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Flannery O’ Connor: the River

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    Iris Chicas Flannery O’ Connor Essay 19 April 2013 Gray is more Black than White An analysis of evil and the anti-Christ figure of Mr. Paradise in “The River” In Flannery O’Connor’s story “The River”, the color gray is associated with the idea of evil. This evil is represented in the character of Mr. Paradise, who appears as the anti-Christ figure at the end when the protagonist reaches his epiphany and ironically drowns himself in the “River of Life”. O’ Connor associates much of her descriptions of Mr. Paradise with the color gray.

    For example, she introduces him as, “a huge old man who sat like a humped stone on the bumper of a long ancient gray automobile. He had on a gray hat that was turned down over one ear and up over the other to expose a purple bulge on his left temple” (38). In this description of Mr. Paradise, both his automobile and hat, which covers his cancerous ear, are the color gray. The element of gray also appears later to describe the Connin children’s eyes, as well as the pigs, glass, and even some of the scenery in the story.

    O’ Connor’s first use of gray in the story is when describing the morning. Early in the story, O’Connor describes “[o]utside the gray morning was blocked off on either side by the unlit empty building” (27). This is the morning in which Mrs. Connin comes to the Ashfield home in order to take Bevel with her to the healing at the river. Bevel, on this day, learns from Mrs. Connin where he comes from. O’ Connor writes, “[y]ou found out more when you left where you lived. He had found out already this morning that he had been made by a carpenter named Jesus Christ.

    Before he had thought it had been a doctor named Sladewall, a fat man with a yellow mustache who gave him shots and thought his name was Herbert, but this must have been a joke. They joked a lot where he lived” (33). Bevel’s parents do not teach him much nor are they religious people, thus Bevel is ignorant of any kind of religious ideas. This gray morning is empty, just as Bevel is empty inside. Bevel’s emptiness pertains to the lack of belief, in almost every aspect of his life. This conflict within Bevel seems to be the overall conflict of the story. It is obvious that before Mrs.

    Connin, Bevel had little knowledge of anything meaningful due to his parents. The only time Bevel hears of Christ or God in his home is with expression such as, “Well then for Christ’s sake fix him” (25) or “My God! What a name” (42). Thus he is used to associating Christ with “‘Oh’ or ‘damn’ or ‘God’” (33) in statements that in no way reference or praise God. Bevel’s parents neglect his religious education just as much as they neglect him. Neglect is a reoccurring theme throughout the story. His parents neglect him and usually send him off with sitters.

    O’ Connor mentions, “ Once he had been beaten up in the park by some strange boys when his sitter forgot him, but he hadn’t known anything was going to happen that time until it was over” (31). This illustrates Bevel’s innocence yet, for his age, he has seen a lot of careless and irresponsible behavior and through that encountered a lot of bad and evil doings from others. More evil seems to be present in Bevel’s life than good, just as more evil is depicted in O’ Connor’s story. However, both the ideas of good and evil, conflict at the end of the story.

    There are other instances of the color gray that O’ Connor integrates in the story. Another example her use of gray is to show the juxtaposition of good and evil through her description of the clouds. The clouds relate to evil but pertain to good. O’ Connor metaphorically describes the clouds as gray and the sun as white. She writes, “[t]he white Sunday sun followed at a distance, climbing fast through the sum of gray clouds as if it meant to overtake them” (33). The sun that is being described is an image of God. This image of God is good, and therefore, the white sun overtakes the sky while the evil gray clouds disintegrate.

    The sun, described as “white,” can also be associated with the purity and innocence of Bevel’s childhood. The use of O’Connor’s Third-person narrative fits the story very well, for it allows the reader to know what is happening within and around the characters. Her full and in-depth descriptions of both the characters appearances and actions are best served by her third person narration. Gray appears in the description of Connin children’s eyes. O’ Connor states that, “[t]heir speckles were pale and their eyes were still and gray as glass” (31).

