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Disability & Sympathy

"The case was clear to Sheppard instantly. His
mischief was compensation for the foot" (600).
Flannery O'Connor's "The Lame Shall Enter First" (1965)


Points of Reflection

Flannery O'Connor's "The Church and the Fiction Writer" (1957), 807-12

1. how does O'Connor define the "eye" when considering that which is appropriate material for the writer of fiction (807 bot)? What limitations does she place on the eye of the Christian/Catholic writer? Does she agree that there are certain things that such a writer should be unwilling to look at squarely (808-810)?

2. consider the following, interrelated paradoxes:

3. O'Connor claims that contemporary Catholics' leanings towards Manichaeism--their tendency to separate "nature and grace" (or the material body and the spiritual world) as far apart from one another as possible--leads to both a narrow view of the supernatural and an inclination to see reality (as depicted in the Arts) as either "the sentimental" or "the obscene" (809). What does she cite as the dangerous consequences of such polarized vision?

4. O'Connor suggests that the Christian author's writing process might be spiritually fruitful for her/himself, yet result in a literary product that fosters sin in its reader (810 top-mid). Her "fix" for this quandry is to allow the Church to censure the Arts (810 bot). Can you envision any other ways out of this conundrum? Also, does Romans 14:13-23 apply?

5. O'Connor recommends that the Catholic Church find a body of readers willing to recognize in fiction something "besides passages that they consider obscene" (811 mid). Consider this plea within the context of the larger Christian church, putting aside traditional denominational subdivisions for the moment. Do western Christians today appear more willing to judge film, literature, and music according to a standard of decency than to explore such Arts with moral criteria in mind?

6. do you agree with O'Connor's claims that, "It is when the individual's faith is weak, not when it is strong, that he will be afraid of an honest fictional representation of life, and [that] when there is a tendency to compartmentalize the spiritual and make it resident in a certain type of life only, the sense of the supernatural is apt gradually to be lost" (811-12).

Flannery O'Connor's "The Lame Shall Enter First" (1965), 595-632

1. in what ways do Sheppard’s biases limit the reader’s access to an objective take on the narrative’s events?  How many moments of free indirect discourse can you spot?

2. are Sheppard’s actions towards his son, Norton, loving?  Be sure to concretize “love” before answering this question.

3. Sheppard identifies deeply rooted selfishness in his ten-year-old son. Is this criticism warranted? Which of the three primary characters is the most self-centered?

4. at two different points, Rufus Johnson claims that while Mr. Sheppard may be "good," he's not "right" (604 bot, 624 mid). Does the story given any weight to this distinction?

5. is Sheppard's high valuation of reason and logic subtly interrogated by O' Connor, or loudly lauded?

6. how accurately does Sheppard "read" Rufus Johnson's actions and motivations? Does his formal background in counseling/psychology give him an edge in understanding the boy?

7. why does Sheppard reject Christianity?

8. what does Rufus mean when he suggests that Johnson thinks himself Jesus Christ (609 mid)?

9. why does O'Connor bestow a club foot on Rufus? What narrative function does this disability serve?

10. Rufus rejects Sheppard's claim that the boy is highly intelligent (627 bot). Whose position does the story itself support?

11. what impact does familiarity with the Bible have on Norton Johnson?

12. what does Sheppard's epiphany involve, and does it take place in time to transform his family (632)?

"Weaning of Furniture--Nutrition" (1937)
Salvador Dalí

Dr. Paul Marchbanks