Kevin (erf_) wrote,

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it is trying on liberals in dilton

Remember that copy of The Complete Short Stories of Flannery O'Connor that I rescued a couple weeks ago? I've been reading through it today, and it's excellent. A shame that O'Connor isn't more widely read outside of high school English courses.

One story in particular, "The Barber", struck a chord with me. It's a really funny story, but for all the wrong reasons. At first glance it merely seems like a typical white liberal upper middle-class perspective on bigotry in the Second Reconstruction, but under the surface there's something subtler, something far more universal. It may be a bit of a stereotype that the male writers of her era were screaming from pulpits while the female writers hung back in the crowd and quietly observed the foibles of their humanity, but O'Connor if anything exemplified the best of that stereotype. In an era in which men with absurd moustaches shouted themselves hoarse about honor and nationalism and destiny, and tried to wipe entire nations off the face of the map with their rhetoric, O'Connor could quietly tear one of those men to pieces by describing a mole on his upper lip.

Not bad for a dyke, eh?

(Oh, my apologies. There were no lesbians in the good ol' days.)

Of course, O'Connor never wrote directly about the war--she was possibly the only author of her generation not to. She preferred to describe the giant elephant in the room by its shadow.

"The Barber" was written in 1947. Sixty-two years, two black preachers, a couple high-profile assassinations and one black president later, and, well, as much progress as we've seen in civil rights over the past half century, under the surface nothing has really changed. Go through the story and change "black" to "gay" and "nigger" to "faggot" and you may be alarmed at how familiar it all sounds.

Hell, translate the story into any of various languages and substitute "American" for "black" and "Yankee" for "nigger," and you have an idea of what it's like to grow up as an American international student in a country that resents American foreign policy.

It is trying on liberals in Dilton.
Tags: politics, reading, reviews
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