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    524 Style: Volume 44, No. 4, Winter 2010

    Donald E. HardyUniversity of Nevada, Reno

    Politeness in Flannery OConnors Fiction: Social

    Interaction, Language, and the Body

    1. Introduction

    Although the social context o Flannery OConnors ction has been studied in some

    detail, especially the racial social context, relatively little OConnor criticism has

    detailed the linguistic patterns o OConnors style and none thus ar has thoroughly

    analyzed the linguistic patterns o politeness.1 This neglect is quite surprising given

    the long history o politeness studies on authors as widely varied as Hemingway

    (Hardy, Strategic Politeness), Shakespeare (Magnusson), Ionesco (Simpson),

    and Dickens (Cecconi). My analysis o politeness in OConnors ction makes the

    argument that there is a stylistics o politeness in the ction: that is, that there are

    characteristic patterns representing politeness in OConnors ction. In particular,

    politeness in OConnors ction is intimately linked to OConnors concerns with

    the body, the grotesque, and the sacramental.

    When asked in an interview how Southern manners bear on the racial turmoil

    o her time, OConnor answered, Manners are the next best thing to Christian

    charity (qtd. in Magee 102), expressing at once a pessimism about Southern

    race relations, a aith in the power o manners that would today certainly seem

    misplaced, whether in the American South or any geographical region, and a keen

    awareness o the dierences between charity and manners. As Jan Nordby Gretlund

    points out, the demands o the social order in OConnors rural Georgia otenprove more than a match or ethical standards and Christian ideas o neighborly

    love (Flannery OConnor and Class 123). Charity (love) would ideally create

    a cohesive society, regardless o race and class. In the absence o charity, the

    distancing ormalisms o manners preserve a civili not a lovingsociety. In

    elaborating on the relationship between manners and charity, OConnor expressed

    doubt in an abundance o unadulterated Christian charity in the South but also

    expressed condence that the manners o both races will show through in the

    long run (qtd. in Magee 102). In spite o her clear belie in the ideals o Christiancharity, OConnor very much believed in the ecacy and necessity o ormality:

    Formality preserves that individual privacy which everybody needs and, in these

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    Politeness in Flannery OConnors Fiction 525

    times, is always in danger o losing (qtd. in Magee 104). And that ormality is

    there to protect everyone, according to OConnor:

    When you have a code o manners based on charity, then when the charity ailsas it is

    going to do constantlyyouve got those manners there to preserve each race rom small

    intrusions upon the other. The uneducated Southern Negro is not the clown hes made out

    to be. Hes a man o very elaborate manners and great ormality which he uses superbly

    or his own protection and to insure his own privacy. (Magee 104; also qtd. in Day 137)

    Given OConnors own privileging o religious issues in discussions o her ction,

    it is not surprising that social manners have not been among the oremost issues that

    OConnor critics have grappled with. D. Dean Shackelord, or example, argues

    that or OConnor earthly values, including those involving racial relations, were,

    in comparison to spiritual conviction, insignicant (89). There are exceptions,

    such as Gretlund, whose analyses o OConnors sensitivity to both race and class

    concentrate their attention on The Displaced Person (Flannery OConnor and

    Class, The Side o the Road). And there is Ralph C. Woods recognition o the

    role o manners in supplying the constraints necessary or social intercourse (The

    Christ-Haunted South 124). Woods contrastive analysis o the early Geranium

    and the late rewrite Judgement Day oregrounds the manners o both Tanner

    and Coleman in the later story, manners that create both charity and riendship

    between two people who without those manners would be enemies, against theake manners o the early story (The Christ-Haunted South 134-39). Barbara

    Wilkie Tedord argues that OConnor criticism has too requently ocused on

    theological implications (27). Tedord instead concentrates on how OConnor has

    the readers prejudices and eelings o superiority in her sights as she exposes her

    racist and classist characters (27-28). Linda Rohrer Paige ocuses on the ability o

    members o the lower classes in OConnors ction to see spiritual truths, but there

    is no analysis o the interaction o the social classes in her essay. Broader social

    issues have been examined in OConnors ction, or example Katherine Hemple

    Prowns analysis o gender politics and Jon Lance Bacons analysis o Post-World

    War II consumerism. Robert Coless book-length ethnographic study o the social

    scene o OConnors time and region both takes care to place her ction into the

    everyday context in which most o it was written and quotes at length both blacks

    and whites who think and talk o manners with as much seriousness as they do

    religion (xix-xx, 60-61). But ollowing OConnors lead, most critics have generally

    oregrounded race in their discussions o manners rather than manners itsel (e.g.,

    Armstrong; Zaidman, Whitt, and Vogel; Wood, Racial Morals and Manners,

    Flannery OConnor on Race; Fowler). As I suggest here, the examination o

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    526 Donald E. Hardy

    manners as they aect and are aected by issues o race and class is relatively

    limited in the body o OConnor criticism.

    When critics have paid close attention to manners, most o those analyses

    have either used manners to make generalizations about black/white relations and/

    or Southern gentility (as in Matthew Days analysis o both in OConnor) or used

    politeness as a synonym or meaninglessness and intellectual vacuity (as in Dixie

    Lee Highsmiths analysis o A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Good Country

    People). For instance, Day argues that the texture o manners in OConnors ction

    is akin to the realism o William James. In particular, he sees that texture o realism

    revealed in both the propriety o OConnors matrons (or example, Ruby Turpin,

    who wears her good shoes to the doctors oce) and, most especially, in black/

    white relations. It is in those racial relations that Day nds Americas parallel toEuropean class struggle: So, rather than hearing only the echoes o a provincial

    class struggle in southern ction, we should also expect to nd a vocabulary o

    manners and social distinctions dierentiating whites rom blacks. In act, Day

    sees these racial issues to be the primary attraction o OConnors writing: More

    to the point, OConnors ction has endured . . . largely because her writing is

    knotted with the grainy details o the Southern catalog o manners that regulates

    white-black relations (136-38).

