‘Why Do The Heathens Rage?’ by Flannery O’Connor

Why Do The Heathens Rage? by Flannery O’Connor, 1963

The magic trick:

Using limited third person to put the reader in the mother’s point of view

Evidently intended as the start of her would-be third novel, “Why Do The Heathens Rage?” ends abruptly. I like it, though. It distills a lot of her main themes into a tight, little five pages. We get the clash of generations that is very particular to post-World War II southern life.

Technically speaking, the story expertly employs a limited third-person narration that puts the reader in the incredibly judgmental, angry, and confused point of view of the mother character. It’s an important view to take as we explore the aforementioned generational divide. And that’s quite a trick on O’Connor’s part.

The selection:

She had been watching him all along, searching for some sign in his big bland face that some sense of urgency had touched him, some sense that now he had to take hold, that now he had to do something, anything – she would have been glad to see him make a mistake, even make a mess of things if it meant that he was doing something – but she saw that nothing had happened. His eyes were on her, glittering just slightly behind his glasses. He had taken in every detail of Tilman’s face; he had registered Roosevelt’s tears, Mary Maud’s confusion, and now he was studying her to see how she was taking it. She yanked her hat straight, seeing by his eyes that it had slipped toward the back of her head.

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