Flannery O’ Connor Gets Snarky
If you don’t read The Letters Of Note blog, you need add it to your list.
That way, you won’t miss gems like this letter from Flannery O’ Connor to an English professor who, along with his class, was attempting to determine the meaning of A Good Man Is Hard To Find.
He writes O’ Connor with the following theory and question:
In general we believe that the appearance of the Misfit is not ‘real’ in the same sense that the incidents of the first half of the story are real. Bailey, we believe, imagines the appearance of the Misfit, whose activities have been called to his attention on the night before the trip and again during the stopover at the roadside restaurant. Bailey, we further believe, identifies himself with the Misfit and so plays two roles in the imaginary last half of the story. But we cannot, after great effort, determine the point at which reality fades into illusion or reverie. Does the accident literally occur, or is it part of Bailey’s dream?
O’ Connor, seemingly annoyed by the professor’s question, responds with a long letter that includes the following quote:
The interpretation of your ninety students and three teachers is fantastic and about as far from my intentions as it could get to be. If it were a legitimate interpretation, the story would be little more than a trick and its interest would be simply for abnormal psychology. I am not interested in abnormal psychology. . . . The meaning of a story should go on expanding for the reader the more he thinks about it, but meaning cannot be captured in an interpretation. If teachers are in the habit of approaching a story as if it were a research problem for which any answer is believable so long as it is not obvious, then I think students will never learn to enjoy fiction. Too much interpretation is certainly worse than too little, and where feeling for a story is absent, theory will not supply it. My tone is not meant to be obnoxious. I am in a state of shock.
How awesome is that final line?
What I love about this letter is how O’ Connor cuts through the B.S. of a lot of literary interpretation. How much of it is just over analysis, looking for something where something doesn’t exist? I took a 400-level Shakespeare class in college, and I remember my frustration with all of the hair-brained theories about his works.
I also love this line: “Meaning cannot be captured in an interpretation.” One of the things I’ve done on this blog is simply just talk about the basics of each book and author while expanding on my reactions to the plot and the writing and so on. I could write thousands of words for each post if I wanted to talk about literary theory and interpretation. But I don’t have a lot of interest in that, and I gather that a lot of you guys don’t either.
That’s why I love this Flannery O’ Connor letter. (You can read the whole thing on Letters of Note.)
What do you think?