‘Everything That Rises Must Converge’ by Flannery O’Connor was first published in 1961. The story takes place during the civil rights movement in America.
O’Connor knits a story that is devoid of conventional atrocities on the Blacks and is rather a subtle narrative depicting the world after legal desegregation in the country. She portrays a Southern society still harboring racial attitudes despite the integration that should have worked towards bringing the two races together.
One evening, Julian Chestny, a recent college graduate prepares to accompany his mother to her weight reducing classes at YMCA. He accompanies her there every week as his mother is skeptical of taking a ride alone since integration. While getting ready Mrs. Chestny contemplates returning her new hat for paying the gas bills. While passing through their deteriorated neighborhood, Julian imagines owning a house on the countryside. He opines that he will make money soon, although he knows he will never be able to do so. His mother tries to raise his spirit by saying “Rome was not built in a day” and that all good things take time. Mrs. Chestny keeps talking to Julian and reminds him of his grandfather’s lineage and plantation fields. Julian asserts that days of slavery are over. His mother is of the view that the Blacks are free to rise but they should do it “on their own side of the fence”, separately from the Whites. As his mother talks about her nurse, Caroline, in a condescending way, Julian muses with the idea of sitting with a black person to redress her prejudices against the black community.
Arriving at the bus stop, Julian removes his tie, immediately prompting his mother to rebuke him for looking like a thug. Julian reverts that culture is indeed in one’s mind and is not reflected by one’s appearance and looks. To which his mother replies that it is “in the heart” and “in how you do things and how you do things is because of who you are.” We see a generational gap here between the mother and son and their different approach to life. After boarding the bus, Mrs. Chestny is relieved as there is no black person in the bus. She strikes a conversation with a white lady and tells her about Julian. She tells her that Julian sells typewriters but he wants to be a writer. Meanwhile Julian slips into his mental bubble where he judges his mother for living in a dilapidated fantasy world of false pretentiousness:
“Behind the newspaper Julian was withdrawing into the inner compartment of his mind where he spent most of his time. This was a kind of mental bubble in which he established himself when he could not bear to be a part of what was going on around him. From it he could see out and judge but in it he was safe from any kind of penetration from without. It was the only place where he felt free of the general idiocy of his fellows. His mother had never entered it but from it he could see her with absolute clarity.”
Although, he feels contempt towards his mother he realizes her sacrifices in raising him and giving him a good education.
A well-dressed black man soon boards the bus and starts reading his newspaper. Julian, in a bid to make his mother uncomfortable, tries to initiate a conversation with him but ends up asking him for a lighter. It becomes embarrassing as he doesn’t smoke and has to soon return the lighter to the black man who too finds it awkward. Julian again slips into his mental bubble and dreams of multiple ways to recompense for his mother’s prejudices against Blacks. He envisages taking home a black Lawyer or a Professor for discussion. He also contemplates calling a black Doctor home but does not want his mother to suffer a stroke. Finally, he imagines having a black woman as his partner thus forcing his mother to accept his relationship with her. The bus stops and Julian is brought out of his mental bubble.
A sullen looking black woman with a baby, boards the bus and Julian notices something familiar about her. The black woman is wearing the same hat as that of his mother. He thinks this incident will teach his mother a permanent lesson. Much to his bewilderment, he finds his mother amused by the incident. In fact, she begin to play with the baby boy. Julian knows that his mother “lumped all children, black and white, into the common category, “cute,” and she thought little Negroes were on the whole cuter than little white children.” He sees her smiling at the little boy as he climbed on the seat beside her. The black woman discourages her baby boy by not letting him play with Julian’s mother and even yanks him to her side.
Both the woman and Julian de-board at the same point. Julian has a terrible intuition that now his mother will give this baby boy a penny out of her gracious pretentiousness. And his fear turns into reality when despite his multiple warnings; she gives the boy, a penny. The black woman is infuriated by this gesture and exclaims “He doesn’t take nobody’s penny”! She then swings her purse and knocks Julian’s mother to the ground.
Julian pulls up his mother and chides her about her obsolete graciousness. He asserts that in the present times not only this black woman but no Black will take her condescending pennies. He even exclaims gratuitously that even the hat looks better on the black woman than her. Trying to hold her arm he sees a stunned expression on his mother’s face. She asks him to call Grandpa and Caroline, and jostles from his grasp only to crumble on pavement. He dashes forward and finds her face fiercely distorted, one eye unmoored and the other fixed and closed. Julian begins to run for help but is unable to find anyone to help him and eventually Mrs. Chestny dies.