Crossing the "Black Line of Woods":
A Contemporary Anagogical Perspective of O'Connor's Sentinel Line of Trees
© 1995, Brian Patterson
In her essay on "The Nature and Aim of Fiction," Flannery O'Connor discusses how "in good fiction, certain of the details will tend to accumulate meaning from the story itself, and when this happens, they become symbolic in their action...You might say that these are details that, while having their essential place in the literal level of the story, operate in depth as well as on the surface, increasing the story in every direction" (Mystery and Manners 70-1). If a reader reverses this idea of how to construct fiction and applies it to the way fiction is read, the story can blossom into multiple levels of meaning. Such an interpretation is reflected in aspects of the Biblical hermeneutics of medieval scriptural interpreters who sought literal, allegorical, tropological (moral), and anagogical (spiritual) significance from a text. Perhaps the best known example of anagogical interpretation being Saint Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica, specifically his articles on "The Nature and Domain of Sacred Doctrine," which argue that the sensual nature of human beings requires the revelation of spiritual truths through comparisons with material things. In light of O'Connor's above description of good fiction, an anagogical interpretation, examining how the concrete elements of her fictional world represent abstract ideas about the spiritual realm, would obviously be an important key to understanding her work. However, this fourth level of hermeneutical meaning largely has been overlooked in present critical circles while essays focus on feminist, racial, and sociological issues. Consideration of the various critical approaches taken toward O'Connor's works reveals that anagogy is simply not a common method of interpretation, although O'Connor's own philosophy on writing lends itself to such a technique.
If a one were to search for anagogical meaning in O'Connor's short fiction, where would one start? There are several "details" that would be helpful in a spiritual analysis of her texts. While the body of criticism on O'Connor's works is filled with interpretations of the various meanings suggested by her symbols, her celestial images have garnered the most attention, yet the dark tree line, another common and no less important image, remains largely unnoticed. Sometimes appearing at a distance, at other times close at hand, and often completely surrounding the central characters, the sentinel line of woods works as a sort of internal audience. It gauges the disposition of her characters, and is the pivot on which O'Connor's spiritual revelations often turn. This potent image, which has fallen through the cracks in most critical works, is still an important symbol to consider when examining the spiritual meanings in O'Connor's short fiction.
While a complete analysis of all the critical addresses of O'Connor's woods would be ideal, such an effort is well beyond the scope of this paper. Instead, it will probe a small niche; the symbolic function of O'Connor's woods on the anagogical level. Unlike critics who have approached the anagogical meaning of O'Connor's fiction strictly on the religious terms of Catholicism however, the goal of this paper is to locate a spiritual meaning outside of the religious and Catholic milleu. This paper will also show how anagogical interpretation, which has fallen by the roadside in the late twentieth century, can evolve and overcome the cultural differences which have emerged since the early age of Biblical hermeneutics, and be a desirable implement for literary interpretation.
In an attempt to evaluate the critical coverage of the function of the woods in O'Connor's fiction, representative essays have been chosen based on their focus and their contribution to the analysis of the role of the treeline. Rather than an in-depth analysis of all existing criticism, there follows a brief account of some of the better essays and an assessment of their shortcomings. The process of examining these particular essays offers insight into how an anagogical approach to fiction can address secular works and come to terms with cross-cultural currents that have blurred the religious certainties that formerly supported interpretation based solely on one set of religious beliefs.
There is no shortage of commendable criticism on the religious aspects of O'Connor's fiction, and for the benefit of readers with an interest in O'Connor, a brief mention of critical surveys addressing these and other essays is in order. In "The Methodological Limits of Flannery O'Connor's Critics," John May catalogs the conclusions reached by scholars in the O'Connor critical venture, which have been shaped, consciously or unconsciously, by assumptions about the relationship between literature and religion. Beverly Clark and Caroline Brown take a more general approach to criticism of O'Connor's work in "A Review of O'Connor Criticsm," a well conceived bibliography covering critical responses from 1964 up to the 1980s. At the time of this writing, the cutting edge in analysis of O'Connor's works can be found in Sura Rath and Mary Shaw's Flannery O'Connor: New Perspectives, a collection of essays examining O'Connor's fiction in terms of reader response, gender issues, and rhetorical criticism.