    Highsmith, on the other hand, narrowly restricts the meaning o politeness toclichs, however much those clichs might be part o politeness. Highsmith argues

    that a characters non-intentional use o banality, such as the requent use o a good

    man is hard to nd in the story by the same name, points to the essence o the story

    (100). The clichs in A Good Man Is Hard to Find and the requent clichd speech

    o the good country people in the story by the same name, Highsmith argues, can

    become stepping stones or the reader into the world o spiritual concerns (107).

    Thus, Highsmith contends, Language itsel can be a key to sacramental vision

    (96). For example, the grandmothers ailure o voice just beore she is murdered

    marks a breakdown in the clichs she lives by. Highsmith argues that the ailure o

    the clichs leads to the grandmothers gesture o reaching out both physically

    and spiritually to The Mist, a gesture that is Christ-like . . . demonstrating

    recognition, kinship, love (103). Carole K. Harris views the clichd talk between

    Mrs. Hopewell and Mrs. Freeman in Good Country People dierently: Clichs

    allow these two women rom dierent class backgrounds to establish an intimate

    riendship which, due to social decorum, might not otherwise take place, at least notcomortably (59-60). In general, the critical judgment on the social and personal

    ecacy o politeness in OConnors work is usually ambiguous. For example,

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    Politeness in Flannery OConnors Fiction 527

    politeness is clichd, yet it allows the social classes to interact. However, some

    critics are unabashedly negative in their judgment o its ecacy. Josephine Hendin

    argues that the politeness o the many mothers in the collectionEverything That

    Rises Must Converge makes their children impotent (99). Both Hendin (14) and

    Martha Stephens (28) comment on the politeness o The Mist as he both orders and

    commits the murders o the grandmothers amily. Hendin argues that the silent

    and remote rage that erupts rom The Mists politeness, the grandmothers

    manners, and the murders themselves suggests that neither Christian charity

    nor Southern politeness can contain all the darker human impulses (14-15).

    Similarly, Timothy P. Caron implies that Julians mothers manners in Everything

    That Rises Must Converge are simply inadequate cover or her condescending

    racism. Caron argues that her gentility, her manners, are her greatest vice . .. (152). Thus, critical assessment o politeness is, at best, mixed. But this mixed

    assessment is understandable given the multiaceted interaction o politeness, race,

    class, the sacramental, and the grotesque.

    Once one concentrates specically on manners, or rather on what sociolinguists

    and discourse analysts reer to as politeness, one sees that the eects o race and

    class on manners in OConnors ction are themselves more complex than we

    might think looking back to the Civil Rights era through a oreshortening lens.

    Furthermore, politeness, race, and class are implicated in the two most thoroughlyinvestigated thematic concerns o OConnors ction: the sacramental and the

    grotesque. And they are implicated in ways that go beyond the equation o the polite

    with the clichd or the banal. This papers exploration o the ull maniestation

    and representation o manners (politeness) in OConnors ction serves to deepen

    our understanding o the undamental nature o that ction, which is an extended

    narrative questioning o the relationships between the grotesque and the sacramental,

    especially as the grotesque is maniested in spiritually crippling isolation and

    the sacramental is maniested in connectionnot only between the spiritual and

    the physical but also between humans themselves. This exploration o grotesque

    isolation not only treats clich as a maniestation o insincere politenesswhich is

    crucially not synonymous with politeness itselbut also addresses a wide range

    o OConnors ction.

    OConnors sacramental view o ction, the sacred connection o the spiritual

    with the physical, is theologically opposed to grotesque isolation. In The Grotesque

    in Southern Fiction, OConnor makes the connection between the grotesque andisolationwhat she calls the reak and displacementwhen she writes it is

    when the reak can be sensed as a gure or our essential displacement that he attains

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    528 Donald E. Hardy

    some depth in literature (Mystery and Manners 45). There are certainly physical

    grotesques o OConnors ction: e.g., the missing limbs o Hulga Hopewell or

    Tom T. Shitlet that gure their spiritual lameness. These and other grotesqueries in

    OConnors ction come to mind when OConnor writes that the writer o grotesque

    ction is looking or one image that will connect or combine or embody two

    points; one is a point in the concrete, and the other is a point not visible to the naked

    eye . . . (Mystery 42). But what is the spiritual disability o a Hulga Hopewell or a

    Tom T. Shitlet except, at least in part, a personal ailure to make the sacramental

    connection between the world and the spirit or the individual and others o Gods

    creatures? OConnor says the grandmother makes that connection in A Good Man

    Is Hard to Find ater her entire amily has been murdered by The Mists gang:

    The Grandmother is at last alone, acing the Mist. Her head clears or an instantand she realizes, even in her limited way, that she is responsible or the man beore

    her and joined to him by ties o kinship which have their roots deep in the mystery

    she has been merely prattling about so ar (Mystery 111-12). The grandmothers

    gesture o reaching out to comort The Mist as one o her own children is a

    gesture, OConnor argues, that is on the anagogical level, that is, the level which

    has to do with the Divine lie and our participation in it (Mystery 111).

    The connection between isolation and the absence o charity in OConnors

    ction has been recognized by a select collection o critics. Paul W. Nisly believesthat the isolation that is characteristic o American literature in general is especially

    oregrounded in OConnors characters. Wood argues that OConnor understood

    that, severed rom charity, both morals and manners are without oundation

    (Racial Morals and Manners 1080). Highsmith makes the same general point but

    specically argues that the separation o manners rom the mystery which gives

    them meaning is signalled metaphorically by clich (96). On a more positive note,

    Wood argues elsewhere that manners enable us to treat others with respect even

    when we dont like them (Flannery OConnor on Race 105). Susan Srigley

    makes explicit the connection between the grotesque and isolation:

    To interpret the grotesque simply as a refection o the worthlessness and ugliness o matter

    is to miss the moral dimension o OConnors understanding o what is grotesque. She

    saw the grotesque as implicitly revealing an ethical choice, because or her the grotesque

    is rooted in the desire or absolute human autonomy (represented by Hazel Motes in Wise

    Blood), or lie lived independently o God. (5)

    Also see my Embedded Narration in Flannery OConnors Fiction and Letters or

    an extended analysis o the maniestation o grotesque isolation in the sometimes

    disconnected embedded narratives in OConnors writing.

