"Everything Off Balance": Flannery O'Connor's Theology of Cultural Antagonism

Dulis, Caleb, Department of English, University of Virginia
Howard, Alan, Department of English, University of Virginia


This website undertakes an examination of Flannery O’Connor’s fiction and the theology and philosophy that underlie it as an artifact of a specific context, that being the cultural and political background of 1950s America. O’Connor's work functions as an oppositional force within that context by presenting the ontology of traditional Christian religion as a self-contained entity. That is, by denying that it is a product of any specific cultural or political context but instead is a window on universal truth. The claim of universality, of indifference to the local values of the immediate political and cultural climate, O'Connor's Christianity must necessarily exist as a challenge to the dominant cultural hegemon, particularly as the dominant mode of Post-War America, a liberal, humanistic modernity organized by market concepts, privileges its own values in the assumption of monopoly in the assignation of meaning. The two systems are inherently intolerant of each other and cannot co-exist without conflict. In O'Connor's fiction, the contest between the two systems is inherently unequal. Instead, the socially constructed system of understanding embodied by American modernity is first punctured and then swept away by the universal, which, though ignored, composes the genuine substance of reality.

The website places O'Connor's works within the cultural setting they oppose, through positioning against a multimedia collection of Post-War cultural artifacts. These include film and audio clips, advertisements and writings both political and literary. The resultant "cultural web" serves as a backdrop against which O'Connor's narrative of the revelation of the universal will be read.


The sections of the site follow the process of confrontation as employed in O'Connor's stories, moving from an initial state of the self-satisfaction of the cultural hegemon through a revelation of the inadequacy of social values to the confrontation with the ultimate and into individual, non-social community facilitated by the revelation. Design is intended to serve as metaphorical element in the representation of this narrative. The color scheme of white and deep red with traces of blue evokes both the culture of the United States and also symbolic colors of the Christian religion. The background is an image of Christ as Pantocrator, or "Ruler of All," from the Church at Daphni, near Athens. This is reminiscent of the image which O.E. Parker has tatooed on his back in the story "Parker's Back" (Wood). Its use here is representative of O’Connor’s presentation of the ultimate presence of traditional Christianity, barely hidden by the modern world and always threatening to break out into the consciousness of human beings.

MA (Master of Arts)

Originally published on the XRoads site for the UVA American Studies program. Years range from 1995-2005. Content is captured at the level of functionality available on the date of capture.

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