Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Eighteen of Flannery O'Connor's short stories feature women as protagonists or antagonists. Of the remaining thirteen stories in the canon, four are assimilated into her novel Wise Blood. This study, then, encompasses the entire O'Connor canon with the exceptions of the novel The Violent Bear It Away and eight short stories, since one of the remaining nine stories is a part of The Violent Bear It Away. The majority, then, of O'Connor's short stories feature women in leading roles. Even those in supporting roles seem prominent. With the women in Wise Blood, they dramatize O'Connor's special vision of comedy and horror as two sides of the same coin. Their fallacious assumptions concerning reality provide simultaneously ludicrous and terrible developments. Although O'Connor is not unique in mixing humor and horror, she is so adept at it that some critics, mired in traditional separations of tragedy and comedy, object to her stories. William F. Lynch's discussion of irony and comedy in relation to faith--O'Connor's special concern--is thus particularly valuable in overcoming this critical resistance and in analyzing the place of women in her fictional world. Although certain similarities among O'Connor's women have been noted, no systematic study has yet been made of all the women in her works. Drawing on Lynch, this study attempts to show that for the most part the women possess imaginations inclined to reduce all of reality to the simplest common denominator. Everything from God to onions is viewed by the same facile optic. This rigidity is their common characteristic; their imperceptive, unyielding personalities generate both the comedy and the terror of her stories. The women are divided into four basis types: the managerial Martha, her chthonic double, the mother or surrogate-mother, and the seductress. The Martha type is obsessed with the work ethic, cleanliness, and the social order of the South. Her double has a sense of mystery lacking in the optimistic Martha. The double, however, is equally rigid, viewing all in terms of disease and death. The mother figures, though sharing the Marthas' faith in the work ethic and in their own energies, have more varied concerns than the Marthas or their doubles. Some have reversed roles with their parents; one has just discovered her pregnancy. While the mothers are generally preoccupied with their dependents, the seductresses pursue the bodies or souls of men. Three pride themselves on their intellects while the rest have no such pretensions. Women's traditional roles are shattered in O'Connor's unsentimentalized fictional world. The women are usually independent and nearly all lose whatever struggle they engage in. The men in her fiction are invariably disruptive and, in the short stories at least, are as ludicrous as the women. In several instances, the male eludes the fixed snare of the female who would lure him into the complacency of her cliched world. The ironies of the comically terrible O'Connor women--as Marthas, prophets of disaster, mothers, and seductresses--are nonetheless recognizable as those of their real life counterparts.