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    Politeness in Flannery OConnors Fiction 529

    The remainder o this paper will argue that in OConnors ction, the irresolvable

    tensions between grotesque autonomy and social communion are played out in

    stylistically repetitive ways at the levels o narrative irony, narrative representation

    o body language and body action, and conversational interaction among characters.

    Thus, my analysis synthesizes several threads o OConnor criticism: issues

    surrounding politeness, sacramentalism, the grotesque, irony, class, race, and the

    body. That these threads may be interwoven in an explanatorily satisactory way

    demonstrates the undamental embodiedness o OConnors ctional themes in

    the mutually intersecting senses o the human body, the orm and structure o the

    language o the text, and the orm and structure o social interaction among her


    2. Grotesque PolitenessIt is in Wise Blood, OConnors rst major work, where her view on the potential

    grotesqueness o isolation is made most evident through ironic mentions and use

    o politeness (Brown and Levinson; Watts). That view is that politeness (manners)

    can be essentially a maniestation o the grotesque, that is, in so ar as it is a

    maniestation o isolation. In their tour through the city zoo, Hazel and Enoch

    gawk at the polite but isolated animals in their cages: Two black bears sat in

    the rst one, acing each other like two matrons having tea, their aces politeand

    sel-absorbed (OConnor, Collected53). It becomes clear in Enochs interaction

    with animals at the zoo that he spends time there in order to boost his sel-esteem,

    in obsessive behaviors designed to humiliate the animals. When he gets to what

    he thinks o as the hyenas, Enoch leaned closer and spit into the cage, hitting

    one o the wolves on the leg. It shuttled to the side, giving him a slanted evil look

    (OConnor, Collected53). The narrator tells us, Usually he stopped at every

    cage and made an obscene comment aloud to himsel, but today the animals were

    only a orm he had to get through (OConnor, Collected53). In an episode thatespecially clearly represents his obsessive interaction with the non-human world

    Enoch is oended by a perceived social inraction rom an ape: At the last o the

    monkey cages, he stopped as i he couldnt help himsel. Look at that ape, he

    said, glaring. The animal had its back to him, gray except or a small pink seat. I

    I had a ass like that, he said prudishly, Id sit on it. I wouldnt be exposing it to all

    these people come to this park (OConnor,Collected53). The grotesque isolation

    o perverse manners is particularly evident in the gure and interactions o Enoch.

    He goes to the city pool or voyeuristic sexual satisaction, but the narrator tells

    us that in order to watch the emale swimmers and sunbathers, Enoch crawled

    into the bushes out o a sense o propriety (OConnor, Collected44-45). Enoch

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    530 Donald E. Hardy

    wants to make riends, especially with Hazel, but he is at the bottom o any social

    hierarchy, so low that he perceives that his competitors are the animals at the zoo,

    the moose in a picture in his room, and the gorilla advertising the new Gonga

    movie. Enoch kept up a constant stream o inner comment, uncomplimentary to

    the moose, though when he said anything aloud, he was more guarded (OConnor,

    Collected75). Enochs ultimate social challenge, however, is the human in the ape

    costume advertising the new Gonga movie: To his mind, an opportunity to insult

    a successul ape came rom the hand o Providence (OConnor, Collected 100).

    Although the gorillas hand is warm and sot and although his touch brings orth

    rom Enoch all his unmet human need or social connection, the gorilla tells him to

    go to hell (OConnor, Collected100-102). Enochs isolation and transormation

    to the bestial is completed when he attempts to turn himsel into the popular Gongaonly to have his rst human contacts run terried rom his riendly advances

    (OConnor, Collected112).

    The insults that Enoch both gives and receives in Wise Bloodare only one

    example o the grotesqueness o social isolation in OConnor. Just as grotesque is

    insincere polite attention to others. The most insincere characters in OConnors

    ctionHoover Shoats oWise Bloodand Meeks, the copper fue salesman o

    The Violent Bear It Away, and Tom T. Shitlet o The Lie You Save May Be Your

    Ownare all very polite, and persuasive, men. As Highstreet argues, Morallaxity in OConnors characters is represented . . . never so clearly as in the use

    o religious clich by essentially non-religious characters (97). Shoats tells his

    audience that the most important reason to join his Holy Church o Christ Without

    Christ is to make sure that the sweetness inside them gets out to win riends

    and make [them] loved (OConnor, Collected87). Meeks claims that love [is]

    the only policy that work[s] 95% o the time (OConnor, Collected362). He asks

    ater his customers amilies, especially those in which there is serious illness, until

    the ill amily member dies, and then he is able to remove that person rom his list

    o people about whom to ask (OConnor, Collected362). And Tom T. Shitlet, in

    his extended but largely ineectual and unnecessary fattery o Lucynell Craters

    corner o the countryside, tells Crater that he wished he lived in a desolate place

    like this where he could see the sun go down every evening like God made it to

    do (OConnor, Collected175).

    Although the previously mentioned clichs that Mrs. Freeman and Mrs.

    Hopewell exchange do provide some connection between them, I do not believethat the two women have what Harris reers to as an intimate riendship, not least

    because, as Harris says, they have a relationship as employer/hired help (59-

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    Politeness in Flannery OConnors Fiction 531

    60). There is very little genuine social grace among OConnors characters. That

    is not to say that there is none. In spite o the many empty clichs that Highstreet

    criticizes in Good Country People, it is quite likely that Mrs. Hopewell does have

    the good manners that one normally associates with the wordpoliteness. However,

    that doesnt mean that she doesnt suer the consequences o her own manners.