While scholarly analysis of O'Connor's work abounds, the bulk of current criticism seems to harbor an obsession for analyzing her fiction in terms of social topics such as violence, feminism, and racism. Commentary that specifically recognizes the significance of O'Connor's dark treeline in her short fiction is rare. This is no indication, however, that essays touching on this particular aspect of O'Connor's landscape fail in achieving their individual critical goals, but any treatise will have inherent shortcomings, and the accumulation of these shortcomings within the larger body of criticism leaves noticeable rifts.
One of the first clues to the shortcomings in contemporary analysis of O'Connor's works can be found in one of the few entirely anagogical essays on O'Connor's short fiction. Horton Davies' "Anagogical Signals in Flannery O'Connor's Fiction" briefly examines the woods within the context of the catechetical teachings of the Catholic church. The broad scope of "Anagogical Signals in Flannery O'Connor's Fiction" also allows for only a brief mention of the role the woods play. Davies' attention to the myriad of other anagogical clues such as eyes, color, physical and moral incompleteness, and the formulaic expression "as if..." detracts from his examination of the woods. Of course, the focus of Davies' essay is anagogical revelation; particularly the derivation of Catholic religious meaning through the interpretation of these symbols, liturgical colors, and semantics. He does not offer an interpretation of the meanings hidden in the woods. Davies' approach also precludes a secular examination of the subject; his reliance on catechetical criteria fails to relate their importance to a non-Catholic, or even non-Christian reader, and leads to the omission of any interpretation outside of the religious milieu. While O'Connor is Catholic, and influences from her religious beliefs certainly enter her fiction, it would be oppressive to assume that a Catholic interpretation of her fiction is the only interpretation she intended, considering her statement, "when I write a novel in which the central action is a baptism, I am very well aware that for a majority of my readers, baptism is a meaningless rite, and so in my novel I have to see that this baptism carries enough awe and mystery to jar the reader into some kind of emotional recognition of its significance" (Mystery and Manners 162). While Davies does an admirable job of mapping the multitude of anagogical clues in O'Connor's fiction, and acknowledges the presence of the woods and their anagogical role, his essay doesn't probe beyond their existence as a signal indicating that there is a hidden, religious meaning under their mundane aspects. He also falls short of delving into what that meaning is.
Virginia Pyron, on the other hand, goes to the opposite extreme with "'Strange Country': The Landscape of Flannery O'Connor's Short Stories." Rather than focusing on anagogical clues, Pyron studies the mechanical function of numerous features of O'Connor's fictional landscape. Her essay gives ample treatment to the woods and their significance as a technical device for achieving such effects as foreshadowing, yet she stays well within the boundaries of a mechanical analysis of O'Connor's landscape, leaving the door to analysis of how the trees act on a spiritual level firmly closed. This is problematic for the reader who is plumbing the depths of O'Connor's stories beyond the technical level. Even more troublesome, Pyron's reticence to look beyond the mechanics of the landscape leads to her mistaken conclusion that by the end of each of O'Connor's stories the woods have ceased all function as a literary device and are just a piece of the scenery.
