Flannery O'Connor's "Everything That Rises Must Converge" first appeared in New World Writing Number 17, in 1961, from which it was selected for inclusion in both Best American Short Stories of 1962 and Prize Stories of 1963: The O. Henry Awards. It appeared posthumously, as the title story of the final collection of her fiction, in 1965. It has, in consequence, had special attention called to it over a period of years and has received critical, if sometimes puzzled, readings at a number of hands. Predictably, much (though not all) of that attention has centered upon the topical materials it uses, the "racial" problem which seems the focus of the conflict between the story's "Southern mother" and her liberal son. That sort of attention is one of the inevitable by-products of the turmoils that have engaged us since the story's initial publication, turmoils that fulfill Unamuno's prophecy that soon we would be dying in the streets of sentimentality. In the interest of getting beyond the topical materials of the story, to those qualities of it that will make it endure in our literature, I should like to examine it in some detail, starting, as seems most economical, with a particularly superficial evaluation of it which Miss O'Connor called to my attention.
When the story appeared as first prize winner of the 1963 O. Henry Awards, it was remarked in one of those primary sources of Miss O'Connor's raw material, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
... her basic plot line is provocative and witty: an old-guard Southern lady, afraid to ride the buses without her son since integration, parades out for an evening dressed in a new and expensive hat. On the bus she encounters a Negro woman in the same hat. Unfortunately the denouement of the story (the good Southern lady drops dead) is uncomfortable. It is pushed just too far.
An Olympian, anonymous evaluation, by one who has not even noticed that Julian is the protagonist. Almost two years later, when the posthumous collection appeared, there followed a praiseful review of the collection in which its author was called "the most gallant writer, male or female in our contemporary culture," in which review Julian's mother is again specifically identified as the story's "protagonist."
One no longer expects to discover incisive reviews in newspapers, more's the pity, and these notices themselves are of little importance except that they show forth a good bit of the context from which Miss O'Connor drew the materials of her fiction. She had immediate access to her "Christ-haunted" figures through local radio programs; one need only canvass the location stations between 11:00 A.M. and 2:00 P.M. during the week and on Sunday mornings to hear the voices of her prophets, though not their substance, and to see what a true ear she had for that speaking voice. But she used as well the Atlanta daily papers (called by rural Georgians as often as not "them lying Atlanta papers"). In them, for instance, she could see every Saturday a...