    When she invites Manley Pointer to stay or dinner, she was sorry the instant she

    heard hersel say it (OConnor, Collected271). During dinner with Manley, Hulga

    (Joy) ignores him the best she can: He had addressed several remarks to her, which

    she had pretended not to hear. Mrs. Hopewell could not understand deliberate

    rudeness, although she lived with it, and she elt she had always to overfow with

    hospitality to make up or Joys lack o courtesy (OConnor, Collected272). Part

    o Mrs. Hopewells courtesy is to encourage guests to talk about themselves. Asthe narrator says, Mrs. Hopewell urged [Manley] to talk about himsel and he

    did (OConnor, Collected272). It takes her two hours to get him out the door ater

    dinner, at which time Manley and Mrs. Hopewell exchange urther politeness: he

    stopped and wrung her hand and said that not on any o his trips had he met a lady

    as nice as her and he asked i he could come again. She had said she would always

    be happy to see him (OConnor, Collected272). In all o OConnors ction there

    is probably no better example o both the charity and insincerity o manners than

    the arewell between the well-meaning but justiably impatient Mrs. Hopewell andthe duplicitous Manley Pointer.

    3. Factoring Politeness in OConnor

    An examination o a ew o the scenes in OConnors ction in which politeness is

    oregrounded allows us to tease out the social actors that are especially important

    in the determination o the use o politeness, whether genuine or not, in OConnors

    ction. In A Good Man Is Hard to Find, when Red Sammys wie asks the

    cute June Star i she would like to come live with her, June Star replies, No Icertainly wouldnt . . . . I wouldnt live in a broken down place like this or a million

    bucks! Politeness prevails, at least among the adults: Aint she cute? the woman

    repeated, stretching her mouth politely (OConnor, Collected141). Similarly, in

    The Comorts o Home, when Thomas meets Star Drake (Sarah Ham) or the

    rst time, he cannot contain his rudeness, at least at rst: he said, How do you

    do, Sarah, in a tone o such loathing that he was shocked at the sound o it. He

    reddened, eeling it beneath him to show contempt or any creature so pathetic. He

    advanced into the room, determined at least on a decent politeness and sat down

    heavily in a straight chair (OConnor, Collected579). Red Sammys wie and

    Thomas use politeness in decent attempts to lessen the social strain o dicult

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    532 Donald E. Hardy

    interaction with dicult conversational partners. Their attempts are consistent with

    the concept o maintaining or creating social distance as a primary motivating orce

    behind politeness (Brown and Levinson 74; Leech 126; Mey 70) . As social distance

    increases, up to a point (see Wolson), communicative politeness increases. As social

    distance decreases, communicative politeness correspondingly decreases (Brown

    and Levinson 80; Culpeper 354-55). In A Good Man is Hard to Find, when the

    grandmother makes known her recognition o The Mist and thus dooms her entire

    amily, OConnor writes, Bailey turned his head sharply and said something to his

    mother that shocked even the children (OConnor,Collected147). In Greenlea,

    ater Mrs. May reminds her son Wesley that i she hadnt controlled Mr. Greenlea,

    her sons, including Wesley, might be milking cows every morning at our oclock,

    Wesley treats his mother to a bit o intimate amily manners: Wesley pulled thepaper back toward his plate and staring at her ull in the ace, he murmured, I

    wouldnt milk a cow to save your soul rom hell (OConnor, Collected510; or

    analysis o social ace in this passage, see Hardy, The Body 91-92). And, as

    Wood comments o Everything That Rises Must Converge, Julian can love

    the anonymous Negro whom he does not know, but not the mother whom he does

    know and who also knows him (Flannery OConnor on Race 102).

    The other variable in OConnors ction that is commonly important in the

    determination o who is polite to whom and how politeness is communicated ispower, variously maniested as economic control or even requently the ability to

    inspire ear (Brown and Levinson 77; Leech 126; Watts 213-16). In A Circle in

    the Fire, Mrs. Cope realizes the powerless position that she is in with Powell and

    the other juveniles who invade her arm. In an argument with Powell about whether

    the boys can spend the night in her barn, she sotens her assertion: Im araid you

    cant spend the night in there just the same, she repeated as i she were talking

    politely to a gangster (OConnor, Collected239). The epistemic Im araid

    hedges her assertion and the quasi-simile as i gives the reader a hint about Mrs.

    Copes conciliatory tone. The kind o power that economic domination provides is

    indicated in Mrs. Copes earlier tone with Culver, one o the black workers on her

    arm. When Culver tells her that he didnt go through a gate with a tractor because

    he would have had to raise the mower blade, the narrator reports on Mrs. Copes

    barely suppressed rage and her direct order without the redress o politeness

    strategies (Brown and Levinson 69-70), the latter made socially possible by her

    power over Culver: Her eyes, as she opened them, looked as i they would keepon enlarging until they turned her wrongsideout. Raise it, she said and pointed

    across the road with the trowel (OConnor, Collected233-34).

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    Politeness in Flannery OConnors Fiction 533

    4. Indirection in Politeness

    Indirection is one o the primary strategies or polite conversational interaction when

    one is in a relatively powerless position or when one is in a conversation with a

    relative stranger (that is, when there is great social distance between speakers). Such

    indirection is protective o both the speaker and the hearer (Brown and Levinson

    211-13; Leech 39-40). What I see as polite indirection is close but not identical to

    the strategic indirection that Wood sees in the Tomming (an abject acquiescence

    to the white man) o some o OConnors black characters (Flannery OConnor

    on Race 105-07). Claire Kahane has a similar perspective on the social mask o

    conciliatory blacks (184-86). It is certainly the case that it is the black characters

    in OConnors ction who have the most elaborate manners and use o indirectness

    as a politeness strategy, largely because they need them or protection against boththe dangers o and the annoyances o interacting with the usually economically

    more powerul whites. The most brilliantly indirect statement in OConnors

    ction is provided in Greenlea by the unnamed Negro who is working on the

    Greenlea arm when Mrs. May goes to tell the Greenlea boys to come get their

    stray bull o her arm. The Greenleas are away rom the arm house. Mrs. May

    asks the worker a question:

    Can you remember a message? she said, looking as i she thought this doubtul.

    Ill remember it i I dont orget it, he said with a touch o sullenness.