In "Anagogical Realism in Flannery O'Connor," Thomas M. Linehan consolidates the extremes found in the previous discourses and spawns an excellent essay applying Davies' anagogical focus to the landscape visited by Pyron. Linehan's exploration of O'Connor's landscape goes beyond the land as merely setting, beyond the mechanics of the landscape as a foreshadowing device, and into the role of the land as a representative of the spiritual world. Linehan does not resort to a canonical list of anagogical devices, and his efforts carry his examination beyond the level of a road map to the places where a spiritual message resides. Linehan probes the points where these anagogical signals appear, digging out the message which he feels O'Connor has embedded in her work, and coming closest to verbalizing the spiritual message in O'Connor's fiction. Despite his departure from Davies' catalog of catachetical markers, the conclusion Linehan reaches is, like Davies', limited to an explicitly Christian and implicitly Catholic perspective that "O'Connor employs the woods...as the symbolic embodiment of the source of human redemption, Christ's Incarnation and Crucifixion" (83). While this is certainly a valid interpretation of O'Connor's use of the woods, it is a narrow one, which restricts comprehension of O'Connor's message to an entirely Christian audience, and such a restriction conflicts with O'Connor's goal "to make the reader feel, in his bones if nowhere else, that something is going on here that counts" (Mystery and Manners 162).
Taking these articles as representative of the body of the criticism, one gap in the critical address of O'Connor's woods imagery becomes clear. The major fault with these particular interpretations of O'Connor's works (as well as essays which do not focus on the woods, or simply fall short of a respectable explication of the subject), is their focus on religion, doctrine which relies on belief in the description of the deep knowledge which the religion's founder possessed, rather than spirituality, which stresses direct experience over belief. It would be foolhardy to claim the ability to fill in all the gaps in existing criticism of O'Connor's fiction with one essay, but an effort can be made to focus on the prominent symbolism of the dark woods and peel back the layers of meaning, both mechanical and spiritual, without relying solely on the tenets of Catholicism or Christianity. Certainly, during the hey-day of hermeneutics, amid the Christ-centered culture of Medieval Europe, the Bible was the main text subject to interpretation. License to interpret the Bible was given to one class: the clergy, so anagogy, by definition, was a Christian pursuit, but such a method of interpretation should be expanded for the twentieth century reader.
One of O'Connor's early works, "A Good Man is Hard to Find," is an excellent starting point. The grandmother has misled her family down a desolate dirt road into the woods, and just before their car goes over an embankment, a startling transmutation occurs in the world surrounding them; "all at once they would be on a hill, looking down over the blue tops of trees for miles around, then the next minute, they would be in a red depression with the dust coated trees looking down on them" (Complete Stories 124). This description is not only prophetic of the impending crash, but conjures images of towering, godlike tree spectators watching these humans perform.
The wreck leaves the family in the bottom of a ditch where only the tops of trees are visible above the road, and behind them are "more woods, tall and dark and deep" (Complete Stories 125); images giving the impression that the family is hemmed in by the vast audience of trees. A passing car seems to be an imminent source of rescue, but the men who emerge from the car don't behave like rescuers. The reader realizes at the same moment "the line of woods gaped like a dark open mouth" that these men, the Misfit and his gang, are the villains of the drama. It is this gaping mouth, reflecting our surprise, that connects the audience of trees with the reader. While one cannot, in reality, be a character in the story, O'Connor's carefully timed anthropomorphization of the trees briefly transcends the barrier between reader and text long enough for us to witness our reaction to the situation surface within the story.
The Misfit asks Bailey and John Wesley, "would you mind stepping back in them woods there?" The father and son are escorted away by the Misfit's partners, and "they all disappear into the woods." The remaining family members, still believing that everything will be fine, pass several moments in conversation as the tension builds. Two shots escape the woods, and the grandmother hears "the wind move through the tree tops like a long satisfied insuck of breath" (Complete Stories 129). In this same instant we realize we have been holding our breaths also, if not physically at least in a mental fashion. Again, the trees make a brief connection with the reader by reflecting the our reaction. After the mother and June Star are led to their execution in the trees, the grandmother is left to realize that there is "nothing around her but woods" (Complete Stories 131). She is alone with the Misfit, the arena of trees surrounding them, and when he shoots her he has her body dragged into the woods with the others.
