Divergence

O’Connor versus Hemingway:

The fact that our gal Flannery is repeatedly castigated and critiqued for “racism” when….hoo boy ….have you read Hemingway lately?

Let me put it this way. I would have no problem teaching any work of O’Connor – even a story with a title like “The Artificial Nigger” to any group of students, while I would give serious pause to teaching something like The Killers or The Battler.

What’s the difference? Well, if you are agonizing over whether or not O’Connor was racist, you should take a look at those two stories, compare and contrast. In Hemingway, his narrators regularly describe and characterize Black characters by the n-word, and describe their characteristics in those terms – as qualities or quirks specific to Black people – but not called Black. In O’Connor, her characters may think racist thoughts and treat Black people poorly…because that’s what those characters would do. And racist characters are there, not just because they were in her world and she was committed to accuracy, but because they are, and are ultimately understood as, one more specimen of that thing called Pride.

It doesn’t make it super-easy to have students encounter these words and descriptions and views, but at least in O’Connor they are presented as expressions of specific characters living in a specific place. Hemingway, being a bit more abstracted from time and place in many of his stories, has his mostly objective narrators describe Black characters in racist, stereotypical terms.

In O’Connor’s world, racism exists in the world, but it is obviously a damaged part of a fallen world. In Hemingway, racist attitudes are just The Way It Is, no problem, no argument, no tension.

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