‘The Barber’ by Flannery O’Connor

The Barber by Flannery O’Connor, 1948

The magic trick:

Perfectly highlighting the peculiar speech patterns of the setting

Well, it’s good to know that infuriatingly pointless political arguments didn’t start with social media. Flannery O’Connor takes your latest Facebook fight and places it in a 1940s barber shop. It’s one of her grad school stories, and you can see that it’s tentative in places where a decade later she would kick in the door. (Rayber punches the barber in the final scene? Come on. In a Good Man story, that punch would be a death blow, no doubt.) But it’s remarkable in many respects.

I’ll just highlight the language. She nails the “local color” thing. The men in the barber shop speak with a rhythm that is perfectly of its place and time, without being pandering or overwrought. That might sound simple, but it’s really not easy to do. And that’s quite a trick on O’Connor’s part.

The selection:

Rayber wanted to know what that had to do with thinking.

The barber thought it was plain as a pig on a sofa what that had to do with thinking. He thought a good many other things too, which he told Rayber. He said Rayber should have heard the Hawkson speeches at Mullin’s Oak, Bedford, and Chickerville.

Rayber settled down in his chair again and reminded the barber that he had come in for a shave.

The barber started back shaving him. He said Rayber should have heard the one at Spartasville. “There wasn’t a Mother Hubbard left standin’, and all the Boy Blues got their horns broke. Hawk said,” he said, “that the time had come when you had to sit on the lid with….”

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