the bushes, spits on caged animals, and frequents brothels whenever he can spare the money. Plainly put, he is a fool. Or as O'Connor would say, he is a dolt. Enoch feels that the park has a certainty, a meaning that needs to be shared and spread around to the masses while kept secret at the same time, but can one take Enoch seriously? This boy, for he is not truly a man, watches women bathe, not out in the open, not in the typical teenaged beach gawk, but rather from the bushes with the appearance of the devil: “His face was always very red in the bushes. Anyone who parted the abelia sprigs at just that place would think he saw a devil” (83). Such secrecy, such imagery forces one to wonder if Enoch is up to something more, if there is a deeper, darker thing going on, yet knowing O’Connor and her style, the peeping is merely that. Enoch likes to watch and feels uncomfortable with being watch back. The peeping is not even a secret: “‘The guard said I’d find you at the swimming pool … he said you hid in the bushes and watched’” (85). Thus the peeping is an action of innocence designed to make the skin crawl.

Regardless, Enoch knows the pool’s the frequenters, their styles of bathing attire, and their schedules, and with the knowledge Enoch is shocked to see his old nemesis Haze appear, creating a moment of aberrance in Enoch’s daily routine. Haze had been the man Enoch strove to impress, the one he strove to show just how smart he was to. Haze had rejected all claims and served as a foil to Enoch’s eager nature. This time around, Enoch literally slides into Haze’s car and anoints Haze as the destined recipient of the park’s secret truth, the truth that only Enoch understands. Thus Haze, who desires to renew his past confrontation with the blind man, must endure Enoch’s whimsical wants. O’Connor now plunges the reader into the opposite of these two’s previous encounter, one where Haze stalked the blind man and Enoch stalked him with an unwanted babble. This time, Haze is in Enoch’s hold and driven through the fool's world, one where waitresses refer to him as a “son of a bitch” straight to his face only to be ignored and misunderstood (88).

The piece proceeds casually, Enoch pretending to have the blind man’s address, Haze begging for it, while the two slog through Enoch’s daily routine. Haze rebels against the routine, his guide, and at times life in general. He remains driven in his quest to be mysterious, to be experienced, and to have control, while Enoch continues to be, well Enoch: the epitome of convoluted, whimsical failure. The piece’s conflict comes at the park’s heart, in Enoch’s place, where everyone who is supposed to be put into the room is there, creating the boiling over needed for a typical O’Connor ending that bleeds both uncertainty yet certainty at the same time.

Favorite lines:

  • “The park was the heart of the city. He had come to the city—with a knowledge in his blood—he had established himself at the heart of it” (82). This line speaks of the perplexed nature that is Enoch—he thinks he is so smart, so bright, when in actuality he stands as na├»ve and lost.

  • “She had a stained white bathing suit that fit her like a sack, and Enoch watched her with pleasure on several occasions” (83). Classic O’Connor description that digs into the heart of the character.

  • “Every animal there had a personal haughty hatred him like society people have for climbers” (90). Says so much about Enoch, the times, and life, in such a compact, driven sentence.

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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