The Enduring Chill by Flannery O’Connor, 1958
The magic trick:
Using the priest as a means of delivering earnest belief amidst the cartoon chaos of the rest of the story
We have seven characters who show up in “The Enduring Chill.” Not one is portrayed favorably. Most are nearly cartoonish in that special Flannery O’Connor way that is hilarious, mean, angry, and oddly sympathetic.
The story ends with real and intense meaning.
Something must have connected amidst all the punchlines and character attacks.
So, what happened? Where was the meaning? Which character was earnest?
I’d argue it’s the priest. The humor in his character doesn’t derive from who he is as much as it is who he is in relation to what Asbury expected him to be.
The things he says – taking a traditional Catholic hard line with Asbury – feels like the story’s fundamental, genuine belief. It is the foundation of normalcy by which all the other characters become cartoons in their oddball ignorance.
So that’s what I think. Yep. That’s why the story works.
And that’s quite a trick on O’Connor’s part.
She pulled the car into the side drive and a scattering of guineas exploded into the air and sailed screaming around the house. “Home again, home again jiggify jig!” she said.
“Oh God,” Asbury groaned.
“The artist arrives at the gas chamber,” Mary George said in her nasal voice.
He leaned on the door and got out, and forgetting his bags he moved toward the front of the house as if he were in a daze. His sister got out and stood by the car door, squinting at his bent unsteady figure. As she watched him go up the front steps, her mouth fell slack in her astonished face. “Why,” she said, “there is something the matter with him. He looks a hundred years old.”
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