Book Review: The Violent Bear It Away

The Violent Bear It Away:  A Novel, by Flannery O’Connor

This particular book is a dark and chilling novel, one that portrays the life of the rural South as featuring a complex battle over spirituality in which someone is compelled against his own timidity to fulfill the destiny that was placed upon him with the prophecy of a dead relative.  The author appears in this particular novel to be wrestling with the limits of free will and determinism, and the way in which even accident and blunder can lead to the workings of God’s mysterious and not always benevolent will.  Like many novels, not least to say many novels that deal with dark matters of the relationship between God and man and people and other people, the title itself is taken from scripture about how the zealous take the kingdom by force, and the plot of the novel itself eventually shows how this takes place in a particularly grim example that is unconventional and filled with social misfits, as is pretty common in the writing of the author as a whole.  It should be noted that while there is a deeply Christian focus to this work, it is not of the kind that is likely to be comforting to the reader.

This short novel of a bit more than 200 pages is divided into three parts.  In the first part, we see an old man dying and giving his surviving relatives an unhappy prophecy that all of the people involved are trying to forget, not least because various aspects of the prophecy continue to haunt them.  There are three people at the center of this novel.  One of them is the orphaned Francis Marion Tarwater, whose mother died while giving birth to him in a car crash, having been unmarried at the time.  We then have his cousin, the aggressively secularist schoolteacher Rayber, and Rayber’s young son Bishop, who is greatly curious in religious matters despite (or perhaps because of) his father’s vehement disapproval.  After some increasingly tense experiences during a vacation as well as their normal home life, the prophecy that Tarwater would become a prophet and would baptize his cousin’s son end up coming true in a particularly horrifying way, leaving the reader deeply disturbed as this novel comes to a shocking end.

In our times, we are likely to see Christianity as being a mild and even milquetoast sort of religion held by people with broadly liberal and tolerant views of society, except for those sorts of extremists for whom our age pours forth its most intense scorn.  In this particular novel, though, we see a faith that is under continual assault by the contempt of the congnoscenti who view anything related to religious faith as being barbarous and backwards. One wonders to what extent the author herself was assaulted by the aggressive unbelief of those around her, whether in her family or within Southern society as a whole or within academia.  Wherever it came from, it had a huge influence on the way that O’Connor did not view secularism as being non-Christian but as implacably hostile to the moral and evidentiary claims of Christianity, and as dangerously so to the extent of harming children for the sake of preserving its unbelief.  That this harsh view has born itself out in the culture wars of our own time makes O’Connor herself a harsh and somewhat implacable prophet of the stark divide that exists between those who trust their own good sense and authority over themselves and those that, however weak and timid, believe in God and have some sort of trust in Him.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, Christianity and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Book Review: The Violent Bear It Away

  1. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Reblogged this on James' Ramblings.

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