Saturday, December 27, 2008

Flannery O'Connor describing a "sigh"

Flannery O'Connor's short story, "The Geranium," is about an old man (Old Dudley) who is living with his daughter in the city. Their family grew up in the South, and the daughter has taken her father in out of a sense of filial obligation: "She was doing her duty. She had brothers and sisters who were not" (6).

Old Dudley is a displaced individual, overwhelmed by the bustle of a city radically unlike the home of his former life. Times have changed and Dudley has grown "old." He spends his time in the apartment "waiting for the geranium" to be placed on the windowsill of the apartment across from his. The aging flower reminds him of his past and represents the fragility of his own tired routines.

Toward the beginning of the story, the Old Dudley and his daughter finish a typically strained conversation.

"She moved out of the room, leaving an audible sigh, to crawl over him and remind him again of that one minute--that wasn't her fault at all--when suddenly he had wanted to go to New York to live with her" (4).
A number of elements caused me to re-read this sentence.

1. O'Connor here personifies the daughter's sigh. She takes an audible element and gives it visual dimension. We first hear the "audible sigh," and then we are forced to watch it "crawl" across the room to torment Dudley. I say "forced" because the reader has no choice but to visualize the effect of the daughter's indifference upon her father. He doesn't just hear it, and we don't just read it.

2. We are affected by the word picture O'Connor paints before we are aware of its presence. Just as Old Dudley endures the moment of coerced recollection, the reader too is likewise impacted. A reader can fail to appreciate this element but cannot escape the vividness of the image.

3. In this literary moment, there is multifaceted movement. The movement at the beginning of the sentence is physical (the daughter moves out of the room leaving her seated father), the movement in the middle of the sentence is figurative (the crawling sigh), and the movement at the end of the sentence is mental (he remembers and reasons with himself). There is not much action here, but the scene is far from stagnant.

All of the principal emotions of this story are manifest in this sentence.

Sentences like that are why I enjoy reading O'Connor's short stories.

Text: "The Geranium." In Flannery O'Connor: The Complete Stories, 3-14.

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