Today, I read another of Flannery O’Connor’s short stories. As I read another story each week, I’m slowly growing to appreciate O’Connor.
This short story narrates the life of a woman named Miss Willerton. Now, specifics about her life aren’t really given. We know that her occupation consist of crumbing the table. I understood that she worked at a nursing home, but it could be another job where she clears tables of crumbs. There is this passage about writing that I thoroughly enjoyed:
Miss Willerton was a great believer in what she called “phonetic art.” She maintained that the ear was as much a reader as the ey. She liked to express it that way. “The eye forms a picture,” she had told a group at the United Daughters of the Colonies, “that can be painted in the abstract, and the success of a literary venture” (Miss Willerton liked the phrase, ‘literary venture’) “depends on the abstract created in the mind and the tonal quality” (Miss Willerton also liked ‘tonal quality’) “registered in the ear.” There was something biting and sharp about “Lot Motun called his dog”; followed by “the dog pricked up its ears and slunk over to him,” it gave the paragraph just the send-off it needed. (p. 35)
What is said is important; and how that is said is just as important.
There were two truths about stories that I gleaned from this short story. They both come from the following two passages. So, Willie (Miss Willerton), is writing about a man and a woman–who are sharecroppers. The woman’s name is Willie (Willie the writer seems to be putting herself in the story as Willie the character). Willie the writer, after writing for while, must go to the grocery store.
Lot would be tall, stooped, and shaggy but with sad eyes that made him look like a gentleman in spite of his red neck and big fumbling hands. He’d have straight teeth and, to indicate that he had some spirit, red hair. His clothes would hang on him but he’d wear them nonchalantly like they were part of his skin; maybe, she mused, he’d better not roll over with the dog after all. The woman would be more or less pretty – yellow hair, fat ankles, muddy-colored eyes. (p. 37)
Miss Willerton looked at the couple sharply as they came nearer and passed. The woman was plump with yellow hair and fat ankles and muddy-colored eyes. She had on high-heel pumps and blue anklets, a too-short cotton dress, and a plaid jacket. Her skin was mottled and her neck thrust forward as if she were sticking it out to smell something that was always being drawn away. Her face was set in an inane grin. The man was long and wasted and shaggy. His shoulders were stooped and there were yellow knots along the side of his large, red neck. His hands fumbled stupidly with the girl’s as they slumped along, and once or twice he smiled sickly at her and Miss Willerton could see that he had straight teeth and sad eyes and a rash over his forehead. (p. 41)
So, we can see that, although there are differences between the fictional characters of Willie’s story and the people she sees at the grocery store (after writing already), they have some of the same descriptions–‘yellow hair,’ ‘fat ankles,’ ‘muddy-colored eyes,’ ‘shaggy,’ and ‘red neck.’
There are two things that I glean from these tow paragraphs.
1. Stories reflect reality, at some level. Willie experiences life and writes about it, even if she doesn’t realize it. She doesn’t meet the real people at the grocery store until she’s alread written about Willie (the character) and Lot. Nevertheless, in writing about human beings, she is painting a picture of reality.
2. Stories affect us. When Willie writes the story, she puts herself into the story, literally naming the woman in the story after herself. In addition, Willie (the writer) sees people that characteristically resemble her characters. We are in these stories. These characters are in our lives. These stories affect human beings in tangible ways; but not only in tangible ways.