    Well, Ill write it down then, she said. (OConnor, Collected515)

    Mrs. Mays question, which in itsel is oensive in its implication that it is

    uncertain whether the man can remember a message, is made even more insulting

    by her doubtul look. The man in turn delivers a stunningly eective tautology

    (X [remember it] i not not-X [dont forget it]), which like most tautologies can

    be understood to provide indirect meaning. That indirect meaning arises because

    tautologies violate what H. Paul Grice calls the quantity maxim o conversationalinteraction, which is specically to give no more and no less inormation than is

    needed or the purposes o a cooperative conversation (309). Tautologies, such

    as War is war, Boys will be boys, and Ill remember it i I dont orget it,

    invite the hearer, or reader, to construct extra conversational meaning, what Grice

    calls conversational implicatures (310-11). The sullenness with which the man

    delivers his tautology makes it unambiguously clear that he is insulted by Mrs.

    Mays question, even i the precise meaning o his tautology is not unambiguous.

    Mrs. Mays response that she will write the message down is an indicator that shemost likely doesnt understand the implicature o the mans tautology.

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    534 Donald E. Hardy

    Indirection (generally, Brown and Levinsons o-record strategy) is a

    politeness tool o enormous value in situations o social distance or other actors that

    make a conversational act dicult or dangerous to an individuals ace (Brown

    and Levinson 74-78). One o the most socially awkward o settings in OConnors

    ctionlargely because o the class (social) dierences represented thereis the

    physicians waiting room in Revelation. This is the place where Ruby attempts to

    interact with the stranger Mary Grace, who is indeed a stranger in spite o Rubys

    eeling that Mary Grace was looking at her as i she had known and disliked her

    all her lie (OConnor, Collected640). Their battle o wills is acted out largely

    through aggressive staring and verbal indirectness:

    [Mary Graces] eyes were xed like two drills on Mrs. Turpin. This time there was no

    mistaking that there was something urgent behind them.Girl, Mrs. Turpin exclaimed silently, I havent done a thing to you! The girl might be

    conusing her with somebody else. There was no need to sit by and let hersel be intimi-

    dated. You must be in college, she said boldly, looking directly at the girl. I see you

    reading a book there.

    The girl continued to stare and pointedly did not answer.

    Her mother blushed at this rudeness. The lady asked you a question, Mary Grace,

    she said under her breath.

    I have ears, Mary Grace said. (OConnor, Collected642-43)

    The value o indirection in polite interchange is demonstrated even in this rudeinterchange. The looks that Ruby and Mary Grace trade are unmistakably direct;

    however, Rubys question is not a literal question. Her use o the modal hedge must

    in You must be in college indicates less than absolute knowledge o Mary Graces

    matriculation. One way to ask an indirect question is to allude to ignorance o the

    inormation required (Gordon and Lako 102; reerenced by Brown and Levinson

    132). It is an indirect question, but nevertheless a question, thus explaining Mary

    Graces rudeness in not saying anything, as her mother suggests.

    5. The Polite Body

    Because we usually think o politeness in terms o what we say, how we say it, and

    what we dont say, it is easy to orget that the body both aects and is aected by

    politeness strategies. That the body is object to the eects o politeness, or the lack

    o it, is evident immediately above in the reaction o her mother to Mary Graces

    deliberate slight o Ruby (Her mother blushed at this rudeness) (OConnor,

    Collected643) or earlier in Thomass blushing at recognition o his own rudeness

    (OConnor, Collected579). That the body can both express politeness and hideembarrassment is evident in the refexive body action o Red Sammys wie in

    responding to June Stars rudeness: Aint she cute? the woman repeated, stretching

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    Politeness in Flannery OConnors Fiction 535

    her mouth politely (OConnor, Collected141). In a reminder that touch is perhaps

    the most obvious way to make human connections, the only physical gesture o

    social charity in A Good Man Is Hard to Find occurs when the grandmother

    shows real concern or The Mist at the end o the story: She murmured, Why

    youre one o my babies. Youre one o my own children! She reached out and

    touched him on the shoulder (OConnor, Collected152). The grandmother is then

    immediately murdered or her sincere charity.

    The importance o the eye in OConnors ction has been widely recognized

    (Brown; Freeman; Maida; Meyer; Hardy, The Body; Sloan). Most discussions o

    the eye have concentrated on its symbolic unction, whether epistemologically or

    sexually oriented. It is worth noting that the gaze o the eye can register politeness

    as well, in the sense o both recognition and protection both or those who are gazedat and those who gaze. A representative example occurs in The Displaced Person

    in the scene in which Astor and Sulk see the Shortleys leaving in early morning

    ater discovering that Mrs. McIntyre was intending to re Mr. Shortley: They

    looked straight at the car and its occupants but even as the dim yellow headlights

    lit up their aces, they politely did not seem to see anything, or anyhow, to attach

    signicance to what was there (OConnor, Collected304).

    Critics oten recognize in OConnors ction the sacramental and incarnational

    interpenetration o the human and the non-human worlds and the spiritual and thephysical (e.g., Srigley; Lake; Hardy,The Body). The pattern is pervasive in OConnor.

    In Section 2, I detailed this interaction as it occurs in Wise Blood. In Good Country

    People, Hulga Hopewell took care o [her wooden leg] as someone else would his

    soul, in private and almost with her own eyes turned away (OConnor, Collected

    281). In act, the non-human world is requently personied in OConnor, as, or

    instance, the sun is in The Violent Bear It Away: The sunwas directly overhead,

    apparently dead still, holding its breath, waiting out the noontime (OConnor,

    Collected356). One o the subtler connections between politeness and the body is

    the physical act o glaring. A glare is an accusatory and rude act. In Wise Blood, a

    man who is deensive over Hazels preaching glares at no one in particular: A wise

    guy, the little thin man said, and glaredas i someone were about to insult him

    (OConnor, Collected58). In The Violent Bear It Away, Francis Tarwater, like Enoch

    Emery, has an antagonistic relationship with the physical world. When he vomits in

    the lake, Tarwater said nothing, glaringwith his red-lidded wet eyes at the water as

    i he were glad he had polluted it (OConnor, Collected438). In A Good Man IsHard to Find, Bailey is consistently represented as having a oul demeanor. At Red

