‘You Can’t Be Any Poorer Than Dead’ by Flannery O’Connor

You Can’t Be Any Poorer Than Dead by Flannery O’Connor, 1955

The magic trick:

Confusing the protagonist and reader both as to what and who is real

This story doubles as the first chapter in Flannery’s novel The Violent Bear It Away. It’s a disorienting and discomforting. It also, by the way, works amazingly well as a story. I don’t know about the rest of the novel, but it’s a great standalone.

Anyway, it’s confusing. The boy is dealing with a crisis. His great-uncle has died. Or has he? He hears voices. He talks to himself. It’s not clear what’s real, what’s a dream. He doesn’t seem to be able to determine which is which, so of course the reader doesn’t have much of a chance, either.

And that’s quite a trick on O’Connor’s part.

The selection:

“The dead don’t bother with particulars,” the boy interrupted.

The old man grabbed the front of his overalls and pulled him up against the side of the box so that their faces were not two inches apart. “The world was made for the dead. Think of all the dead there are,” he said and then, as if he had conceived the answer for all insolence, he said, “There’s a million times more dead than living and the dead are dead a million times longer than the living are alive!” and he released him with a laugh.

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