While the mechanical uses of the trees are obvious, their spiritual purpose is a bit trickier to discern. The trees play the role of audience, reflecting our reactions to the skirmish, however whereas we are only voyeurs the trees take part in the action when the characters walk into the woods, allowing the reader to participate, at least vicariously, through our connection with the trees. Throughout the entire incident, the only things to escape the woods are gunshots, screams, and the villains. More than just an audience or a dumping ground for dead bodies, the woods have become a boundary, which for certain characters can be crossed only once; a metaphor for death and the spiritual mysteries that lie beyond.
O'Connor refines the role of the woods in many of her later short stories, subtly transforming their connection to the reader and role as an audience, and emphasizing the part they play as a boundary. While the woods in "A Good Man is Hard to Find" make their appearance toward the end of the story, "A Circle in the Fire" is constructed within a framework that begins, "sometimes the last line of trees was a solid gray-blue wall a little darker than the sky, but this afternoon it was almost black and behind it the sky was a livid glaring white," which sets the stage for another battle (Complete Stories 175). Unlike the audience of trees in "A Good Man is Hard to Find," descriptions of the trees as a "gray-blue sentinel line," a "fortress line," and "granite" in A Circle in the Fire characterize them as lines of soldiers and walls of defense in a conflict, rather than spectators who merely watch the combat.
This line of trees, in the eyes of Mrs. Cope, fends off the sky, or some celestial object such as the sun "swollen and flame colored and hung in a net of ragged cloud as if it might burn through any second and fall into the woods" (Complete Stories 184). While these images foreshadow the fire at the end of the story, they also reflect Mrs. Cope's frame of mind. The sun which "burn[s] so fast that it seem[s] to be trying to set everything in sight on fire" is the manifestation of Mrs. Cope's anxieties over losing her prized possession, the land she has worked so hard to keep (Complete Stories 184). The trees are not only her line of defense protecting her material possessions, but the boundary within which she feels she has control. Inside their circle, she can claim to be the master, but she struggles to keep even the little things like nut grass under her command.
As the story progresses, it becomes painfully obvious that her control is only a delusion. When Powell and his friends arrive, they infiltrate her defenses and come from outside the walls of her perceived fortress line. The trees are not going to protect Mrs. Cope; she has misread them. The boys are quick to point out that "she don't own them woods...Gawd owns them woods and her too" (Complete Stories 186). Suddenly, O'Connor twists our perspective; the trees are no longer the line of defense under Mrs. Cope's command, and Mrs. Cope herself is equated with a possession, much the same way as she views the land around her. The woods shelter the three boys from Mrs. Cope, rather than sheltering her. Even her own daughter retreats into the woods to escape Mrs. Cope's nagging, where the trees display their prophetic ability once more. As the child stalks through the fallen leaves, her surroundings, "the tops of the trees...black against the glare" of the sun, again foreshadow the fire which the boys will start in the woods (Complete Stories 191).
This fire is the final thrust of the spiritual invasion, but rather than invading from beyond the sentinel line, Powell and his friends can be heard shrieking with joy "inside the granite line of trees" while the fire blazes furiously around them. The reversed boundary of defense marked by the trees is again reinforced. The boys dancing and yelling in the fire become the prophets in the furnace protected "in the circle the angel had cleared for them," while Mrs. Cope mutely watches from outside, as the possessions she thought were within her control are razed by the fire (Complete Stories 193). Although Mrs. Cope doesn't face death like the grandmother in "A Good Man is Hard to Find", and even remains physically unscathed outside the flames, the destruction of all her possessions, what she perceived as her world, forces her to the realization that the world is not her possession or her protection, and no amount of weeding will make it so.
