Grace and Necessity Part 3

Although a first glance at Flannery O, Conner’s work may make you turn away in shock or disgust, I feel that if you take the time to unpack the meaning of her stories you will find a compelling message. While I read the descriptions of the stories I found it strange to imagine a Catholic writer creating stories with such violent or disturbed characters. It made me uneasy and the grimness of some of her stories endings made me wonder why she had taken the time to create such characters and why some of the endings were so dark. As I looked at some of her statements about her work, her process and concept for her work was revealed. I found the following quote useful for understanding her work:

“ artist presenting a Christian universe cannot but shock. This must be defensible so long as it is actually a strategy for the truth, not a flexing of the artistic muscles for its own sake” (128). Basically, in order to depict a Christian universe (that is a universe where the Christian message is relevant) an artist cannot help but shock the audience who is reading. This artist must take into consideration the horrors and tragedies of the world and explains how despite all these horrors there is a message of grace, hope, salvation and repentance of sins.  However, on the flipside, presenting this evil can also become a trap to the artist if they use it only for the purpose of shocking and not by presenting a message of redemption. The artist’s task is to not ignore the evil in the world because by including evil in their story they are actually contrasting it with grace. I find it interesting how she explains how a good Catholic author can’t ignore the evil in the world because it is the very fact that evil is present which makes the gospel message of Jesus dying for sinners relevant to this world.

This reminds me of  Matthew 9:11-13:

When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

By showing the darkness of sin she gets right to the heart of the matter, the characters are in need of a savior. Another one of her prominent messages is that God is present and at work in even the darkest situations. Even if her stories have a tragic ending she shows a glimpse of the redemption offered by God. It is only when the darkness of sin is realized that we discover the true meaning of grace.

Here are two images I found compelling which illustrates the message of hope in the midst of darkness and suffering:



Here is a sketch I did illustrating light in darkness:



Williams, Rowan. Grace and Necessity Reflection on Art and Love. Morehouse: 2005. Print.


3 thoughts on “Grace and Necessity Part 3

  1. Thank you for such a clarifying post. I really relate with your experience hearing and reading O’Conner’s work, because I also found it really dark and had trouble connecting it with a Christian viewpoint. One thing I took out of it though was that to understand light, you need to have experienced darkness, and as you said when you learn more about O’Conner’s ideas behind her work, it begins to make sense. Also, very nice sketch!

  2. Very nice thoughts Heidi and I like that you included a drawing you did. I think you understand well the idea that light is accentuated all the more with darkness, and in there is a clear cry for light really when you look face on into the darkness. O’Conner’s characters show us that. I’d like a little more tie into to an artist that you feel is doing the same, your own work, or clarity as to why you think the two images that you put on the blog demonstrate the concept. Couldn’t some argue that the images are a bit “stereotypical” and symbolic, and lack depth? Hmmm… what would a painter look like that is trying to do what O’Conner did in writing?

  3. You have really good thought on this chapter, also, good point of Matthew 9:11-13, I totally agree with you. The concept of darkness and light is very powerful.

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