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Flannery O'Connor

Flannery O’Connor Is the Latest Author Reintroduced by “Lost”

May 14, 2009 02:00 PM
by Emily Coakley
“Everything That Rises Must Converge,” a book shown on the series’ season finale Wednesday night, was written by an author strongly influenced by her religion.

Book Among Many Puzzles

As “Lost” fans lament the time until the sixth season begins, they have many mysteries to ponder, including the significance of a book, Flannery O’Connor’s “Everything That Rises Must Converge,” shown during Wednesday night’s season finale.

“Flannery O’Connor’s use of Christian theology in concert with sudden, unexpected violence was inspiring to us. She was truly an exceptional writer,” said Carlton Cuse, the show’s executive producer, in an interview with the Milledgeville, Ga., Union-Recorder—the newspaper of her hometown.

“Lost,” on ABC, is about a group of plane crash survivors and the mysterious island they ended up on. The show, which will last six seasons, finished its fifth on Wednesday night.

Cuse wouldn’t say exactly why O’Connor’s collection of short stories was used, but said he and show writer Damon Lindelof “hope viewers will explore the books and find their own answers.”

The Guardian summarizes the themes in O’Connor’s 32 short stories and two novels as featuring “Southern characters, focusing on religious hypocrisy, racial tension and the decay of the South.” Her work also included violence and death.

The story titled “Everything That Rises Must Converge” is about a man and his mother riding an integrated bus in the south, and their clashing views of the world around them.

Craig Amason of a foundation devoted to O’Connor and her family home, told The Union-Recorder that her work has influenced Bruce Springsteen, the film “Raising Arizona” and others in Hollywood.

“Pop culture is fascinated with Flannery O’Connor’s work. It is obviously a huge hit,” Amason told the newspaper.

Background: Literature in “Lost”

O’Connor’s book is not the first to appear in the critically acclaimed show. Characters are regularly reading a range of books in flashes of their lives off the island.

Jen Chaney, in a piece on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered,” discusses three books that the show helped her discover and enjoy. “Watership Down,” which she says is “technically, a story about bunnies,” shares a common theme of survival with the show.

Henry James’ “Turn of the Screw,” about a nanny caring for children, is like the show in that it’s hard to tell whether the reader and viewer are being told the truth. Both works also rely on ghosts who have “unfinished business,” she said.

And her third book, Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse Five,” includes “a plane crash, a former soldier who gets ‘unstuck in time’ and a group of characters connected to each other in ways they don’t initially understand,” all of which, she said, sounds “very Lost-esque.”

ABC has a book club devoted to the works seen on “Lost,” which includes a short synopsis of each book, which episode it appears in, and in what context. As of Thursday morning, “Everything That Rises Must Converge” is not listed on the site.

Key Player: Flannery O’Connor

Mary Flannery O’Connor was born in Georgia on March 25, 1925. She grew up on the family’s estate, known as Andalusia. Her first story was published in 1946, called “The Geranium.” She received a master’s degree in 1947 from what’s known now as the University of Iowa, according to The Biography Channel.

After she graduated, she spent time at a writer’s retreat in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., in New York City, and living in Ridgefield, Conn., says the Flannery O’Connor-Andalusia Foundation.

She returned to Milledgeville, Ga., in 1951 because she had symptoms of lupus, an autoimmune disease that claimed her father’s life while she was a teenager.

Her first novel, “Wise Blood,” was published in 1952. “Everything That Rises Must Converge” was published in 1965, the year after she died from lupus, reports Biography.

She won the O. Henry Award in 1957. In 1972, she received the National Book Award.

Though others have described her as “reclusive,” the foundation says that isn’t the case. She was limited by lupus, but also traveled throughout the country for speaking tours, often ventured into Milledgeville, the town near her home, and had people periodically visit her.

Analysis: Deciphering the book’s place in “Lost” (spoilers below)

Earlier this year, Brad Gooch published a biography about her called “Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor.” Heather McRobie, in a Guardian Books Blog post on the biography, examines its focus on the role of O’Connor’s Catholic faith in her works. The biography says she was influenced by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a Catholic Theologian, who believed that “all things converged in God,” McRobie said.

O’Connor, writes McRobie, put her characters “in a moment where they ‘converged’ with a force that remained mysterious to them, but which left them with something approaching insight.”  McRobie also speculated that O’Connor kept her readers’ focus on that moment by incorporating death or violence at the same time.

McRobie’s comments may shed light on why the book is used. In the season finale, the character Jacob is reading the book when one of the show’s main characters is critically injured. He meets another character, Sawyer, as a boy who just lost his mother and father in a murder-suicide. A third character, Sayid, stops to give Jacob directions a moment before his beloved wife is hit by a car. Jacob, who is frequently mentioned during the show but seen for the first time in the finale, is a mysterious  character only known to the audience as an authority figure.

As another character, Ben, said, “Everyone answers to someone, and the leader answers to Jacob.”

As viewers meet him for the first time on the finale, he is a younger man whose age never changes though he’s seen during different decades and possibly centuries. Another character, Richard, who also appears ageless, admits that he became that way “because of Jacob.”

Chaney, who also helps run a “Lost” site for The Washington Post, said in a discussion of the finale that she was interested in the other story titles in O’Connor’s book, citing “A View of the Woods” (much of the island is a jungle), “Judgment Day,” and her favorite, “The Lame Shall Enter First.”

A recurring theme in the show is that the island seems to contain healing powers, allowing one paralyzed man to walk again and curing a woman’s cancer.

An Atlantic article on “Flannery” said that O’Connor “assert[ed] that the central mystery is why human existence ‘has, for all its horror, been found by God to be worth dying for,’” may lend support to Jacob as a God-like figure.

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