I hope you have had a chance to read through the discussion on “The River” over the last couple of days. It has been extremely insightful and lively–and also courteous, I might add. One thing that has become evident is that a reader’s interpretation of the story’s end hinges on how that reader understands the baptism–big Bevel baptizing little Bevel. If that is a true baptism, then Harry/Bevel’s being pulled down by the river at the end is a rescue from the clutches of Mr. Paradise. If it is a false baptism, then the boy’s drowning is a terrible sadness, and Mr. Paradise is a benefactor who tried and failed to save him. Those aren’t the only two possible readings, but they do represent two poles of interpretation.
Given the fact that O’Connor was both Catholic and highly educated, it would seem that she would have little sympathy for the countrified Protestants in her stories. In fact, her stance toward them was complex. I offer up these quotations from O’Connor’s letters as a catalyst for further discussion…
On Wise Blood‘s Haze Motes:
Haze is saved by virtue of having wise blood; it’s too wise for him ultimately to deny Christ. Wise blood has to be these people’s means of grace–they have no sacraments.The religion of the South is a do-it-yourself religion, something which I as a Catholic find painful and touching and grimly comic. It’s full of unconscious pride that lands them in all sorts of ridiculous religious predicaments. They have nothing to correct their practical heresies and so they work them out dramatically. If this were merely comic to me, it would be no good, but I accept the same fundamental doctrines of sin and redemption and judgment that they do. (Habit of Being, p. 350)
To a Protestant correspondent:
The Catholic finds it easier to understand the atheist than the Protestant, but easier to love the Protestant than the atheist. The fact is though now that the fundamentalist Protestants, as far as doctrine goes, are closer to their traditional enemy, the Church of Rome, than they are to the advanced elements in Protestantism. … It’s the Catholic Church who calls you “separated brethren,” she who feels the awful loss. (Habit of Being, p. 341)
To a friend who said she couldn’t quite believe Christianity because it wasn’t emotionally satisfying:
I can never agree with you that the Incarnation, or any truth, has to satisfy emotionally to be right. … There are long periods in the lives of all of us, and of the saints, when the truth as revealed by faith is hideous, emotionally disturbing, downright repulsive…. The thought of everybody lolling about in an emotionally satisfying faith is repugnant to me. I believe that we are ultimately directed Godward but that this journey is often impeded by emotion. (Habit of Being, pp. 99-100)