Everything That Rises must converge, by Flannery Oí Connor is a sometimes comical but all so serious tale of a grown but not-so-mature man, Julian, and his typically Southern mother, as they travel downtown to their local YMCA. The title of this story comes from Pierre Teilhard De chardin (Whitt, 110). After reviewing De Chardinís works, Oí Connor considered him a kindred spirit. The context of this title comes from the explanation of one of his works called "The Omega point."
From the first page, the readers gets an idea of how double-minded and shallow Julianís mother is, and later, of how weak a person and disrespectful of his mother he often is, all the while his mother regarding him as her hero. Regarding his weakness, Oí Connor likens Julian to Saint Sebastian "while waiting for the arrows to begin piercing him" (Charters, 1037).
Referring to the hat she just paid seven dollars for, Julianís mother frequently states, "maybe I shouldnít have paid that for it. No, I shouldnít have," even though the hat is very important to her, as it is a symbol of her dignity; it represents her southern pride. The storyís main focus is on her pretentiousness, her bigotry, her prejudice against the negro, and ironically, her struggle to maintain her dignity through it all. Of the blacks, in the bus, she states, "most of them in it are not our kind of people, but I can be gracious to anybody. I know who I am." There is irony in this statement, since she is in constant need of reassurance from Julian of the loveliness of her heart. This, and the repetition of the quote above ( I know who I am) serves to indicate that she is either unconsciously insecure, or, she is consciously attempting to mask her awareness of her bigotry and prejudice and appease her conscience. She knows she is prejudiced, and to counteract her feeling of dissonance, she finds gratification for her statement by saying, "but I can be gracious to anybody. I know who I am." She is hoping for her son, whom she considers her hero, to reinforce her statement, and ease her conscience.
Julian does not affirm his motherís statements or ideas. He loathed her ideas and her prejudice, and is "determined to make himself completely numb during the time he would be sacrificed to her pleasures" ( 1037). This making himself numb is one sign of his weakness.
Rather than confront his mother openly and truly address the issues - draw-the-line, if you will, about anything, especially in regard to her constant disparage of the negro, he simply numbs himself, although he uses his character flaws to work at showing her up; for example, when he sits next to the negros on the bus. He uses this no-conflict method as an attempt to punish his mother for her attitudes, "to show her that she doesnít Ďknowí herself as she claims.
Although Julian takes care of his mother, it is mainly because he lives in her home, and he secretly wishes he could easily walk away. His mother is like a thorn in his side. As the story tells us, Julian walks with his mother, in a sort of depressed stoop, head hanging down and sort of dragging his feet. Subject to oneís own interpretation is whether Julianís weaknesses of character brought on his (obvious) depression, or, if he already suffered depression, which was enhanced by his menial and irritable existence. Contradictory to his mother, Julian has not grown up to be prejudiced, but liberal, as the result of the Civil Rights Movement His motherís attitude becomes clearer when she exclaims, "I see we have the bus to ourselves." Segregation has probably just ended, and she finds it difficult to accept and adapt to the change desegregation has brought about. Julian always makes a point of sitting next to a colored person. He does this to spite his mother. (One form of the indirect confrontation with her), but not because he is strongly motivated to defend the negro, for righteousnessí sake. He also does this to exhibit the impact his education has had upon him. Julian represents the younger generation, and what the society should be. One which does not have preference for one race or sex over another. (One with no discrimination). His mother, on the other hand, represent the old generation.
In this we see the theme of the story. Julianís mother never ceases to remind him of who she is. She is a Southern lady, and she was reared correctly. Her grandfather was a former governor of their state. Her father was a prosperous land owner, and her mother was a god-high. She was well bred.! It was not surprising that before she can take a trip downtown, she must be fully dressed. Southern ladies take pride in their dress. As all Southern ladies, she takes particular care as to how she dresses. It is vital to her overall self-image!
The hats are symbolic in the story, of both Julianís mother and the large negro woman who enters the bus with a little boy. Julianís mother wore her hat as a sign of her integrity; it "topped off" the rest of her outfit. Since she could have benefited by using her money to pay bills rather than to purchase the hat, she is obviously desperate (and foolish) to prove she has class.
When the large, gaily dressed, sullen-looking woman entered the bus, she had on a hat identical to that on Julianís motherís head! (Carter, 1044). Upon noticing the hat on Julianís mother, the black woman "muttered something unintelligible to herself," which "Julianís motherís mouth began to twitch slightly at one corner" (Carter 1045). Julian noticed the convergenceof the hat, but he knew "his mother would not realize the symbolic significance of this" (Carter, 1044).
After being hit by the black woman for giving her boy a penny, Julian
gloats that his mother has finally received her comuppance until he realizes
she has fainted and perhaps even dead. Then his guilt and remorse begin
and the story ends. (Balee, 98).
"In her work, the configuration (of duality) always takes one of two classic forms. Either one character discovers that another is a replica of himself, an almost identical reflection - here the paradigm would be twins - or, much more often, one character is presented as the alter-ego of another, the embodiment of qualities suppressed or ignored by the first, a mirror image or inverse reflection. "This configuration of duality is what we see in the bus scene with the white and black womenís hats. Julianís mother is angry because the black womenís hat is just like hers, which removes her symbol of superiority to the negro. The negro woman hates seeing herself wearing the same hat as the white woman, since the white woman represents the oppression that the white race has imposed upon her and her race, and represents everything she stands against. To the negro, the hat becomes a symbol of all white oppression she has known . The negress quickly yanked the little boy off the seat as if she were snatching him from contagion.(Whitt, 120).
Julianís motherís question, "isnít he cute" symbolized her racist ideology. It was really her way of putting the woman and the boy in their place-" of patronizing them. This served as a reminder of the white races oppression of blacks. When Julianís mother gave the little boy one shiny penny, the negress was furious! "Her fist swung out with the read pocketbook." She shouted, "He donít take nobodyís pennies!"
At the end of the story, Oí Connor presents an interesting idea. She says to us that Julian and his mother are relics of the South, who crumble in the face of the future, which the black woman here represents, (Hending 108). In the last scene, as Julianís mother collapsed on the sidewalk! "a tide of darkness seemed to be sweeping her from him." (Carter, 1048).
As she begins to fade, she demands to have her dead grandfather and negro maid come and get her. She crumbles, and her weakness prevails. What this story centers around, is a need for humans to love each other, regardless of color, or status. Julian would not have been swept "into the world of guilt and sorrow" (Carter,1048), if he had cared more about his mother.
Oí Connor is saying that unconditional love is what the world needs.