"A View of the Woods" by Flannery O'Connor

Yikes. What a disturbing story.

There is a very messed-up, Oedipal-like triangle (tinged with narcissism) going on in this story. Mr. Fortune and Mary Fortune’s relationship seems more like that of lovers than of grandfather-granddaughter. And Mary Fortune was named after Mr. Fortune’s mother and bears a strong resemblance to Mr. Fortune himself. Mr. Fortune competes for Mary Fortune’s “favors” from her father, Pitts. Mr. Fortune becomes extremely angry and jealous when Mary Fortune submits to Pitts (and allows him to whip her) and, though he claims to like the fact that she stands up to him, Mr. Fortune ultimately resents the fact that Mary Fortune won’t submit to him, as the final scene reveals. O’Connor puts a narcissistic twist in this Oedipal tale, in that ultimately Mr. Fortune destroys himself. When Mary Fortune attacks him, “He seemed to see his own face coming to bite him from several sides at once.” And his killing Mary Fortune leads to his own death by heart attack.

If violence displaces sex in this triangle, Mr. Fortune’s heart problems act like some bizarre substitution for sexual pleasure. He experiences a feeling of his heart being “slightly too large for the space that was supposed to hold it” whenever he knows that Pitts is beating Mary Fortune — he experiences vicarious sexual pleasure through knowledge and fantasy of Pitts’ “sexual” gratification. Mary Fortune’s violence in the gas station excites Mr. Fortune and causes his heart to feel as big as a car. When Mr. Fortune finally dominates her at the end of the story, he experiences something akin to orgasm and has a heart attack.

I thought it was interesting that O’Connor used very human words to describe the environment – “indifferent,” “gaunt,” and “sullen” – while the humans are often described as animals – “large bug,” “wheezing horse,” and “hyena.” There was also some clay symbolism that I couldn’t quite figure out. Mr. Fortune, when he observes Mary Fortune’s one flaw of submitting to Pitts, says that he wishes she had been “made of his own clay.” Mr. Fortune drives them down a clay road, to get the spot when they have their final showdown, and the conflict itself takes place in clay exposed on the ground. The final sentence of the story refers to Mary Fortune’s lifeless body “gorging itself on clay.”