Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Semester of Degree Completion


Thesis Director

John Guzlowski


The grotesque in Flannery O'Connor's fiction has always been a central concern of her readers and critics, because it is such a prominent aspect of her work and is usually connected with the equally pervasive characteristics of violence, destruction, and death. Many of her critics see the grotesquerie of her characters and landscapes as indicative of humanity's fallen existence--that it serves only to reveal what is wrong with the human condition. Such views echo the premises of Wolfgang Kayser's theory of the grotesque presented in his well-known book, The Grotesque in Art and Literature, but as I point out, this theory cannot provide an adequate context in which to fully understand O'Connor's use of the grotesque as she described it in her public lectures and private correspondence. Although O'Connor acknowledged that the grotesque in her fiction functions to awaken her audience to the "distortions" she saw in human existence, she also wrote that it affirms the potential for good in humanity. Therefore, I propose that Mikhail Bakhtin's theory of the grotesque, presented in his work, Rabelais and His World, offers a more appropriate context in which to examine O'Connor's grotesques than does Kayser's, because its premises assert the dignity, not the damnation, of humanity.

This thesis, then, examines O'Connor's stated intentions concerning her use of the grotesque and shows how they reflect more the premises of Bakhtin's theory than those of Kayser's. I reinforce this point by employing these premises to illuminate the grotesquerie in O'Connor's two novels, Wise Blood and The Violent Bear It Away, as well as in many of her short stories, such as "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," "The Artificial Nigger," and "Good Country People." In concluding this thesis, I observe that Bakhtin's theory allows us to liberate our readings of O'Connor's fiction from a kind of moral and spiritual closure, because it helps us to see how her view of humanity and its relationship with God rejects the limitations of bourgeois Christianity.