Racial conflict in the American South has been a sensitive subject for many years. Flannery O’Connor’s “Everything That Rises Must Converge” has many symbolic attributes of these racial conflicts. The setting is mainly on a moving bus, in the 1960’s American South. The various characters interact with one another, revealing the tension, turmoil and racial relations that are happening during the era this story takes place. Some characters feel there is no need for change, while others think change is necessary for the equality of different races.
Symbolism is used effectively in O’Connor’s “Everything That Rises Must Converge” through characters, setting, and characterization to highlight the broader conflict of race relations. The stories main character is a young, white man named Julian, whose relationship with his mother symbolizes the race conflict on a smaller scale. Julian believes that the world has changed and is completely different than it used to be. He thinks there should be a mutual agreement between races and everyone should get along and be treated equally.
His mother, on the other hand, still sees a world where white people are the dominant race, and the Negroes are considered lower class individuals that should not get to ride on the same bus. Julian’s mother makes a comment on how they are amongst themselves today, referring to the fact that there are no Negroes on the bus. O’Connor states the reactions from Julian and the woman across the aisle: Julian cringes, and the woman with the red and white canvas sandals replies, “For a change, I came on the other day and they were thick as fleas, up front and all through” (443).
Shortly after this conversation, a large black man gets on the bus. He is well dressed and carries a briefcase. He sits on the other end of the seat where the white woman with the red and white sandals is sitting. She immediately moves to another seat and Julian decides to sit right beside the large black man. His mother was enraged and red-faced from the idea that Julian had just declared war on her (444). Julian uses the large black man as sort of a pawn in a metaphorical chess game he is playing with his mother. He asks him for a ighter when clearly there was a sign that stared at him saying “No Smoking” (444). The large black man hands him a packet of matches, while Julian thanks him and feels foolish since he quit smoking months ago. Julian hands the matches back and says, “Sorry,” while the large black man is annoyed he continues to read his paper. The tension between Julian and his mother has become so thick she looks as if her blood pressure has risen (445). The setting is used to symbolize several important places which emphasize the racial tension in the American South.
The bus ride is the where the main setting takes place. Julian and his mother get on the bus and his mother immediately starts up a conversation with a white woman. The woman joins in, and the subject of the discussion turns to Julian. Julian’s mother comments that he works as a typewriter salesman but wants to be a writer. Julian withdraws into a mental bubble. He judges his mother for her opinions, believing that she lives in a distorted fantasy world of false graciousness. Although he feels nothing but disdain for her, she has made sacrifices so that he could have a good education.
This symbolizes the tension yet the respect between Julian and his mother. Another symbol of the setting is the grandfather’s former house, in which they both fantasize about having. Julian uses it as a retreat from reality. It appears in his dreams regularly. He would stand on the wide porch, listening to the rustle of oak leaves, then wander through the high-ceilinged hall into the parlor that opened onto it and gaze at the worn rugs and faded draperies (441). It occurred to him that he appreciates it more than his mother.
Julian appreciates the house for its character and rustic beauty, while his mother only likes the house for what it represents; a symbol of wealth and power (441). Julian’s mother knew the house had belonged to the Godhighs, but her father Chestny paid the mortgage and saved them from losing the house. She said, “They were in reduced circumstances, but reduced or not, they never forgot who they were” (441). The setting from each of these different occasions is where a lot of the tension starts between him and his mother.
The symbolism in O’Connor’s use of characterization also pinpoints the tension of race relations in the story. Julian’s mother thinks the hat she wears is a symbol of being upper class and represents her southern pride. She also wears gloves along with her everyday outfit to signify wealth. Later in the story Julian is wearing a tie and decides to take it off and his mother despises that decision and tells him to put it back on. She wonders why he deliberately tries to embarrass her in town. She informs him that he looks like a thug.
Julian replies that true culture is in the mind and not reflected by how one acts or looks, as his mother believes. He put his tie back on to please his mother. “Restored to my class,” he muttered (442). His mother bought a hat that is hideous and looks like a green cushion without stuffing with a purple velvet flap on one side, which stood up on the opposite side (439). She wants to take the hat back (439). Julian tells her to keep it, and later in the story she is set right in her place when the larger black woman gets on the bus with an identical hat (446).
This shows that Julian’s mother and the larger black woman have something in common. It’s also very ironic that the larger black woman sits beside Julian, and the small black child sits beside Julian’s mother. Julian notices the larger black woman is carrying a red pocketbook, which to him is a sign of rage. This is later clarified when she slaps Julian’s mother upside the head for trying to give her son a penny. Julian’s mother thinks she is doing a good deed; however the black woman takes offense.
Furthermore, it is evident that the symbolism in O’Connor’s “Everything That Rises Must Converge,” is very transparent and tells a diverse story about the various people, places, and mannerisms. The characters in her story show exactly what the world used to be, and what the world has come to today. Sometimes, it may seem as if a kind gesture is more like a rude awakening to reality. One might also see that they have more in common with an individual than they think.