Everything that Rises Must Converge

Jumping ahead to season five,* my next review is on Flannery O’Connor’s short story collection Everything that Rises Must Converge. This book quickly became one of my favorites of this project – definitely in the top five that I’ve read so far. O’Connor’s collection makes an appearance in the season five finale The Incident when Jacob is seen reading the book on a park bench just as Anthony Cooper shoves John Locke out of the eighth story window of his high-rise building. When Locke hits the ground, Jacob calmly shuts the book and goes to awake Locke with a touch on the shoulder. After Locke gasps and awakens, Jacob tells him that everything will be alright and he’s sorry that this happened.

* You expected some sort of order to this project?!?

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Everything that Rises Must Converge is a collection of nine Southern Gothic stories. Most of them deal with flawed characters that are having trouble dealing with the changing world in the 1960s South brought on by the Civil Rights Movement and various technological advances. These characters range from genuinely evil racists to well-meaning people that just can’t seem to adjust their conduct from the racist behavior that has been passed down from generation to generation to conform to modern society. In most of these stories, a flawed character will irrationally hold on to a viewpoint – usually a racial or religious bias – that an equally flawed educated, enlightened family member attempts to change.

O’Connor paints a vivid picture of how life in the South was during this time period. Though the reader disagrees with the prejudiced character’s thoughts, it’s easier to sympathize with these character’s folksy attitudes compared with the more “enlightened” characters that attempt to change them. Although we agree with the educated family member’s viewpoints, we hate their condescending personalities. In most of the stories, at least one of the main characters meets an abrupt and violent death at the end, often caused by the very family member that was trying to help enlighten the character. Right and wrong are fluid concepts in the book – after all, what good is trying to teach a family member that blacks and whites are equal if your method causes the family member to die suddenly of a heart attack?

Rather than recap each short story individually, I’ll just give a brief synopsis of the title story because it was my favorite story in the collection and gives a good idea of the collection as a whole (and if I have one complaint about the book, it’s that the stories were all very similar).

The title story opens with Julian, a young, college-educated aspiring writer on his way to pick up his mother – a poor woman who still equates herself with the upper class because her family once owned a plantation with slaves. Educated somewhere in the Northeast, Julian has returned home to the South to live with his mom because he can’t find a job. Each week, he reluctantly accompanies his mother on a bus ride to her weight-loss meetings because she’s scared to ride on the newly racially integrated buses. On this particular day, Julian and his mother enter the bus and find that every passenger is white. Apparently one of those people that insist on talking to other bus passengers, Julian’s mother immediately comments out loud that “we have the bus to ourselves today.” Julian (and the reader) cringe in awkward disgust. As Mother finds sympathetic ears among the lower-class white people on the bus, Julian begins to openly show his disdain at his mom’s behavior through several rude remarks.

A black man in a business suit gets on across from the two a few stops later. Although the man is pretty clearly from a higher wealth class than Julian’s mother, she is scared of being mugged and tells Julian that this is exactly why she brought him along. Disgusted, Julian jumps across the aisle to try to strike up a conversation with the black man, if only to get a rise out of his mother. The black man shows no interest in keeping a conversation going and we learn that Julian, for all his judgmental thoughts towards his mother, is completely unable to hold a conversation with someone who isn’t white. His mother is amused by this but the tables turn again when a black woman gets on with her child and sits on the other side of Julian. The woman is wearing the same hat as Mother. Excited to see her reaction, Julian is disappointed when she shows no emotion. Instead, much to Julian’s chagrin, she insists on giving the young black boy a nickel at their stop – a condescending reminder of the way whites used to oppress blacks. The black woman snaps at Mother and walks away leaving her stunned. So used to her previous way of life, she is simply unable to understand why the nickel could be interpreted in this way. Julian throws this back in his mother’s face and she tries to run away. While running away, she suddenly collapses on the sidewalk and Julian is instantly overwhelmed by guilt.

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There’s so much to unravel with this book that I’m sure my comparison with Lost will turn into a rambling mess. I have some ideas of my own and also read some great thoughts on The Lost Book Club and Lostpedia so I apologize in advance if I steal any ideas without crediting them. Like Lost, this book has multiple levels to unravel, so I’ll start with the most obvious comparisons before digging in deeper to the themes in the short stories.

