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Horror and Violence in the Works of Flannery O'Connor

            Removed from the reality of God's beauty and grace all around us, O'Connor's intentional use of stark violence is to uncover the deeper horror, the spiritual deformity of humanity because of its estrangement from God. Frustrated over reviews that describe her stories as horrific, O'Connor writes in a letter addressed to "A," on 20 July 55, "I am always amused because the reviewer always has hold of the wrong horror" (Collected 942). The wrong horror of the explicit violence is to reveal the internal causes that perpetuate this violence. These internal causes are the true horror of our inner deformity. Goring, thievery, suicide, and massacres are the everyday reality of horror in the world and in the world of O'Connor's fiction.
             The sight of a little old lady gored by a bull traumatizes us, but the real trauma is our limited view of reality that harms us. Mrs. May in "Greenleaf" is O'Connor's character who takes on the blinders of concealment. With the tenacity of a pit bull, she refuses to see any reality but her own. Mrs. May, a widow with two sons, is the proud proprietress of her farm. She believes her security lies in material possessions, and according to critic Richard Giannone, "She clutches her possessions as though her entire life were bound in her little house and acreage" (Giannone). In reality, Mrs. May's security does not lie in her material possessions, but in her view of reality. She rules her farm with an "iron hand," forcing life to fit her view. But now the bull that invades her farm invades her consciousness: "As she sleeps, the bull's chewing becomes an enemy [] devouring her energy since she moved to the farm (Giannone 169). Symbolically, the bull represents everything that has been eating away at her perceived reality for the last fifteen years. Her fight to keep the bull out is her defense against imminent social change.

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