In "Greenleaf," Mrs. May, like Mrs. Cope, sees her woods as a line of defense. Looking out her window, she sees "the cows...grazing on two pale green pastures across the road and behind them, fencing them in, was a black wall of trees with a sharp sawtooth edge that held off the indifferent sky" (Complete Stories 321). This edged weapon defending her from the forces in the sky is, in the same manner as Mrs. Cope's treeline, the boundary of control, within which Mrs. May feels her cows and the rest of her property are safe.
Such a perspective is not shared by all of the characters. While Mrs. May sees the woods as the wall of a fortress, Mrs. Greenleaf sees them as a place of worship, a place where she can carry out her prayer healing. Walking through the woods, Mrs. May stumbles upon Mrs. Greenleaf performing one of these healings, and Mrs. May's fear of nature stands in sharp contrast to Mrs. Greenleaf's passionate relationship with it. Mrs. May walks, "hitting the ground methodically with a long stick she carried in case she saw a snake," while Mrs. Greenleaf prostrates herself on the ground with "her legs and arms spread out as if she were trying to wrap them around the earth." Mrs. May sees nature as a material object over which she must exert her control, but Mrs. Greenleaf treats it more as a living entity to be embraced. At the same time, Mrs. May's uneasy feeling during this meeting, "as if some violent unleashed force had broken out of the ground and was charging toward her," not only emphasizes her fears of losing control, but foreshadows her later encounter with the bull (Complete Stories 316).
Mrs. May's later dream further foreshadows this encounter:
Half the night in her sleep she heard a sound as if some large stone were grinding a hole on the outside wall of her brain. She was walking on the inside, over a succession of beautiful rolling hills, planting her stick in front of each step. She became aware after a time that the noise was the sun trying to burn through the tree line and she stopped to watch, safe in the knowledge that it couldn't, that it had to sink the way it always did outside of her property. When she first stopped it was a swollen red ball, but as she stood watching it began to narrow and pale until it looked like a bullet. Then suddenly it burst through the tree line and raced down the hill toward her (Complete Stories 329).
More than just a portent of the future, the dream is also a window onto Mrs. May's character, revealing that her fear of nature persists on the subconscious level. She still carries her long stick in the dream, and senses a threat of damage to her property from celestial forces, but she feels safe enough behind her tree line to stop and watch. The juxtaposition of personal limits (the wall of her brain) and external limits (the tree line) is important in equating the external force of the dream sun with the more personal force of spirituality. Just as the sun in her dream adapts to overcome her illusory physical boundaries, the spiritual forces in reality will also adapt to overcome the walls she has raised against them.
Yet the dream is insufficient motivation for Mrs. May to come to this realization on a conscious level, so the images in the dream must become reality. She finds herself in one of her pastures, "a green arena, encircled almost entirely by woods" (Complete Stories 331). Here again, the trees are like spectators, Mrs. May's formerly secure property has become the coliseum, and she is the matador.
The bull emerges from the tree line like the sun in her dream, and like the sun it races down on her like a bullet. When it gores Mrs. May, her point of view suddenly shifts. No longer is the line of trees a wall holding back the sky, but "a dark wound in a world that was nothing but sky," and she sees Mr. Greenleaf "approaching on the outside of some invisible circle, the tree line gaping behind him, and nothing under his feet" (Complete Stories 333-4). Mrs. May not only comes suddenly face to face with her own mortality, but finds her world, much like Mrs. Cope's world, turned inside-out. She can no longer hide behind the barricade of the tree line; she is outside it, beyond it. In an instant, her sleeping dream has shifted into reality, thrusting aside her now inconsequential waking dreams of her material possessions.
A similar materialism is the focus of "A View of the Woods," but proves to be the unredeemable character flaw of old man Fortune. The story opens similarly to "A Circle in the Fire," with "a black line of woods which appeared at both ends of the view to walk across the water and continue along the edge of the fields" (Complete Stories 335). Later as Fortune looks out his bedroom window at the line of woods, his view changes with the day's progress. On his first inspection, "the sunlight was woven through them at that particular time of the afternoon so that every thin pine trunk stood out in all its nakedness." Later, at six o'clock, "the gaunt trunks appeared to be raised in a pool of red light that gushed from the almost hidden sun setting behind them" (Complete Stories 348). It would be wrong to deny how conspicuously these images relate the trees to Christ, as the purpose of this essay is not to deny the existence of Christian allusions, but to find a spiritual message implied beyond them. However, while the trees are Christlike, O'Connor never actually equates them with Christ.