    Ironically, glass is not gray, glass is clear and although glass is nothing more than a barrier that one can see through, it has no distinct color. Their expressions are empty; the only thing that seems to be noticeable is the gray tint of evil in their eyes. This echoes the grayness and emptiness of that morning. The Connin children stare at Bevel, as O’ Connor writes that they “watched from where they were. The one sitting on the pen held the loose board back with his dangling foot. Their stern faces didn’t brighten any but they seemed to become less taut, as if some great need had been partly satisfied” (32).

    Although the children tried offering their “kindness” to Bevel it was not a kind gesture of any sort. The children seem to partake in some dark and evil pleasure from seeing Bevel hurt. The pig that attacks Bevel at the farm is not only described as gray, “another face, gray, wet and sour, was pushing into his, knocking him down and back as it scraped out under the plank” (32), but it is also the pig associated with Mr. Paradise. As O’ Connor states, “[t]hat one yonders favors Mr. Paradise that has the gas station” (33). The association that this particular pig has to Mr.

    Paradise, in connection to gray, shows that the pig itself is evil as is the character of Mr. Paradise. On this gray day, Bevel is exposed to the evil through his experiences with the Connin children as well as the pig. O’ Connor incorporates a Bible story of the pigs into her own story. The book that Bevel steals from Mrs. Connin “was full of pictures, one of the carpenter driving a crowd of pigs out of a man. They were real pigs, gray and sour-looking and Mrs. Connin said Jesus had driven them all out of this one man” (34). This Bible story describes Jesus “curing” these possessed people from the demons inside them.

    Jesus takes these demons out of their physical bodies and puts them into the bodies of the pigs. Jesus then leads the herd of pigs down to the river to drown them. Bevel, never having seen a real pig before today, used to think that pigs looked like “small fat pink animals with curly tails and round grinning faces and bow tie”(32). This illustrates Bevel’s childlike naivety, as the pigs that he envisions resemble something fictional out of a child’s story book. The element of gray describing the pigs at the farm, and those in the Bible story, ties back to Mr.

    Paradise, for at the end of the story, O’ Connor describes Mr. Paradise himself as a “pig”. Seeing the river and being baptized in it pushes Bevel to his epiphany. The first time Bevel sees the river, O’ Connor describes it, “[a]t the bottom of the hill, the woods opened suddenly onto a pasture dotted here and there with black and white cows and sloping down, tier after tier, to a broad orange stream where the refection of the sun was set like a diamond” (35). The river itself is this “orange stream” because of colors of red and orange produced by the

    reflection of the sun. For the river is ironically named, “the River of Life”, thus it is a stream of blood, with the reflection of the “diamond sun” the red appears orange. This scenery also embodies both the presence of good and evil, displayed by the “pasture dotted here and there with black and white cows”. Bevel now finds himself at Gods’, “River of Life,” yet he is still surrounded by evil. When Bevel returns to the river, Mr. Paradise is the last person to see Bevel as he tries to “save” him from drowning. Here is where O’ Connor metaphorically compares Mr.

    Paradise to a ‘pig’ similar to the Bible story of the demon pigs. After walking into the water, “the waiting current caught him like a long gentle hand and pulled him swiftly forward and down. For an instant he was overcome with surprise; then since he was moving quickly and knew he was getting somewhere, all his fury and his fear left him” (49). The river ultimately takes Bevel, to save him, not only from himself but from the evil in the world, illustrated by Mr. Paradise. The gray, or evil, that is present throughout the story at the end loses to the goodness and saving grace of God.

    God is light and present in all things. The gray, presented in Mr. Paradise, is the anti–Christ concept that is always lurking to incur bad doings or discourage any belief in the good, as the reader see through the images of the farm pig and the Connin children. However, the goodness or light of God, presented in the sun and the river, always over power this evil presence. At the conclusion of the story, the death of Bevel in the river represents rebirth and God’s acceptance of Christians to the Kingdom of Christ.

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