SLOUCHING TOWARDS BETHLEHEM: HOW THE BIBLICAL BOOK OF JOB ILLUMINATES THE WORK OF FLANNERY O’CONNOR
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American author Flannery O’Connor, a devout Roman Catholic, made no attempt to disguise the theological nature of her work. Her short stories and novels contained numerous lessons about faith, God, and human failing. Yet O’Connor’s theological message was often overshadowed by her use of the “grotesque,” as well as absurd coincidences, dramatic action, and frequent reversals of fortune. To what end did O’Connor employ these things? Did she do so simply in service to the narrative, or was there, perhaps, a greater agenda at work? This paper will argue that O’Connor used coincidence, violence, dramatic action, and reversals of fortune to parallel the biblical text of the Book of Job, in order to convey a specific lesson about the nature of grace. The first task of the paper is to delineate the various ways the Job text has been understood (as well as misunderstood) in the centuries since its initial circulation, and to show how the Job text subverts the Deuteronomic understanding of faith that was prevalent during the redaction of large portions of the Old Testament. Then, by examining five of O’Connor’s short stories (“A Good Man is Hard to Find,” “The Artificial Nigger,” “The Enduring Chill,” “Everything that Rises Must Converge,” and “Revelation”), this paper will identify three distinct elements shared by the Job text and the O’Connor stories: first, that the characters in both the Job text and the O’Connor stories exist within cultures that operate on the honor/shame model, the basics of which will be explained; second, that O’Connor’s use of hyperbolic situations of duress mimic the legendary suffering of the biblical Job; and third, that the grace of God becomes active, and apparent, as a direct result of the duress suffered by O’Connor’s protagonists, much as it does in the story of the biblical Job. Following the examination of the Job text and the O’Connor short stories, this paper will conclude that understanding the biblical book of Job in its original context illuminates the work of Flannery O’Connor, allowing the author’s message about grace to be more readily understood by readers.