How Racist Was Flannery O'Connor?

Author: Paul Elie

June 15, 2020

In this article from The New Yorker, Paul Elie analyzes the life and legacy of icon Flannery O’Connor in light of new evidence displaying her more bigoted side. Letters and postcards made available to scholars in 2014 show O’Connor as a bigoted young woman, a habit which persisted in her personal writings as she developed. Now a cultural figure, her work largely deserves its praise. However, regarding racist remarks, her champions find themselves in a bind—upholding her letters as expressive of her character, but carving out exceptions for the nasty parts. Arguments of context claim O’Connor as a writer of her place and time, whose limitations were those of “the culture that had produced her.” Patronizingly, they propose that O’Connor lacked the free will to think for herself. But her remarks don’t belong to the past. They belong to her body of work and help show us who she was.

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