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4.2.3 The Violent Bear it away

Flannery O’Connor was born in Savannah, Georgia, in 1925. She lived a very happy life with her parents. At her university time she started writing short stories and novels. Suffering from lupus she could not continue her started university career in Iowa and so she returned to the South, writing books and giving lectures from time to time. She died in Milledgeville, Georgia, on August 3rd, 1964 of lupus at the age of 39.
In 1960, Flannery O’Connor writes a time- and place-less book. The story is about a boy who is risen by his uncle. The boy, called Tarwater, leaves the place he has lived at, after old Tarwater’s dead (his uncle) to live with his uncle Rayber. While old Tarwater had been a religious foundamentalist, who baptized the little boy, Rayber is logic-orientated and rationalistic. Being faced with such a situation, young Tarwater becomes victim of a battle for his soul. Both idiological complexes try to influence him.
The book can be called time- and place-less, because you cannot find out where and when it is exactly situated. Although Orvell writes that the location of Powderhead is in Tennessee, the mentioned surrounding could be found almost everywhere. The city, in which Rayber lives has no exact name, too. Family situation

Before starting up with Flannery O’Connor’s The Violent Bear it Away.

the main figure’s relations concerning their position within their families should be shown. Whitt gave us scheme which tries to explain the situation:


he situation and the relations between the different persons of the family described in this text are quite complicated. First of all, there is not a traditional form of family with a mother, a father and a child. It represents more a group of people who has family-like relations with each other. (George F.) Rayber, the school teacher, is the outcome of the relation between Old Rayber and Old (Mason) Tarwater’s sister. Old Tarwater calls his sister a whore as well as (George F.) Rayber’s sister. This secound woman has given birth to a child (Fancis Marion) Tarwater, who has been living for a long time with Old Tarwater. Bishop is the son of (George F.) Rayber and Bernice Bishop, who left her husband. In the text, most persons are called by their surname, so first names are put into brackets.                                    Mason Tarwater – the incorporation of Religion Mason Tarwater’s ideas

The main topic of Flannery O’Connor’s novel The Violent bear it Away is religion. While Old Mason Tarwater acts in a foundamentalist way, his nephew Rayber lives according to rules which seem to be rationalistic to him.
Rath writes in her comment about Old Tarwater:
„Mason, portrayed as a primitive, unholy false prophet-father, significantly builds a religion without woman, and any woman in the novel, any fleshly „goddess“, represents sin as well as death. [...] O’Connor separatesTarwater’s religion from Catholicism – but beyond that she also suggests his severe ontological insecurity, his fear of death“
Mason is portrayed as a back-wood foundamentalist Christian. He could also be called primitive, because he does not reflect on his own about religious traditions. He only copies the bible, when teaching Francis Tarwater. Instead of sending young Tarwater to school, the old man teaches the boy what he thinks to be essential:
„While other children his age were herded together in a room to cut out paper pumpkins under the direction of a woman, he was left free for the pursuit of wisdom, the companions of his spirit Abel and Enoch and Noah and Job, Abraham and Moses, King David and Salomon, and all the prophets, from Elijah who escaped death, to John whose severed head struck terror from a dish. The boy knew escaping school was the surest sign of his election.
In this quote, one can see several motives showing Old Tarwater’s way of thinking expressed in Francis Tarwater’s thoughts. The word woman shows his idea about females. School seems to be a negative point within life, but a school directed by a woman seems to be even worse. The action of cut out paper pumpkins could be regarded in a very negative way on the one hand and in an ironic way on the other hand. On the one hand the pumkins as a pre-Christian symbol are seen to be as negative objects. On the other hand, you can say that going to a school where you have to cut out paper pumkins cannot be that harming or negative as it is mentioned; in this case you can speak about irony. Young Tarwater’s education completely ignores the modern American society; not knowing any modern tradition, he can only rely on the bible and its stories. Rath writes furtheron:
„Mason’s religious fervor grow[s] out of a nacistic drive to bloster a weak and deprived sense of self – a fearful self unable to develop [a] meaningful relationship[...] with others.“
One possible reason for Mason Tarwater’s bizarre behaviour could be his weak and deprived sense of his own self. This means, when not being accepted by his family, because of trying to baptize everyone, he flees into own, self-created foundamentalist world. This world only contains Powderhead, the clearing, and the bible as a spiritual location of his thoughts. As Rath says, this can be seen as a try to develop a counter-religion to what Catholicism actually means. Old Tarwater’s ideas only contain the word and reject everything which does not belong to the biblical story. Relation between Mason Tarwater and Francis Tarwater

