A Conservative, Superficial, but Loving Mother in “Everything That Rises Must Converge.”
The love of a mother can be an invaluable gift to any person. But a love like that cannot prevent a mother, as a woman, from being superficial. Neither can it save her from being conservative due to the current belief system where she lives. These two characteristics can cause an alteration in a mother-son relationship, especially in a situation as the one lived during the 1960’s in many U.S. states, where black people had to be separated from white people and vice versa, turning segregation into a controversial issue at the time. This concept of segregation can be analyzed in Julian’s mother’s experiences in Flannery O’Connor’s “Everything That Rises Must Converge.” Julian’s mother’s conservative and superficial attitudes produce, throughout the story, a conflicting relationship between her and her son, Julian.
Throughout the story, O’Connor demonstrates the conflicting relationship between Julian and his mother. This conflicting relationship is caused by their contradicting views on not only racism, but also superficiality because Julian’s mother thinks society should be racially segregated and Julian believes in equality of people no matter their race. On the one hand, Julian’s mother thinks the way she looks will make her a better person. Julian, on the other hand, thinks this superficiality simply does not matter. Within the text, for instance, O’Connor gives a clear example reflecting this situation, “She stiffened. ‘Why must you look like that when you take me to town?’ She said. ‘Why must you deliberately embarrass me?’” (489). In this interaction, Julian’s mother is ashamed of the way he dresses when going to town showing not only the way they confront each other’s ideas, but the way Julian begins to avoid his mother’s presence and support. O’Connor clearly states this point, “Julian did not like to consider all she did for him” (485). In this quote, it is evident that Julian does not like to take into consideration what his mother does for him because he mostly disagrees with her social attitudes. He believes his mother does not live in the world where she is now. This situation O’Connor states also demonstrates how little by little their beliefs have started to build a wall between them. Moreover, it proves how their mother-son relationship is weakening with these fights. Thus, we can see a clear conflicting environment between Julian and hi mother.
Throughout the story, Julian is willing to help his mother by taking her to the reducing class. He also has no choice but to interact with her. He tries to do so because he intends to find the mother who raised and supported him, but he instead finds a different person, a superficial mother who just cares about the way she looks and gets embarrassed by her son’s way of dressing. Julian’s mother’s superficiality is marked in different ways and situations, when she says “most of them in it are not our kind of people . . . but I can be gracious to anybody. I know who I am” (487). By this, Julian’s mother is referring to the rest of people who attend the reducing class with her. She seems to feel like she is better than them and intends, in her sarcastic comment stated above, to put herself in a world where she does not belong. But, as she says, she is able to fit into any social group. Julian seems to get angrier at her attitude and wants to avoid the situation by changing the subject. He then shows his perception in a different situation by telling her that true culture is in the mind (489). Julian’s perception about culture, which is the understanding of every human knowledge in terms of the society, counters his mother’s view on the meaning of culture. She believes that culture is in the heart, palace of sentiments and biases. Julian also believes that culture is in the interaction with people without any distinction, but his mother believes that culture is in the heart where she can think only with her feelings. This attitude Julian’s mother presents shuts down the willingness Julian has to take her to the reducing class creating a conflict between them.
Two aspects, within Julian’s mother superficiality, seem to mark a constant behavior in her character. One aspect of this superficiality to be considered is her vanity. “She was of the few members of the Y reducing class who arrived in hat and gloves and who had a son who had been to college” (486). This time, Julian’s mother seems to be worried about her appearance. This example gives the reader an idea of superficiality in her character and this characteristic may also contribute to her behavior throughout the story. Another aspect of Julian’s mother’s superficiality is the situation with the hat which makes her feel good about herself. In this instance, O’Connor utilizes the hat, which both Julian’s mother and a black woman who gets on the bus wear, as a symbol to reflect Julian’s mother superficiality. Moreover, it is used to reflect the idea she does not share, that black and white people have the same possibilities in society. So, it is clear that Julian’s mother superficiality will be, considering these two aspects, a constant behaviors causing, also, a conflicting relationship with her son.
In O’Connor’s story, Julian’s mother may also represent the typical woman who, due to the actual environment and social change, follows the belief systems of segregation. She is a widow mother who “had struggled fiercely to feed and clothe and put him through school and who was supporting him still, ‘until he got in his feet’” (485). Her attitudes as a mother seem to be like those of any other mother who loves her son and struggles to give him what he deserves. However, this attitude is also comprised with her conservative ways which is her belief that society should racially segregated. As readers, we have to consider the 1960’s as a decade of social change in southern states of the United States. The differences between being black or white were highly marked through attitudes like the ones shown in Julian’s mother’s character. She thinks black people “were better off when they were [slaves]” (487). These attitudes towards black people always get Julian angry because he thinks the society is based on the equality of people no matter their race. Julian is a young guy who has an education that prevents him from being conservative, perceiving the society in a different way his mother does.
Finally, these series of events represented a real situation in southern states of the U. S. during the 1960’s. Julian’s mother can be a prototype of a big issue within a society that fails to understand Julian’s view. In this story, O’Connor utilizes the hat Julian’s mother wears from the beginning to the end of the story as a symbol to represent not only the equality between both ethnic groups, black and white, but the unification of values without superficiality as a difference, as Julian stated, “That was your black double. She can wear the same hat as you” (499). This unification has been understood by later generations but there still remain some others like Julian’s mother who, due to their superficial and conservative attitudes, fail to understand.
O’Connor, Flannery. “Everything That Rises Must Converge.” Collected Works. New York: The Library of America, 1988. 485-500.