    Sams, the grandmother asked Bailey i he would like to dance but he only glared

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    536 Donald E. Hardy

    at her (OConnor, Collected141). And in Good Country People, Hulga Hopewell

    is oended by Manleys probing questions about her articial leg: She turned an

    ugly red and glaredat him and or an instant the boy looked abashed (OConnor,

    Collected277). Now i humans can glare at one another and the physical world in

    OConnor, the physical world oten glares back when personied. And that glare

    is responsible at least in part or the perceived malevolence o OConnors world,

    as Christiane Beck has noted. She writes o the image o the sun as a ball o glare

    in The Violent Bear It Away that it suggests the explosive sense o outrage which

    the eye can express (143). Beck also argues that the glaring white o the sky

    in the beginning o A Circle in the Fire communicates a note o hostility in the

    very disposition o the landscape . . . (138). These landscape images and others,

    Beck contends, point to the apocalyptic strain o OConnors ction (136). Thatstrain is pervasive in OConnors ction, extending even to manuactured objects.

    In Wise Blood, Hazel Motess suit was a glaringblue and the price tag was still

    stapled on the sleeve o it (OConnor, Collected3). Just beore Hazel runs over

    Solace Layeld, the alse prophet, Layeld is pictured as squinting in the glare

    rom Hazes lights (OConnor, Collected113). In The Violent Bear It Away, the

    building in which the Carmodys hold their revival seems to accuse Rayber in his

    sel-satised atheism: Two blue and yellow windows glaredat him in the darkness

    like the eyes o some Biblical beast (OConnor, Collected407).

    6. Race and Class

    In this section I try to integrate observations made in earlier sections about grotesque

    isolation, social distance, power, indirectness, and the body in an attempt to determine

    the social value o politeness to both blacks and whites as well as the poor and the

    middle class characters in OConnors ction. Although it isnt stated in OConnors

    phrase manners [that] preserve each race rom small intrusions upon the other

    (Magee 104), those manners are, o course, used across social classes as well. Inother words, privacy is important to people, both white and black races, and all

    classes. In OConnors ction, politeness maniests itsel primarily in managing

    class interactions among whites and racial interactions between blacks and whites.

    These interactions may have their characteristic tendencieswith whites generally

    having more power over blacks and whites generally ghting among themselves

    over social distancebut the race and class divides are ar rom absolute, and the

    challenges to those divides in act give OConnors ction a social complexity that

    is oten neglected in OConnor criticism (but see Days analysis).

    In spite o this social complexity, there is precious little strategic politeness

    among blacks in OConnors two novels and two short story collections (excluding

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    Politeness in Flannery OConnors Fiction 537

    the odd Wildcat o the M.A. thesis). Memorable but isolated examples include

    Sulks angry response to Mrs. Shortleys warning in The Displaced Person that

    the displaced people were to take the place o the black worker and Astors reaction

    to that angry response: Big Belly act like she know everything. Astor tells

    Sulk, Never mind . . . your place too low or anybody to dispute with you or it

    (OConnor,Collected297). Another rare socially strategic interaction occurs in The

    Enduring Chill when Randall tells Morgan to shut up, ater Morgan tells Asbury

    what he takes when he has a cold. Randall growl[s], He dont take what you take

    (OConnor, Collected570). In both o these cases, black characters chastise other

    black characters or presuming to intrude on the social space o white characters.

    OConnors ction most requently represents the brooding interior thoughts

    o her characters on politeness in the relationships o the white landowners to thepoor whites who are hired to work on the landowners arms. In one o her most

    incisive accounts o the intricacies o class and politeness, OConnor briefy explores

    the relationship between Hulga Hopewell (daughter o the landowner) and Mrs.

    Freeman (wie to the hired armhand on the Hopewell arm) in Good Country

    People. The narrator tells us that Hulga thought that she could not stand Mrs.

    Freeman or she had ound that it was not possible to be rude to her. Any kind o

    direct attack, a positive leer, blatant ugliness to her acethese never touched her

    (OConnor, Collected266). The point is, o course, that this Ph.D., this educatedwoman, is beneath Mrs. Freemans contemptalmost. Mrs. Freemans assertion

    o social proximity comes in the orm o using Hulga Hopewells sel-invented

    name,Hulga. When Freeman uses the name, the big spectacled Joy-Hulga would

    scowl and redden as i her privacy had been intruded upon (OConnor, Collected

    266). In The Displaced Person, the relationship between Mrs. McIntyre and Mrs.

    Shortley is telling o the same sensitivity to social distance between landowners

    and their hired white workers. Rural whites o both middle and working classes

    generate a great deal o social riction in OConnors stories. When Mrs. Shortley

    indicates that the Guizacs daughter has been hinting that they might have to move

    in order to make more money, McIntyre says o Mr. Guizac, Hes worth raising . .

    . . He saves me money (OConnor, Collected295). Shortley takes oense on her

    husbands behal at the probably unintentional underlying meaning: This was as

    much as to say that Chancey had never saved her money (OConnor, Collected

    295). And when McIntyre asks whether Mr. Shortley is eeling better today, the

    narrator reports, Mrs. Shortley thought it was about time she was asking thatquestion (OConnor, Collected295). McIntyre is really only interested in whether

    Chancey is back to work, as she makes clear in saying that i he is over-exhausted

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    538 Donald E. Hardy

    . . . then he must have a second job on the side (OConnor, Collected295). Again,

    the narrator presents us with Mrs. Shortleys deensive and wounded eelings: The

    act was that Mr. Shortley did have a second job on the side and that, in a ree

    country, this was none o Mrs. McIntyres business (OConnor, Collected295).

    In one conversation in which Mrs. McIntyre praises Mr. Guizac as her savior, Mrs.

    Shortley reacts with an attempt at indirect criticism:

    I would suspicion salvation got rom the devil, she said in a slow detached way.

    Now what do you mean by that? Mrs. McIntyre asked, looking at her sharply.

