English Language and Literature ETDs

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The aim of this study is to use an archetypal approach to enlarge the reader's insights into the body of work under consideration by examining the social manners, or "part" (in this case the twentieth century American South as filtered through the consciousness of Flannery O'Connor) that contain the mystery of man's existence as it relates to the "whole" (in O'Connor's case, man's relation to a Christian God, but in a larger context, the relation of man to the universe). Archetypal criticism, as I define it, attempts to identify the recurring patterns of human consciousness as they find expression in literature and to illuminate the meaning of a specific work in terms of its archetypal content as shaped by a particular writer. The source of archetypal patterns is found in the repetition of motifs in mythology. Modern research in many fields supports the hypothesis, that despite the variations produced by separations in time and local custom, the structures of human thought display a remarkable continuity as they find expression in various forms. Furthermore, myth provides man with a means of placing his particular experience in the context of a larger scheme. Particularly, in modern literature the desire for knowledge of man's position in the universal scheme of things frequently becomes desperate.

Any writer such as Flannery O'Connor, whose consciously stated aim is to examine man's reason in the context of the central Christian mysteries, certainly falls within the scope of the archetypal approach, for Christianity is the great creative construct that contains, subsumes, and expands Western man's attempts to cope with the mystery of his existence. O'Connor labels the everyday world of physical existence the world of manners; the metaphysical dimension sensed by man she labels mystery. Reality, she believes, is revealed in the fusion of these two realms. For modern man, however, such fusion is difficult, if not impossible. Christianity has been largely discredited by rationalism and technology, and no alternative structure has performed the function of fusing manners and mystery.

Yet such fusion remains one of the primary and fundamental concerns of human consciousness. Thus O'Connor's protagonists repeatedly embody a compulsion that cannot be satisfied in the traditional ways in a world that continually perverts or questions the validity of the traditional paths to mystery. The peace of beatific vision can be attained only through the violence produced by the protagonists' rage at the indifference of the community. The fusion deemed desirable by O'Connor is more often than not lost in a violent vision of mystery that separates her characters from the community of men. It is O'Connor's reader, rather than her characters, who is most likely to see that the fusion of manners and mystery is a real but difficult possibility.

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First Committee Member (Chair)

David Johnson

Second Committee Member

Patrick Gallagher

Third Committee Member

Fred Warner



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