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  • March 22, 2019
  • O'Donnell, Angela
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of English and Comparative Literature
  • ABSTRACT Angela Alaimo O’Donnell: Radical Ambivalence: Race in Flannery O’Connor (Under the Direction of Joseph Viscomi and Richard Giannone) This dissertation explores Flannery O’Connor’s complex attitude towards race in her fiction and correspondence. O’Connor lived and did most of her writing in her native Georgia during the tumultuous years of the Civil Rights movement. In one of her letters, O’Connor frankly expresses her double-mindedness regarding the social and political upheaval taking place in the U.S. with regard to race: “I hope that to be of two minds about some things is not to be neutral” (The Habit of Being 218). Examination of her correspondence, including unpublished letters, demonstrates that though O’Connor likely subscribed to the idea of racial equality, she was wary of desegregation, fearing the erosion of Southern culture and the disappearance of the code of manners that governed the relationships between African Americans and whites. This double-mindedness also manifests itself in O’Connor’s fiction. Drawing on Critical Race Theory and whiteness studies, Chapter One analyzes the ways in which O’Connor critiques the unjust racial practices of the South in her stories and other writings, yet unconsciously upholds them. Chapter Two explores O’Connor’s ambivalence with regard to contemporary politics, analyzes her use of derogatory language to describe African Americans, and assesses the inconsistencies in her discussion of race in the stories and letters in light of speech act-theory. Chapter Three explores the influence of theology and Catholicism on O’Connor’s attitudes, arguing that O’Connor’s radically theological vision and formation in a segregated Church shaped her ideas about race. Chapter Four takes its cue from Toni Morrison’s Playing in the Dark and demonstrates the complex role played by “Africanist” presence, represented by powerful black bodies, in the construction of white consciousness in O’Connor’s stories. Chapter Five explores the theme of thwarted communion between the races that preoccupies O’Connor in her fiction and correspondence. The study concludes that O’Connor’s race-haunted writing serves as the literary incarnation of her uncertainty about the great question of her era and of her urgent need, despite considerable reluctance, to address the fraught relationship between the races.
Date of publication
Resource type
  • Viscomi, Joseph
  • Giannone, Richard
  • Kim, Heidi
  • Flora, Joseph M.
  • Srigley, Susan
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2018

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