Tuesday, March 25, 2014

On Reading Flannery O'Connor's "A Stroke of Good Fortune"

“A Stroke of Good Fortune” confronts a popular O’Connor theme: the old south versus the new south. The former eats collard greens and has a long arm extending back into the slave ridden past, the former, has taken to the cities, and in doing so, has found civility. Ruby, the main character takes this theme head on in the opening pages, confronting the arrival of her brother home from war with distaste, for while he had seen the world, he would rather be in the faded town he originally hailed from. He wants collard greens, the comforts of home. But home represents everything Ruby has moved to divorce herself from.

She has married a Florida man, has managed to remain childless, and has found a new life. Ruby wants nothing to do with her Pitman past, striving to move forward and take claim of a new, cosmopolitan existence: “Where she wanted to be was in a subdivision…where you had your drugstores and grocery and a picture show right in your neighborhood” (O’Connor 96-97). She is happy in the city and hopes to move and advance on. Thus, she fights her past with every step up the stairs, struggling to catch her breath, struggling to be happy with her station in life, and fighting the trappings of age that are descending on her. She is a young 34 in her mind, much better than her parents, who seemed to be devoid of youth: “They had been dried-up type, dried up and Pitman dried into them, them and Pitman shrunk down into something all dried and puckered up” (99). They shrunk as a result of their surroundings, the very things that Ruby has shaken off. They had kids, she does not, they lived in Pitman, but Pitman had ceased to exist.

Each step up the four flights of stairs shakes Ruby. She consistently questions her mortality, while making pains to assert herself, to show her proper place in the world order, to show that she is better than in the others. In doing so, she seems desperate. She reaches out, repeatedly notes that children killed her parents, while also noting minor weight gain, shortness of breath, and the fact that her psychic, Madam Zoleeda, noted a long illness that would bring good fortune is afoot. From here, the plot turns on the fact that Ruby, the person who viewed children as the death of her, just might actually be pregnant. Are her ankles swollen, her midsection distended? Could Bill Hill have forgotten to take a precaution and turned Ruby into a mother? O’Connor confronts the psychological grotesque here: the horrors of a life one doesn’t want, the shock of harboring unwanted life within in you. In doing so, one can feel for Ruby, yet one cannot help but pity her in a loathsome manner.

Favorite Lines:

  • “She was too tired to take her arms from around it or to straighten up and she hung there collapsed from the hips, her head balanced like a big florid vegetable at the top of the sack” (95).
  • “He had little raisin eyes and a string beard and his jacket was a green that was almost black or a black that was almost green” (99). Fantastic description here.
  • “She had expected Rufus to have turned out into somebody with some get in him. Well, he had about as much get as a floor mop” (95).
  • “Her mother got deader with every one of them [children]” (97). Speaks of Ruby’s character to a fine point.

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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