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Ian Iracheta

Facultad de Filosofa y Letras


Letras Inglesas, Colegio de Letras Modernas
Universidad Nacional Autnoma de Mxico

The Inversion of the Filial-Paternal Relationship in Flannery OConnors


Everything That Rises Must Converge
Even though Flannery OConnors Everything That Rises Must Converge is a short
story narrated in the third person, the narrator is in a way subordinated to the character
of Julian. By means of focalization, the narrative discourse is relayed to the reader
tinged by the main characters opinions and judgements. Thus, every element of the
story is first interpreted by Julian, and only then conveyed to the reader through the
narrator. This process resonates throughout the whole short story, and it becomes
extremely evident in the way in which the relationship between Julian and his mother is
constructed.
First of all, the way in which Julians mother is introduced into the narrative
discourse is a hallmark of the narrators bias. The very first word in the narrative is the
feminine possessive determiner her. Even though this opening word would seem to
indicate that the most important character is a woman, this theory quickly becomes
disproved in several ways, as we realise that in fact the short story focuses almost
completely on Julians psyche.
The story opens with the sentence her doctor had told Julians mother1 that she
must lose twenty pounds on account of her blood pressure (OConnor 405). Two
important elements are introduced here. First of all, the opening image we have of the
mother portrays her as a passive recipient. She is the indirect object of the verb to tell.
This grammatical choice, although ostensibly innocent in nature is, in fact, a hint of the
mothers character (or at least the mothers character as perceived by Julian). She is
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Ian Iracheta
Facultad de Filosofa y Letras
Letras Inglesas, Colegio de Letras Modernas
Universidad Nacional Autnoma de Mxico

often talked about in the passive, more so when in direct relation to her son. Her
identity seems to an extent effaced in order to let Julian hoard the spotlight, as
evidenced by the fact that the mothers name is not even given at any point in the story.
What does this mean? This woman is only ever referred to in terms of her relationship
to the son, as is shown in the very first sentence: the genitive form of Julian, a noun in
the possessive declension working as an adjective, modifies the noun mother. This is
a pattern that we see repeated and never corrected throughout the entire short story.
By refusing to name the mother, as well as by only giving her an identity when related
to her son, the author says that she only exists insofar as he is there to define her.
The next sentence in the story becomes even more illustrative. So on Wednesday
nights Julian had to take her2 downtown on the bus for a reducing class at the Y (405).
In this passage Julian is shown as being the agent. The narrator states very explicitly
that Julian is the one who will take her. It is important to notice that the narrator avoids
a construction such as She had him accompany her on Wednesday nights, or any
other variant thereof, which would give a remnant of agency to the mother.
The inequality of their relationship is therefore expressed in grammatical terms;
however, this is only one of the many ways in which it is constructed. Julian sees his
mother as an inferior. His wanting to teach her a lesson that would last her a while
(413) demonstrates this fact to its logical extreme. In a complete reversion of the
traditional parent-child roles, Julian thinks that it is he who should be in charge of
educating his mother, and acts upon such judgment by literally conducting her through
her life. Julian put[s] his hand under her elbow and hoist[s] her up on the creaking

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Ian Iracheta
Facultad de Filosofa y Letras
Letras Inglesas, Colegio de Letras Modernas
Universidad Nacional Autnoma de Mxico

step (410), he orders her not to take [the hat] back, (407), and to shut up and enjoy
it (410). This superiority, first expressed in grammatical terms by dint of a biased
narrator, becomes much more overt in the ending of the short story. Julian tells his
mother I hate to see you behave like this. Just like a child. I should be able to expect
more of you (420), thereby establishing a complete reversal of roles.
In conclusion, the authors decision to make Julian the grammatical agent, and his
mother merely a passive receptor is meant to emphasise the exchange of roles we can
appreciate as the narrative develops. It also serves to illustrate just how deep-rooted this
switching actually is. In a way, the inversion of roles has a double footing in the short
story, as we see it embodied in both grammatical and narrative levels: in terms of the
events of the short story, Julian hoisting his mother up and ushering her into the bus
shows the reader that he has physical dominion over his mother, at least in that respect;
furthermore, this superiority is also displayed in the narrative discourse, by dint of
possessive determiners and the play between a passive and an agent. The result of this is
that we can see the inversion of roles both in the story, that is to say, in the sequence of
events (Abbott 16), as well as in the narrative discourse, or in the way those events
are represented (Abbott 16).
However, one question still remains to be asked. If Julians perspective is
what interested the author, why not simply narrate the story in first person? As Abbott
says, a focalizer is the lens through which we characters and events in the narrative
(66), and indeed most of the time the story is relayed to the reader tinged with Julians
thoughts. Why bother then on writing from the perspective of a third-person narrator
when a first-person point of view could have achieved a similar effect? Put simply, it is

Ian Iracheta
Facultad de Filosofa y Letras
Letras Inglesas, Colegio de Letras Modernas
Universidad Nacional Autnoma de Mxico

a matter of complexity. In her An Introduction to Narratology, Monika Fludernik


proposesthatthedifferenttypesofnarratorscanbearrangedinahierarchyintermsof
howclosetheyaretothestorytheytell,inotherwords,howclosetheyaretobeing
homodiegetic.Shesaysthatthefirstpersonisthemostsuccessfulnarratoratthat,
followed by the second person, and finally the third (42). However, a focalizer
complicateseverything,whichisexactlywhathappensinEverythingThatRusesMust
Converge.
By using a third person narrator that relies so heavily on focalization, OConnor was
able to create a story that in narratological terms is fraught with the characteristic
proximity and subjectivity that is only traditionally achieved by means of the use of the
first person; however, she is able to pass off Julians opinions of everything around him
vicariously, by means of a narrative apparatus, which, while conserving the
aforementioned proximity and subjectivity, can give the specious impression of being
rather impartial.
Impartiality in narrative is often related to the concept of reliability. Normally, a
first-person narrator is close to the story he tells and has only his own particular
perception to communicate to the reader. This is breeding ground for unreliability. A
third-person narrator, is, traditionally, more removed from the events that unfold in the
story and is therefore more liable to be reliable. What happens, then, in Everything
That Rises Must Converge? We get a third-person narrator, invested with all its
traditional reliability, however, what we get most of is Julians thoughts, which would
cancel out to a degree the narrators inherent impartiality.

Ian Iracheta
Facultad de Filosofa y Letras
Letras Inglesas, Colegio de Letras Modernas
Universidad Nacional Autnoma de Mxico

Works Cited:
Abbott, H. Porter. The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative. London: Cambrdige
University Press, 2002. Print.
Fludernik,Monika.AnIntroductiontoNarratology.NewYork:Routledge,2009.Print.
OConnor, Flannery. Everything That Rises Must Converge The Complete Stories. New
York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1971. Kindle.