Having seen that Old Tarwater absolutely rejects modern civilisation, we have to ask ourselves why he takes the boy him to the clearing and what he wants to make out of him.
One could argue that he wants to give the boy some kind of religious education, but another important reason is the Christian burial Mason Tarwater wants to have. As already shown, Tarwater gives Francis an education he thinks to be in the name of God or what he thinks to be Christian. We do not learn anything else about the boy’s education than the religious doctrines the old man hands over to the minor. One has to ask himself why Mason Tarwater acts in that way. A plausible possibility is the wish to be buried in a Christian way. The whole Christian education then serves as a kind of trainingship, where the trainee learns about the old man’s taste of burial. In a discussion between Buford, the Afro-American who buries Old Tarwater, and Francis Tarwater this is being expressed. What the stranger thinks about the old man is expressed here:
„He favored a lot of foolishness, the stranger said. The truth is he was childish. Why, this schoolteacher never did him any harm. You take, all he did was to watch him and write down what he seen and heard and put it in a paper for the schoolteachers to read. Now what was wrong in that? Why nothing. Who cares what a schoolteacher reads? And the old fool acted like he had been killed in his very soul. Well he wasn’t so near deadas he thought he was. Lived on fourteen years and raised up a boy to bury him, suitable to his own taste.“
The stranger tells young Tarwater his opinion about old Tarwater. To him he seems to have been a fool who was crazy. He had raised the boy only for a selfish reason, he want to have someone to bury him in the way he thought it was right.
Objectively regarded, this really seems to be the only plausible reason, why the boy had been raised in the forest and why he had got that questionable pseudo-Christian education. When Francis finally, does not bury him, uses Buford as a helper and burns the whole clearing in the end, this must be seen as a form of protest against the way he had been educated. On the one hand, burning a dead body is not allowed among Catholics, this contradicts what Catholics believe in. On the other hand, he does not respect Old Tarwater’s will. For him, one of the reasons for raising up the boy had been to be buried in the way he wanted. Brinkmeyer writes about that fact:
„The voice tells Tarwater that he was tricked by his great-uncle, that the only reason Old Tarwater brought him to Powderhead was so there would be somebody around to give him a proper burial. The voice adds that Tarwater’s life has been thoroughly stunted by his living in the backwoods alone for fourteen years with a fanatic. [...] According to the stranger, Old Tarwater’s death gives Tarwater the opportunity to achieve his personal liberation.“
Bringing the boy to Powderhead had the function of having someone to bury him as he wanted it to be done. Mason Tarwater thereon gave an explication how to do it:
„He wanted it ten foot [...] not just eight [deep]. He had worked on the box a long time and when he finished it, he had scratched on the lid [...] and had climbed into it [...] and had lain there for some time.“
Old Tarwater did everything to have the burial he wanted. For him, Francis had to be at Powderhead, because the old man paniced to be buried in a non-Christian way by Rayber.
„´He’d burn me [...]. He’d be willing to pay the undertaker to burn me to be able to scatter my ashes,` he said. ´He don’t believe in the Resurrection. He don’t believe in the Last Day. He don’t believe in the bread of life...`“
This is exactly the point, where you could find Francis Tarwater’s rebellion. While his great-uncle panics from the idea of being burned, the boy does finally not follow his instructions of how to bury him, it is the boy in the end to burn him. Rayber – rationalism a life-style

