The Train and The Peeler

the-supernatural-grace-of-flannery-o-connor

Due to sickness, etc., my reading schedule for the weekends has been strange. Nevertheless, I read two O’Connor short stories: ‘The Train’ last Saturday and ‘The Peeler’ today.

‘The Train’ is about a man named Hazel Wickers. He is on a train. The whole story revolves around the fact that Haze thinks that the porter looks like this man from his hometown (Eastrod) named old Cash. Haze is convince that the porter is old Cash’s son. Haze is a very introverted person and he keeps on remembering his brother. This story shows how well O’Connor can get her readers into the minds of her characters. The story ends with Haze remembering his mother in her casket. And as he lays in his berth (the bed compartment on a train), a connection is drawn between a coffin and this berth. Something strange and deep is going on here, but it is definitely perplexing to me. Here is the passage:

He seen her face through the crack when they were shutting the top on her, seen the shadow that came down over her face and pulled her mouth down like she wasn’t satisfied with resting, like she was going to spring up and shove the lid back and fly out like a spirit going to be satisfied: but they shut it on down. She might have been going to fly out of there, she might have been going to spring – he saw her terrible like a huge bat darting from the closing – fly out of there but it was falling dark on top of her, closing, coming closer, closer down and cutting off the light and the room and the trees seen through the window through the crack faster and darker closing down. He opened his eyes and saw it closing down and he sprang up between the crack and wedged his body through it and hung there moving, dizzy with the dim light of the train slowly showing the rug below, moving, dizzy. He hung there wet and cold and saw the porter at the other end of the car, a white shape in the darkness, standing there, watching him and not moving. The tracks curved and he fell back sick into the rushing stillness of the train. (p. 62)

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‘The Peeler’ is about a different Hazel: Hazel Motes. This Haze encounters ‘Jesus Fanatics’ handing out pamphlets outside of shop where a man is selling potato peelers. Haze ends up following the blind man and his daughter (the ‘Jesus Fanatics’). The blind man keeps on claiming that Haze is ‘marked,’ and Hazel rejects this, getting angry. Haze then leaves and goes to Leora Watts’ house. The night before was the first time he had slept with her (or anybody). He is now at her house and they have sex again. He then remembers a circus that he went to with his father and sister. His father sends them to a monkey tent as he goes into this special tent. Haze manages to go into the tent, and their is a woman doing some type of performance–she is in a sort of casket. His eyes remained fixed on her until he recognizes his father’s voice, then he runs out of tent. There seems to be a relationship between this memory of the special tent and Haze’s relationship with Leora. He then remembers when he gets home from the circus. What I understood this final scene to paint was the depths of shame in this boy–and this shame is not wholly a result of his own actions, but also his father’s. Here is the scene:

… [His mother] said, “What you seen?”

“What you seen?” she said.

“What you seen?” she said, using the same tone of voice all the time. She hit him across the legs with the stick, but he was like part of the tree. “Jesus died to redeem you,” she said.

“I never ast Him,” he muttered.

She didn’t hit him again but she stood looking at him, shut-mouthed, and he forgot the guilt of the tent for the nameless unplaced guilt that was in him. In a minute she threw the stick away from her and went back to the washpot, shut-mouthed. (p. 80)

Haze then proceeds to walk in the woods with rocks in his shoes for miles. He is intentionally forcing himself into pain. I think this is a response the guilt and shame that Haze fears – yet, this ending is perplexing as well. But, I think that this is the beauty of O’Connor and her stories: she gets us thinking by surprising and confusing us. This ending certainly sticks with me.

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