Mimetic roots of Flannery O'Connor's The violent bear it away
Zamic, Stephen George
Master of Arts
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Literature from classical antiquity to the end of the eighteenth century was predominantly mimetic; that is, the general function of literature was to present a heightened imitation of reality, and, in particular those aspects of reality which are most crucial to understanding the meaning of human destiny. Although Flannery O'Connor does not use the term "imitation," her carefully formulated aesthetics bear witness to this basic orientation. More than her comments on the art of fiction, her literary achievement, specifically her second novel. The Violent Bear It Away (1960), reveals a mind that has a firm sense of the demands of mimesis, and is intuitively close to the principles and values of this tradition. Through a detailed analysis of The Violent Bear It Away. I show how it is mimetic— how it represents an imitation of reality in the sense theoretically outlined by Aristotle. My thesis attempts to discover a plausible critical basis upon which O'Connor's fiction can be understood and evaluated. I believe that as one of her mature works. The violent Bear It Away is representative of her fictional approach: most of her fiction tends to fall within a closely circumscribed thematic, social, and emotional range. If this is true,then perhaps my approach to the novel can be applied to other individual works. When viewed "reflexively," The Violent Bear It Away appears to comment upon O'Connor's fictional art, and as this thesis demonstrates, the attitudes in the novel correspond to the classical ideals surrounding mimesis. For example, Aristotle's theory of katharsis was connected to his belief in the formative effect of art on the mind. Katharsis operates by stimulating our ability to convert insight into feeling, while at the same time controlling and directing that feeling according to a dramatically rendered and symbolically ordered form. But The Violent Bear It Away suggests that humanity's redemption by Jesus Christ is a process of "dark and disruptive" grace which carries with it its own terrifying katharsis. O'Connor suggests that God uses evil (as her novel uses negative emotions and violence) as a kind of therapeutic instrument to purify and instruct the protagonist of the story, Francis Marion Tarwater.