‘A Circle In The Fire’ by Flannery O’Connor

Blood and thunder … Flannery O'Connor.

A Circle In The Fire by Flannery O’Connor, 1954

The magic trick:

The importance of thanksgiving

Hey, you say, what happened to our little run of Thanksgiving stories this week at SSMT? What gives, man?

Settle down, settle down. This may not be a tidy little O. Henry tale of Thanksgiving cheer, but it is a story of thanksgiving nonetheless, and a very nice way to end our holiday week.

The setting recalls, more than slightly, O’Connor’s story, “Good Country People.” A woman lives on a large, rich plot of land with her daughter and a family of caretakers. Being an O’Connor story, there is of course a lot going on here, but I’m going to focus on the notion of thanksgiving. Mrs. Cope, the property owner, often launches into pompous sermons about the importance of giving thanks. However, this idea stands in direct contrast to her lifestyle. She takes her luxurious life for granted – is rude to her workers, is resented by Mrs. Pritchard, and, most notably, treats her daughter with a critical, scornful eye. She does not appreciate who her daughter is, but instead chastises her for who she is not. It’s a pretty picture of contradiction. And that’s quite a trick on O’Connor’s part.

The selection:

“I’m sure Powell wouldn’t do a thing like that,” she said, coming out with the plate of sandwiches and setting it down on the step. They emptied the plate at once and she picked it up and stood holding it, looking at the sun which was going down in front of them, almost on top of the tree line. It was swollen and flame-colored and hung in a net of ragged cloud as if it might burn through any second and fall into the woods. From the upstairs window the child saw her shiver and catch both arms to her sides. “We have so much to be thankful for,” she said suddenly in a mournful marveling tone. “Do you boys thank God every night for all He’s done for you? Do you thank Him for everything?”

This put an instant hush over them. They bit into the sandwiches as if they had lost all taste for food.

“Do you?” she persisted.

They were as silent as thieves hiding. They chewed without a sound.

“Well, I know I do,” she said at length and turned and went back to the house and the child watched their shoulders drop. The large one stretched his legs out as if he were releasing himself from a trap. The sun burned so fast that it seemed to be trying to set everything in sight on fire. The white water tower was glazed pink and the grass was an unnatural green as if it were turning to glass. The child suddenly stuck her head far out the window and said, “Ugggghhrhh,” in a loud voice, crossing her eyes and hanging her tongue out as far as possible as if she were going to vomit.


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