Fortune's vision can be seen as an assault. Just as Mrs. May is assaulted in her dream, Fortune cannot shut out the prophetic warnings which come in his "hallucination, as if someone were wounded behind the woods and the trees were bathed in blood." Even though he tries to shut his eyes to the vision, "against the closed lids hellish red trunks rose up in a black wood." This vision elevates Fortune, "as if for a prolonged instant he were caught up out of the rattle of everything that led to the future and were held there in the midst of an uncomfortable mystery that he had not apprehended before" (Complete Stories 348). Here is Fortune's final opportunity to change the course he has set; his last chance at salvation. For a second, he is free of the current towing him towards his final clash with Mary. He can almost see beyond his petty schemes of making his son-in-law squirm to a more important realm where earthly quibbling is unimportant, but his stubborn nature and his unfamiliarity with this spiritual state conspire against him. He refuses to believe that these woods can be anything but the same pine trees found anywhere else, and he falls back into his comfortably familiar "rattle."
Of course, the role of spiritual messenger is not the only part the woods play. As in the other stories, the woods reflect the psychological makeup of the characters, in this case the strange duality between Mary and Fortune made obvious in the ubiquitous references to the mirroring of Fortune's likeness in the child's face. When Fortune tells Mary he's selling the lawn, she stalks away from him and to the woods (343). Later, as Fortune is trying to discuss the transaction with her, Mary looks out on "the sullen line of black pine woods fringed on top with green. Behind that line was a narrow gray-blue line of more distant woods and beyond that nothing but sky, entirely blank except for one or two threadbare clouds" (347). The landscape at once reflects Mary's sullen mood at the prospect of losing her view of the woods as well as her blank apathy towards Fortune's material schemes, and also the stubborn determination which both characters possess reflected in the gray-blue line of defense.
The obstinate nature of both Mary and Fortune ultimately leads to an escalation from mental conflict to a physical confrontation between them. With the intent of whipping her, Fortune takes Mary to "an ugly red bald spot surrounded by long thin pines that appeared to be gathered there to witness anything that would take place in such a clearing" (Complete Stories 353). This conspicuously awkward phrasing draws attention to the clearing, and also to this point in the plot, where, as in previous stories, the trees are prepared for blood to be shed.
The battle is fierce and brief, ending when Fortune kills the child as well as that small part of himself she mirrored which could have been saved. "Then he [falls] on his back and look[s] up helplessly along the bare trunks into the tops of the pines." Whether from the exertion, or from his own anger, Fortune has a heart attack and dies. The vivid description of the event reveals the difference between Fortune and other characters such as Mrs. May;
his heart expanded once more with a convulsive motion. It expanded so fast that the old man felt as if he were being pulled after it through the woods, felt as if he were running as fast as he could with the ugly pines toward the lake. He perceived that there would be a little opening there, a little place where he could escape and leave the woods behind him. He could see it in the distance already, a little opening where the white sky was reflected in the water. It grew as he ran toward it until suddenly the whole lake opened up before him, riding majestically in little corrugated folds toward his feet. He realized suddenly that he could not swim and that he had not bought the boat. On both sides of him he saw that the gaunt trees had thickened into mysterious dark files that were marching across the water and away into the distance (Complete Stories 356).
