A Temple Of The Holy Ghost by Flannery O’Connor, 1954
The magic trick:
Shaping the reader’s view of the story through a precocious, judgmental young narrator
I try not to read much about these stories before I dribble out my inane SSMT analysis for fear of stealing someone’s much wiser words. But I really, really enjoyed this story a lot and was too curious to know what other people thought to not explore Google. And what do I find? A whole bunch of analysis that links this story to Catholicism. O’Connor, of course, was a devout Catholic. Myself, not being much of a devout anything these days, struggled to make the connection. I simply don’t know the Catholic symbols or ideas well enough to view the story through such a prism.
So, that said, I offer the following magic trick with the caveat that I’m sure – if the Internet is correct, and it always is, right? – that I’m not writing about the key symbols and literary devices at work here. I’m operating on a tangential, possibly incorrect, analytical path here.
But, hey, what else is new on the magic tricks website?
I think the story really works because of the character at its core. The ideas and themes are great – of course. But it all matters because of the young narrator. She is great. I’d like to imagine she’s drawn from O’Connor as a kid. Who knows? There are signs there. This kid is smart – too smart for her own good, probably. She’s way too judgmental – but mostly right in her judgments, probably. She’s aggressive in her assimilation of ideas. Like she is incredibly naive and ignorant still – she’s a kid after all. But that does nothing to diminish her confidence. She assembles a very distinct worldview with every bit of information she gathers, even in the face of the fact that the information often is confusing or surprising.
It’s just a phenomenal character. Memorable and crucial to exploring those aforementioned religious themes. Regardless of how you interpret this story, the narrator is the key to all of it. And that’s quite a trick on O’Connor’s part.
When they came the girls stared at them a second and then began to giggle and talk to each other about the convent. They sat in a swing together and Wendell and Cory sat on the banisters together. They sat like monkeys, their knees on a level with their shoulders and their arms hanging down between. They were short thin boys with red faces and high cheekbones and pale seed-like eyes. They had brought a harmonica and a guitar. One of them began to blow softly on the mouth organ, watching the girls over it, and the other started strumming the guitar and then began to sing, not watching them but keeping this head tilted upward as if he were only interested in hearing himself. He was singing a hillbilly song that sounded half like a love song and half like a hymn.
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