While Old Tarwater is a person who is very much influenced by religion, his nephew Rayber could be seen as the absolute counter-part. He could be called an incorporation of rationalism. The word rationalism derives from the Latin word ratio, reason, and describes persons who try to find out reasonable solutions and explications. Rayber’s Rationalism

Brinkmeyer writes about Rayber and his way of thinking that rationalism is his guide-line:
„Keeping his rationalism by smothering all other voices from within and without is for Rayber to be free.“
Only what can be explained is an argument for Rayber. All that is not rational, as for example Old Tarwater’s behaviour, has to be rejected, it deprives him of freedom. Desmond gives a statement which is very similar to Brinkmeyer’s:
„Rayber is O’Connor’s version of that type of secular rationalist which emerged in the second axial breakthrough of the Enlightment. Intensely, self-conscious, he rejects the Christian vision of history and personality as an archaic and warped vision of being, one that in his view proffers escapism from the „reality“ of the human condition. For Rayber „reality“ means a totally enclosed mundane order; notions of transcedence are delusory.“
Desmond explains that only rationalism can be a guide-line for Rayber’s behaviour, for this he rejects the Christian version of the world. Reality and only reality are important and decisive for him. When assisting by chance in a religious scene in his neighbourhood his attitude towards religion becomes very clear. While the religious group praises the girl’s actions to support Christianity, Rayber becomes quite furious. In the following scene, this can be clearly observed:
„`Lucette has travelled the world over telling people about Jesus. She’s been to India and China. She’s spoken to all the rulers of the world.´ [...]
Another child exploited, Rayber thought furiously. It was the thought of a child’s mind warped, of a child led away from reality that always enraged him, bringing back to him his own childhood’s seduction.“
In a certain way, Rayber has to react like that, because when being confronted with this sort of religious scene he constructs a link this and his own past when he was mistreated in the name of an archaic form of religion. As a logical consequence, all that is not completely rational has to be refused. Reality and rationalism are for him the only possibilities to flee from what he has suffered in the past. So, you can finally say that he is pushed towards his way of thinking about the world. Rayber’s opinion about Mason Tarwater

While religion incorporates Mason Tarwater’s life Rayber is influenced by rationalism and reality. As a consequence of that, the two men’s relation has to be regarded as a complicated one.
The relation between the two men is bad. Rayber does not have any idea of Old Mason Tarwater; in a dialogue about Rayber’s short stay with Tarwater this becomes clear:
„`If you had got me when I was seven days instead of seven years, you might not have ruined my life.´
`If it’s ruined,´ the old man siad, `it wasn’t me that ruined it.´
`Oh yes it was,´ the nephew said, advancing across the room, his face very red. `You’re too blind to see what you did to me. A child can’t defend himself. Children are cursed with believing. You pushed me out of the real world and I stayed out of it until I didn’t know which was which. You infected me with your idiot hopes, your foolish violence.“
From this dialogue, you can deduce that on the one hand Rayber feels mistreated by Tarwater and on the other hand he critizes of the old man on him. The two main arguments against Mason Tarwater’s way of life are for Rayber his farness from reality and his affliction to violence.
The schoolteacher argues that Mason had pushed him out of the real world, which what contradicts his nearness to rationalism. The other point is that he had preached to him his ideas of religion, which Rayber rejects. Furtheron he critizes Mason Tarwater’s affliction to violence. Another quote shows this readiness to violence:
„After the old man shot me I began to lose my hearing. I didn’t have a gun when I went to get you back. If I had stayed he would have killed me and I wouldn’t have done you any good dead. [...] I didn’t have a gun. He would have killed me. He was a mad man.“
This scene drastically shows that the schoolteacher takes or in this case took the old man for an idiot. Being shot by him, he has a good argument for this. As a conclusion about the two men’s relationship, you could say that it is bad and that as already shown in the chapter about relation between Mason and Rayber it it full of denials of the other person’s opinion and way of thinking. Francis Tarwater – person between two positions

