Everything Off Balance
"If He did what He said, then it's nothing for you to do but throw away everything
and follow Him, and if He didn't, then it's nothing for you to do
but enjoy the few minutes you got left . . ." (152)
Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" (1953)
Points of Reflection
The Bible: Mark 12:28-34
1. is it possible to reconcile the Biblical call to love others sacrificially--to "love your neighbor as yourself" (Mark 12:31), to love and respect family members (Ephesians 5:21-33 - 6:4), to love even your enemies (Matthew 5:44), and be willing to lay down your life for others (John 15:13)--with Jesus' observation in Matthew 10 that he "did not come to bring peace, but a sword" (Matthew 10:34)?
The Bible: Matthew 10:32-39
1. how might Jesus turn family members against one another (Matthew 10:35-36)?
2. what might it mean to "acknowledge" Jesus before others (Matthew 10:32), or to "take up [one's] cross and follow [Jesus]" (v.38)?
3. unpack the paradox in verse 39.
Salvador Dalí's The Temptation of St. Anthony (1946)
1. St. Anthony of Padua, born "Fernando Martins" in Portugal, joined a Franciscan friar at a hermitage dedicated to Saint Anthony of Egypt (at which point he changed his name), in the process adopting a vow of poverty. He later wound up in Padua, Italy. St. Anthony was renowned for the simplicity of his Christian teachings, his devotion to the impoverished, and is known today as the "finder of lost articles" because his special book of psalms--stolen by a visiting novice--was returned to him following his prayer for its return. He died at the age of 35 due to ergotism, a type of slow food poisoning caused by fungal contamination of grains like rye and wheat. Do any of these details help you decipher Dalí's surrealistic painting about the saint?
2. why do you imagine St. Anthony of Padua (1195-1231) is naked here?
3. consider the rock-like object on which St. Anthony leans. Where is his left calf relative to this rock? Is this object restraining him or supporting him?
3. do the long legs of the five elephants make them seem heavier, or lighter? Do they seem well-balanced, or precariously perched atop their spindly legs? It might be useful to recall the questions of balance raised by Dalí's Apparatus and Hand (1927) and The Great Masturbator (1929).
4. what of the long-legged horse in the foreground? Does his proximity to the viewer counter the effect of his long legs?
5. if each item in this parade of objects and creatures represents some form of temptation, which might the horse represent? What of the obelisk on the third elephant, based on Gian Lorenzo Bernini's Elephant and Obelisk (1667) in Rome, which Pope Alexander VII had commissioned?
6. Why might Dalí include Palladian-style buildings reminiscent of Roman architecture (see the golden buildings atop the two elephants in the rear) as a type of temptation?
7. why place a skull near the feet of St. Anthony?
8. do the two small, humanoid figures in the mid-ground echo or provide a foil for St. Anthony's own struggle in the foreground?
9. why might the light blue background, irradiated by gold illumination coming off the golden buildings, dissolve into blackness towards the lefthand corner of the canvas? Why is St. Anthony himself in shadow, whereas everything else in the painting is lit up?
10. why include the tall tower partially obscured by clouds to the right, and provide a partial glimpse to the far right of El Escorial, the historical residence of the King of Spain?
Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" (1953), 137-53
1. what is the grandmother wearing, and why?
2. what does the old lady's desire to paint a portrait of a "pickaninny" naked, in front of his house (139), reveal about her character?
3. do you agree with the grandmother's self-evaluation of herself as having "a naturally sunny disposition" (141)?
4. is the grandmother committed to the truth? Is it easy to characterize her as either a "good" or "bad" woman?
5. what sets in motion the events that lead to the car's turning over?
6. the grandmother recognizes the driver of the car that stops by their overturned car, but can't place the face, exactly (146). Why not?
7. why, exactly, does this other car stop?
8. what does the Misfit's appearance (146) signal about his character?
9. why might children make the Misfit nervous (146, 147)?
10. does the Misfit think himself a "good man"?
11. in what way did the Misfit distinguish himself from his siblings when younger?
12. do the woods in this tale appear friendly, ominous, or indifferent to humanity?
13. the Misfit reports that a psychologist in the penitentiary told him he had killed his father, which he denies (150). What might the shrink have actually been saying?
14. why does the old lady repeatedly tell the Misfit that he should pray (149, 150, 152)?
15. the Misfit implies that his criminal career was determined by being "'buried alive'" in a penitentiary after doing something uncharacteristically wrong (149), and claims more directly that the punishment he has received in the past has not matched the crimes he has committed (151). Does O'Connor appear to agree, blaming his antisocial behavior on his environment, and implicitly exonerating him from his actions?
16. does the story encourage us to identify either the Misfit or the old lady as the more sinful party? Does the story answer the Misfit's query about why "'one is punished a heap and another ain't punished at all'" (151)?
17. according to the Misfit, in what ways did Jesus throw "'everything off balance'" (151, 152)?
18. the narrator identifies the moment when the old lady touches the Misfit, calling him "'one of my babies . . . one of my children!'" (152) as a moment of clarity (152), yet he is obviously not her child (nothing in the story supports this). Why, then, does the narrator claim that her "head [had] cleared for an instant" (152)?
19. the Misfit claims the grandmother would have been a good woman all her life is she had constantly lived under the threat of death (153), suggesting that she was a better person the last 6-7 pages of the story. Can you find evidence of this goodness?
20. O'Connor's protagonists--often anti-heroes--frequently have an epiphany towards the end of their respective stories. Does this tale have one or two such characters, one or two such epiphanies?
"The Railway Station at Perpignan" (1965)
oil on canvas
Dr. Paul Marchbanks