Even at the point of death, Fortune struggles to "escape" the woods, but he has no hope of leaving them behind. Unlike Mrs. May, who finds herself outside the circle of trees in her final moment, Fortune is trapped within them and herded toward the water. In the finale, the old man, unlike the trees, has no spiritual "bouancy" and cannot walk on the water. He is left alone with the earth moving machine; "one huge yellow monster which sat to the side, as stationary as he was, gorging itself on clay"(Complete Stories 356). From the start of the story, Fortune has let the machine eat away at his land, his relationship with his granddaughter, and his last chance at comprehending the mystery of the spirit.
The trees which gasp in surprise, fend off the sun, and march across the water are much more than just wood: they reflect our reactions (giving us an opportunity to participate in the story, if only vicariously); they reflect the introverted emotional states of the characters; they are a consistent point of origin for violent revelation (a trademark of the O'Connor story); and they are the last persistent element when the rest of existence has been turned inside out. The woods as a symbol certainly "increase the story in every direction," and practically beg for analysis under the anagogical lens (Mystery and Manners 70-1).
The most mysterious role the woods play is their role as boundary, but this role is often misperceived by O'Connor's main characters. For the most part, the trees demarcate the line between the physical world and the spiritual, though they are not a portal between the two (walking through the woods does not lead to heaven). In extreme cases however, as with any boundary, the blurred area between realms becomes a gateway. While characters such as Mrs. Greenleaf or the Misfit can traverse the woods and return alive, they are the ones which have apprehended the spiritual mystery and chosen either to discard it as the Misfit, or embrace it as Mrs. Greenleaf. For those who refuse to face the mystery in the physical realm, however the only option is to comprehend it at the border where the spiritual world overlaps. In the case of Mrs. May or old man Fortune, their comprehension comes in a moment of violent fury. Whereas Mrs. May grasps the secret which the bull whispers to her, and finds herself on the other side, Fortune still resists, trying desperately to run away, and is left behind in the material world.
The treeline should not, however, be confused with judge or jury, as it is a boundary of comprehension rather than morality. Those who venture in are clearly not assessed on grounds of right or wrong, as the Misfit and his gang walk freely amid the trees despite their obvious moral deficiencies, but are appraised in light of their spiritual awareness. This boundary is similar to a minefield: with the map, one can cross safely; otherwise, crossing is a game of chance, not knowing where the mines are until stepped on, at which point exploration ends. The Misfit has comprehended the existence of the spiritual realm, but chooses the darker side of it. Similarly, Mrs. May has no conscious acceptance of the spiritual world until the moment she is impaled on the bull's horn and makes her "last discovery," at which point she crosses from the physical world into the world of the spirit (Complete Stories 334). The difference for Fortune is his obsession with the material world, which leads him to reject the spiritual realm even when it stares him in the face. As he rejects the message of the woods, the woods refuse him passage, and he is stuck on this side of the boundary.
In the face of O'Connor's religious beliefs, one might argue that an interpretation of her fiction without an emphasis on Catholicism is not valid, but O'Connor herself in "Novelist and Believer" reveals that the fiction writer "doesn't write to express himself, he doesn't write simply to render a vision he believes true, rather he renders his vision so that it can be transferred, as nearly whole as possible, to his reader" (Mystery and Manners 162). To accomplish this, the writer is "looking for one image that will connect or combine or embody two points; one is a point in the concrete, and the other is a point not visible to the naked eye, but believed in by him firmly, just as real to him really, as the one that everybody sees" (Mystery and Manners 42). Hence the woods, an image from reality familiar to most any reader subtly accumulating meaning within the story, stand as a bridge between the concrete and the invisible, the material and the spiritual. The subtle vision which O'Connor imparts is the message, "it is not my place to reveal the secret the Greenleaf's bull whispers to Mrs. May, only I will suggest that there is no escaping it." This mystery which O'Connor knows is there and tries to share with us eludes concrete definition and classification in religious terms, so our attention must be eloquently directed toward it, where we can comprehend it within our own spiritual context, regardless of whether this context is Catholic, Protestant, or even Pagan.
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