Young Francis Tarwater has been living for a long time with great-uncle Mason Tarwater in Powderhead, far away from town. When his uncle dies meets Rayber, the schoolteacher, who lives in town. Francis Tarwater – caught between two extreme positions

Francis has to find his position in a world of extremities. On the one hand there is Old Tarwater’s position and on the other hand there is Rayber’s. The little boy is so forced to find out what suites him most.
Mason Tarwater has preached the young character for a long time that the only way to lead one’s life is religion. Both person want to influence him in a way that he has to follow them. Brinkmeyer writes that the only reason to bring Francis to Powderhead was to make him bury the old man. Mason Tarwater does not give him any education than his religious stories. In this case, you could say that the boy was abused by Old Tarwater.
Not only Old Tarwater abuses him for his own projects, but also Rayber. The schoolteacher incorporates the othe extreme pole in the way of thinking. He is absolutely anti-religious. Rationalism is the only way of finding solution. His main project is to make the child a pupil. This is, according to modern ways of thinking a much more accurate way of educating a child than the old man does it within the forest, but it also has to be critisized. For Rayber, this is a way of getting more influence over the boy and to a certain extinct, it can even been seen as a wayof revenge against the old. Here, you could say young Tarwater is abused as a weapon against an adversary.
Francis Tarwater can be seen as a prisoner between those two positions, he has to find his own way out. Francis Tarwater’s way

After Mason Tarwater’s death, Francis go to town and lives for severeal days with his uncle. Having known the to persons’ way of thinking, he tries to find his own way. Thereon Friedman writes:
„Tarwater’s rejection of God is more violent and less pharisaical than Rayber’s. But Tarwater has an important task to perform. `Himself baptized by his great-uncle into the death of Christ´, he must in turn bring spiritual life through baptism to his cousin Bishop: `Precious in sight of the Lord even an idiot,´ his great-uncle has told him. But he goes to the city not to do this but to see whether what he had been taught about the history of the world was true; that is for knowledge rather than grace. [...] Rayber can not teach him nothing but even keeps impressing, although unintentionally, his mission on him.“
Trying to find his own way of life, Tarwater has to distinguish between what is right and what is wrong. After Mason Tarwater’s death, he goes to town and tries to find out what was right what Old Tarwater had told and taught him. Wandering around in town, he can find out what is true. In this way, it must be said that neither Mason Tarwater nor Rayber have to much influence over him. It is up to him to decide. Rath gives a statement which is quite similar Frieman’s:
„Francis struggles to expel both the will of the old man and that of his uncle. [...] He brags that he burned the old man just as Rayber would have done it. And in the end, he completes the job Rayber started when he attempted to drown his own son.
To resist becoming the double of Rayber, Francis keeps his distance from the schoolteacher, maintains his isolation, and protects himself from his uncle’s penetrating eyes, ironically becoming more and more the Mason who isolated himself at Powderhead.“
Rath writes about Francis’s behaviour that he tries to expel both the will of the old man and that of his uncle. In fact, this is a confirmation on what Friedman had already written. On the one hand you can say that Francis finishes what Rayber had already started. Burning the old man could seen as a liberation Rayber had not reached. But on the other hand you could also say that Francis also tries to keep Rayber’s influence down, when keeping his isolated position during his stay in town. There, he tries to find out what the world is really like and if he had learned the right things about it. Keeping distance has to be seen in this case as a weapon, the burning of the old man.
As a conclusion about Francis Tarwater’s way you could say that he manages to find his own way between the two extreme positions. Neither does he believe in Mason Tarwater’s idea of religion, nor does he follow his uncle’s absolute idea of rationalism. He decides on his own what he thinks to be right or wrong.



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