    Mrs. Shortley wagged her head but would not say anything else. The act was she had

    nothing else to say or this intuition had only at that instant come to her.

    (OConnor, Collected294)

    The quick reaction that Mrs. McIntyre shows to her white arm workers indirect

    meaning contrasts starkly with Mrs. Mays oblivious response to the black arm

    workers tautologic violation o the Grician Quantity maxim, demonstrating that

    racial distance is greater than class separation, or is so at least in OConnors The

    Displaced Person.

    To generalize rom Astors observation about Sulks place, we can say that

    rural blacks and whites in OConnors ction are usually too ar apart socially or

    there to be serious social concern about interpersonal meaning. In particular, the

    power that most whites have over most blacks in OConnors ction maintains thegreatest social separation. One o the scenes most revealing o the general lack

    o sincere social interaction among whites and blacks in OConnors ction is the

    comically exaggerated response rom the black arm workers to Ruby Turpins

    report o Mary Graces attack on her:

    There was an astounded silence.

    Where she at? the youngest woman cried in a piercing voice.

    Lemme see her. Ill kill her!

    Ill kill her with you! the other one cried.She blong in the sylum, the old woman said emphatically. You the sweetest white

    lady I know.

    She pretty too, the other two said. Stout as she can be and sweet. Jesus satised

    with her!

    Deed he is, the old woman declared.

    Idiots! Mrs. Turpin growled to hersel. (OConnor, Collected650)

    More than silence itsel, the workers ludicrously exaggerated response demonstrates

    the gul that divides white arm owners and black arm workers. Day (141) also

    notes the elaborate manners and protection on the black side o the color line

    in this episode. As I have argued elsewhere, the appearance o this passage as a

    summary coda to Rubys narrative demonstrates that redemption is not a social

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    Politeness in Flannery OConnors Fiction 539

    git and that isolation may be a sign o the grotesque in OConnor, but social

    connection itsel, especially when it is alse . . . is not a guarantor o redemption

    (Embedded Narration 148-49).

    As I pointed out earlier, the relationship between blacks and whites has

    understandably attracted a great deal o critical attention. In The Enduring Chill,

    the aux-intellectual and aux-liberal Asbury briefy works on his mothers dairy arm

    in an attempt to see how they [the black workers] really elt about their condition

    because he was writing a play about the Negro (OConnor, Collected558). The

    trouble is that he has a very hard time talking with them. Matthew Day ocuses

    attention on this passage: When they [Morgan and Randall] said anything to him

    [Asbury], it was as i they were speaking to an invisible body located to the right or

    let o where he actually was . . . (OConnor, Collected558). Day comments, Withan economy o expression that the genre o the short story demands, OConnor reveals

    a world where black men receive death sentences simply or looking white men in

    the eyes. She has, to invoke Jamess ormula, discerned the awul legacy o slavery

    and gothic complexity o southern culture in the pattern o this isolated exchange

    (137). It may be the case that OConnor is evoking the reality and the undeniable

    and horriying threat o racial violence in the South. However, there is more going

    on here, as one sees in examining Days excerpt in its complete context, including

    the entire sentence rom which it is excerpted: They didnt talk. . . . When theysaid anything to him, it was as i they were speaking to an invisible body located

    to the right or let o where he actually was, and ater two days working side by

    side with them, he elt he had not established rapport (OConnor, Collected558).

    Morgan and Randall are avoiding eye contact with Asbury in part, in OConnors

    words, not only or their own protection but also or their own privacy, as is

    clear in urther interactions with Asbury. When Asbury deantly lights a cigarette

    in his mothers dairy, Randall certainly has no diculty looking at Asbury, The

    Negro had stopped what he was doing and watched him. He waited until Asbury had

    taken two draws and then he said, she dont low no smoking in here (OConnor,

    Collected558). Then, two days later, Asbury makes the ateul, ill-considered move

    o oering unpasteurized milk to Randall and Morgan, another deant act or which

    Morgan has no problem staring directly at him and then challenging him: Morgan

    stared at him; then his ace took on a decided look o cunning. I aint seen you

    drink none o it yoursel, he said (OConnor, Collected559).

    Thus, both Randall and Morgan invoke Asburys mothers power in theirdeance, going so ar as to watch and stare at Asbury. The physical act o looking

    is or OConnor an act o power, as is evident in the ollowing exchange in The

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    540 Donald E. Hardy

    Displaced Person between Mrs. McIntryre and Astor, the oldest black worker on

    the McIntyre arm. He has been on the arm even longer than Mrs. McIntyre, having

    known and worked or the Judge, Mrs. McIntyres late husband. Astor thought

    this gave him title (OConnor, Collected308). Astor, who clearly knows o Mr.

    Guizacs plan to marry his cousin o to Sulk, either cant or wont bring himsel

    to tell Mrs. McIntyre o the plan:

    We seen them come and we seen them go, he said as i this were a rerain. But we aint

    never had one beore, he said, bending himsel up until he aced her, like what we got

    now. He was cinnamon-colored with eyes that were so blurred with age that they seemed

    to be hung behind cobwebs.

    She gave him an intense stare and held it until, lowering his hands on the hoe, he bent

    down again and dragged a pile o shavings alongside the wheelbarrow.

    (OConnor, Collected306)

    Astor acquiesces to Mrs. McIntyres power here, but this is no more than is typically

    to be expected with employers and employees. Ater several indirect hints rom

    Astor that Mr. Guizac is up to something strange because in Poland [t]hey got

    dierent ways o doing, Mrs. McIntyre commands him to be direct: What are

    you saying? (OConnor, Collected307).

