Saturday, May 3, 2014

On Reading Flannery O'Connor's "Enoch and the Gorilla"

“Enoch and the Gorilla” could be titled the continued adventures of Enoch Emery, who O’Connor flushes out to be a rather complete character across the multiple stories he appears in. Enoch’s ignorant innocence is once again on full display, as he waits to meet Gonga the gorilla of Hollywood stardom. The gorilla represents Enoch’s continued desire to observe life’s childish oddities while at the same time attempting to appear stronger and smarter than he actually is: “To his mind, an opportunity to insult a successful ape came from the hand of providence” (O’Connor 109). In confronting the gorilla, he can prove himself brave, strong, and intelligent, and thus he can come across as being truly human. By mocking the beast, he can appear to be better than it: “Enoch had got over his fear and was trying frantically to think of an obscene remark that would be suitable to insult him with” (111).

Thus Enoch waits, surrounded by children, hoping to insult a gorilla. What O’Connor fails to note, what keeps the mystery alive and well here, is whether the gorilla is real, or if the chained creature in a raincoat is a man in a suit. This omission, done so that we can view the world through Enoch’s myopic eyes, keeps the reader going. If it is an animal, one kids will fear touching, what good will Enoch’s insult do? Or if a man, does the situation even change? Enoch, confused and unsure shakes Gonga’s hand, giving the beast his life story before being told to go to go to hell with a sudden and shocking whisper than sends the man fleeing into the rain.

Enoch greets the embarrassment as a chance to get even. Knowing the gorilla to be fake, knowing his desire to be great, Enoch sets out to confront the beast and get even in a way. Enoch wants to make something of himself in the world: “He wanted, some day, to see a line of people waiting to shake his hand” (112). The line, which resonates with Enoch’s inner desires and character, reveals a man tortured to be great but languishing in inadequacy. Yet, the opportunity to reface Gonga, to become Gonga, stands out to Enoch as a capstone moment, one that will leave him forever changed. With these thoughts in mind, Enoch stalks his prey, and steals away as the beast, thinking, that as he ambles about clad in gorilla garb that he has finally become something specially. Yet the truth, the reality of Enoch, is nothing of the sort.

Favorite Lines:

“Enoch was not very fond of children, but children always seemed to like to look at him” (108). Speaks volumes as to his character and how everyone, even the most innocent, sees right through him.

“The gorilla appeared at the door, with the raincoat buttoned up to his chin, collar turned up” (110). The image speaks for itself.

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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