The Violent Bear It Away
The Violent Bear It Away is a novel written by Flannery O'Connor, one of Georgia's most distinguished writers of the twentieth century.
A devout Catholic, O'Connor drew upon her interest in Christian theology and her rural environment for much of her fiction, including The Violent Bear It Away. The title of the novel is taken from Matthew 11:12 in the Bible: "From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away." The power of violence to effect spiritual awakening and the impact that a conversion of this kind has upon Christian salvation are important themes in The Violent Bear It Away. To dramatize these abstract spiritual principles, O'Connor chose to create a world of opposites in conflict.
The backwoods prophet and patriarch of the novel, Old Tarwater, extends his reach beyond the grave in his influence
The novel focuses principally on young Tarwater's conflict with Rayber. These two characters represent the contrast between a sacred and a secular worldview. In one world spiritual salvation is possible, but freedom and individuality bend to God's will. In the other self-actualization is possible, but the life of the spirit has lost significance. This conflict makes The Violent Bear It Away an existential novel in which the human condition in a modern, Godless world is examined.
From childhood, young Tarwater has been taught that it is his place to carry on in his great-uncle's footsteps and baptize Rayber's retarded son, Bishop, since Old Tarwater has been unable to do so. In the final chapters the holy rite of baptism becomes a murder scene in which young Tarwater drowns his retarded cousin. During young Tarwater's flight from the murder, he is picked up as a hitchhiker, drugged, assaulted, and left in the woods. The violence he has enacted and that which has been performed upon him ignite a spiritual awakening in which he, not his great-uncle, becomes the prophet of God.
Although O'Connor's two novels, Wise Blood (1952) and The Violent Bear It Away, are recognized by scholars as valuable and lasting works of American literature, O'Connor is primarily known as a short-story writer. Her two collections of short stories are A Good Man Is Hard to Find (1955) and Everything That Rises Must Converge (1965).
Sally Fitzgerald, ed., The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O'Connor (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1979).
Dorothy Tuck McFarland, Flannery O'Connor (New York: Frederick Unger, 1976).
Kelly S. Gerald, Arlington, Virginia
A project of the Georgia Humanities Council, in partnership with the University of Georgia Press, the University System of Georgia/GALILEO, and the Office of the Governor.