The title of the book is particularly apt to the scene that Jacob is reading it in.* Locke “rises” to the eighth floor of the high-rise before his dad throws him out the window to the ground below. After Locke hits the ground, Jacob touches him, which sets him on a path of “convergence” with the other 815 passengers that Jacob touched. Additionally, the last story of the collection is entitled “Judgment Day” – a hint towards the climax at the end of season 6.**

* Also of note, from Lostpedia via Wikipedia: “The book’s title is a reference to a work by the French philosopher Pierre Teilhard De Chardin titled the ‘Omega Point’: ‘Remain true to yourself, but move ever upward toward greater consciousness and greater love! At the summit you will find yourselves united with all those who, from every direction, have made the same ascent. For everything that rises must converge.'” An interesting quote and seemingly applicable to our favorite Losties.

** In Judgment Day, the main protagonist is an older man who moved to New York with his daughter rather than into a nursing home near his home in the South. The man hates New York and dreams of faking his own death so he can hide in a coffin to be shipped South for burial only to jump out alive and surprise his friends. Perhaps this man wore black…

The title story (and many of the other stories) reminded me of the countless similar conflicts in the Losties’ relationships with each other and family members off the island. Jack attempted to teach a lesson to his father after Christian tried to coerce him into covering up the fact that he was intoxicated while operating on a patient (Season 1 episode All the Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues). The lesson takes a drastic turn for the worse and eventually results in Christian’s death. Like Julian, Jack is consumed with guilt over his parent’s death.

We also see elements of these stories in the faith vs. reason battle that Locke and Jack engage in throughout seasons 2 and 3. Jack simply cannot understand faith and continuously dismisses Locke’s beliefs. O’Connor’s characters teach us one important thing about disagreements: it doesn’t matter who is right, but you need to empathize with and love the other person even if you don’t agree with him or her. Jack and Locke don’t see eye-to-eye on the faith vs. reason matter and it eventually ends in Locke’s death and final words to Jack: “I wish you had believed me” (Season 5 episode The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham).

There are further parallels in the story The Lame Shall Enter First.* In this story, an older man takes in a troubled teenager at the expense of his relationship with his own son. Although he means well, the dad never connects to the youth and drives his own son farther away from him.** This is similar to the many times in Lost that Locke tried to do a good deed only to have it backfire. Although the father means well, he is too optimistic and unwittingly blind to the fact that his plan simply won’t work.

* I overlooked this initially, but the Lost Book Club pointed out that this title is symbolic of the fact that Locke – previously confined to a wheelchair – was the first of the Oceanic passengers to enter Jacob’s cabin and also the body that the Man in Black used to meet Jacob in the Statute of Tawaret.

** An important subplot in the story is that the father cannot connect with the troubled youth because the father tries to push science on the troubled youth, who is only interested in reading the Bible. The father is outraged when his own son takes the telescope that’s supposed to be used for stargazing and tries to find his dead mother in Heaven. I shouldn’t have to point out the many connections with Lost that this story has!

In Revelation, O’Connor introduces us to Mrs. Turpin, a religious lady who is so convinced of her own moral superiority that she can’t handle her dream in which God forces her to confront her misdeeds. In Mrs. Turpin’s dream, she is the last among a long line of people to get into Heaven, many of whom she considered morally and religiously inferior to her. This reminded me of Ben Linus’s day of reckoning with the Man in Black when he appeared to her as Alex (Season 5 episode Dead is Dead). Always convinced that he did everything for the good of the Island, Ben seems genuinely surprised when he is forced to confront his misdeeds in front of the Smoke Monster.

Finally, in Greenleaf, an older female farm owner blames Greenleaf, her lazy and dumb employee who tends the farm, for all of her problems. When Greenleaf’s children turn out better-educated and more successful than her own children, she lashes out at everyone but herself. She justifies her own children’s shortcomings by pointing out everything wrong with the Greenleafs – namely, that they are inconsiderate towards others and take advantage of government assistance. She is unable to understand that the problem lies with her own patronizing attitude and her kids’ lack of motivation. This reminded me of the battle between DHARMA and the Others on the Island. Like the woman in the story, DHARMA was unable to understand that many of the problems with the Others were caused by DHARMA’s own sense of entitlement and dismissive attitude towards the natives. Greenleaf became a negative noun in the lady’s lexicon, similar to the way DHARMA’s use of the term “Hostiles” denoted that the problem laid with the “hostile” others rather than themselves.

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So much to talk about in these stories but I suppose that’s what happens when Lost cites a book about a series of flawed characters that either attempt or are forced to attempt journeys of spiritual awakening. At its core, Lost is about the very same thing. The collection was fantastic and I hope I’ve at least done the brilliantly written characters and themes some justice with these scattered ramblings.

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