    It is power, not race (however much race may correlate with power), that

    determines whether one can dominate the other through a look, as is demonstrated

    in Everything That Rises Must Converge. There, as Shackelord points out,

    the businessman whom Julian attempts to beriend in his patronizing way, is

    characterized less stereotypically than the Blacks in many o OConnors stories

    . . . (83). Part o that less stereotypical characterization is the power that the

    man exhibits in expressing annoyance with Julians silly and pointless request

    or matches. Julian doesnt have any cigarettes and smoking is prohibited on the

    bus: The Negro lowered the paper and gave him an annoyed look. He took the

    matches and raised the paper again (OConnor, Collected493). Another blackcharacter who reuses to tolerate the insults o immature whites is the maid in The

    Lame Shall Enter First: Well look at Aunt Jemima, he [Ruus] said. The girl

    paused and trained an insolent gazeon them. They might have been dust on the

    foor (OConnor, Collected605). And it is not the case that the power o looking

    is limited to signiying relations between blacks and whites. Focalizing through

    Mrs. May in Greenlea, the narrator tells us that Mr. Greenlea walked on the

    perimeter o some invisible circle and i you wanted to look him in the ace, you

    had to move and get in ront o him (OConnor, Collected502-03; see Hardy, TheBody 91-92, on the word ace).

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    Politeness in Flannery OConnors Fiction 541

    A later conversation between Mrs. May and the young black worker on the

    Greenlea arm reveals just how isolated and protective both sides o the race/power

    divide are in OConnors ction. Mrs. May asks the man which o the Greenlea

    brothers is boss:

    They never quarls, the boy said. They like one man in two skins.

    Hmp. I expect you just never heard them quarrel.

    Nor nobody else heard them neither, he said, looking away as i this insolence

    were addressed to some one else.

    Well, she said, I havent put up with their ather or teen years not to know a ew

    things about Greenleas.

    The Negro looked at her suddenly with a gleam o recognition. Is you my policy

    mans mother? he asked.

    I dont know who your policy man is, she said sharply.

    (OConnor, Collected516)

    When the black worker tells Mrs. May that no one has heard the Greenlea boys

    quarrel, his looking away signals that he recognizes that his assertion is a direct

    contradiction o Mrs. Mays indirect implication that the boys do indeed ght. Thus,

    as is common with OConnors black workers, the man here signals deerence and

    acknowledges dierential power in looking away rom Mrs. May. But there are

    two kinds o looking, one that indicates power and one that indicates solidarity.

    Note that when he realizes that Mrs. May is probably his policy mans motherhe looks at Mrs. May with a gleam o recognition (OConnor, Collected516).

    This recognition and looking, and the bid or solidarity they imply, are repugnant

    to Mrs. May or many reasons, including that, as the story has demonstrated earlier,

    she is ashamed o Scoelds being a policy man to the local blacks (OConnor,

    Collected504). Thus, OConnors blacks requently protect themselves rom the

    intrusion o white power, while the whites protect themselves rom the social

    intrusion o the blacks.

    7. Conclusions

    OConnors ctional use o politeness represents not only the complex issues

    involving white-black and class relations but also the proound ailure o manners

    and politeness to create human connections in both rural and urban settings.

    Ultimately, there simply is no sae social place in OConnors ction, at least in

    part because society is not where OConnor saw or sought salvation in the rst

    place. As Shackelord writes o OConnors ction, Without [spiritual] salvation,

    social values are meaningless (89). Ruby Turpin still imagines distinct classes andraces o people on the stairway to heaven.

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    542 Donald E. Hardy

    OConnors ctional world is one in which most people are isolated both

    emotionally and spiritually. However, that alienation is dierent or blacks and whites

    and it is dierent or individuals within either races. Power and social distance, as

    many theorists o politeness have argued, seem to be primary variables that determine

    politeness strategies. The blacks in OConnors ction are, unortunately, constrained

    by dierences in power, and the attempts on the part o whites to bridge that power

    gapas in Asburys casesimply reiterate that power dierential. The powerul

    whites are preoccupied with keeping their social distance rom both blacks and

    poorer whites. Ultimately, most politeness in OConnor is grotesque in that it usually

    leads to the reinorcement o the debilitating isolation that most o her characters

    ironically share. The clichs o A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Good Country

    People that Highsmith rightully condemns as empty (as well as those o HooverShoats, Meeks, and Tom T. Shitlet and others) demonstrate the ailure o language

    in its communal unction (Highstreet 99). Enochs attempts to place himsel above

    the beasts he eels superior to only reinorce that he belongs among the beasts. Mrs.

    Hopewells polite attempts to compensate or Hulgas rudeness lead to regret at

    her own graciousness. Thomas places himsel on the rack in order to live up to his

    own ideals o politeness in his interactions with the sociopath Star Drake. Asbury

    ails miserably in his attempt to connect with the black workers on his mothers

    arm. Julian makes a ool o himsel trying to beriend the black man on the bus.Wesley brutalizes his mother or her kindness. OConnors characters glare at a

    world that seems to glare back. In the harsh light o such a brutal world, ormality

    indeed gives everyone a measure o protection. However, that protection comes at

    the cost o an isolation that is at once grotesque but also strangely comorting in a

    ctional world severely decient in genuine Christian charity.

    This article has made the argument that a stylistic analysis o politeness in

    OConnors ction reinorces a number o important themes in that ction, especially

    the relationship between isolation and the grotesque and sacramentalism and spiritual

    connection. The article has intentionally not attempted an exhaustive close reading

    o any one particular OConnor story. Rather, it has shown, as is the goal o a great

    deal o stylistic work, that a particular stylistic trait (here, the exploration o social

    politeness) is pervasive in and integral to an authors work as a whole.


    1Walter Spitz uses Brown and Levinsons politeness strategies in an analysis

    o the conversational interaction o the grandmother and The Mist in A Good

    Man Is Hard to Find, in part as an examination o The Mists use o negative

    politeness to maintain socially isolated distance rom his interlocutor (16). Spitzs

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    Politeness in Flannery OConnors Fiction 543

    unpublished essay is an example o the relatively early use o Brown and Levinsons

    politeness model to catalogue and analyze strategies o politeness interaction

    in a single ctional work, as is my Strategic Politeness in Hemingways The

    Short Happy Lie o Francis Macomber. Although my Politeness in Flannery

    OConnors Fiction is broadly consistent with Spitzs essay, my arguments were

    developed independently.

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