Books That Haunt: The Violent Bear It Away

Each Tuesday, until I decide otherwise, TruePravda will feature a different book in the Books That Haunt series.

Flannery O’Connor has always been an author whose writings have intrigued me. I first learned of her in an American Literature class in college. One of the volumes of the colossal Norton Anthology of American Literature had one or two of her stories anthologized. O’Connor, the introductions stated, was a gifted female Southern Catholic writer who died at a young age. I tried to stifle myself from yawning—not exactly the type of write that piqued my interest. I was assigned the short story, “A Good Man Is Hard To Find,” I thought it would be the usual run-of-the-mill short-story—you know, the kind that ambles off into nothingness while at the same time trying to make a “statement.” I was wrong.

Flannery O’Connor has the unique ability to take you through what seems to be an innocent enough story, and then proceed to violently pull the rug out from under the reader to reveal the sometimes hard-to-face things that lie beneath the surface. For those who thought that Southerners lacked the ability to stimulate thought, read Flannery O’Connor. Her stories can leave the reader reeling and shocked at the end. So it was with this week’s Book That Haunts: The Violent Bear It Away.

The Violent Bear It Away is one of O’Connor’s few novels’the title a reference to Matthew 11:12. The story involves a boy, the orphan Francis Marion Tarwater, who leaves his backwoods home after his uncle, a bizarre self-proclaimed prophet, dies. Tarwater’s uncle has prophesied that the boy too will become a prophet.

Tarwater flees the swampy backwoods, attempting also to flee the effect of his uncle’s prophecy. He goes to the city where his cousin Rayber, a modern-minded schoolteacher, attempts to de-program the religious worldview that Tarwater has grown up learning.

O’Connor presents us with a clash of worldviews that ultimately leads to climax that will leave the reader with at least one sleepless night trying to put the pieces back together. I finished this novel about two months ago and the shock still hasn’t departed. I’d love to discuss it with somebody. So read it.

8 thoughts on “Books That Haunt: <i>The Violent Bear It Away</i>”

  1. Hello Jared,
    I completely agree with your comments about O’Connor’s “Violent Bear it Away”. I had the same experience when I read it the first time and I am still trying to put the pieces together also. The main question that is perplexing me is the voice/stranger/friend that talks to Young Tarwater and what the connection it is to the man in the lavendar car at the end (if any)…Any ideas? What else did you think about the novel?

  2. Laura,

    That connection has kind of puzzled me too. I do think it interesting, though, that every time Tarwater hitchikes, the danger level for him increases. The first fellow is aimiable, the second man (in the truck) is merely tolerable of Tarwater, and the man in the car embodies danger. I’m not sure what all this means, though.

  3. I really enjoyed the book as well. I’m really not clear on exactly what the title/verse’s meaning is though. I looked at a couple versions of the same verse, and I’m still a bit confused on it.

  4. Jonathan:

    I was a little confused by the title too. I looked the verse up in at least ten translations dating back to the KJV, inculding Catholic translations, and couldn’t find “the violent bear it away.”

    Translated strictly from the Greek, the phrase is best rendered something like “the violent ones take it by force.”

    The context of the passage deals with the violence being done to the world of the kingdom in John’s imprisonment (and impending death). I suppose O’Connor saw in the prophet Tarwater a similar kind of violence?

  5. Jared,

    OK, I can’t help with the haunting, but I am a longstanding Flannery O’Connor fan. I have read and re-read her work for some years. I am also Catholic, and in the Douay-Rheims translation of the Bible, you will find the quote in question. The Douay-Rheims would have been the commonly read English Bible for O’Connor I suppose, as a Catholic around the time she wrote the novel. The Douay-Rheims is public domain, and can be found in many places on the internet. Basically, it is a translation directly from the Latin Vulgate of St. Jerome.

    In order not to offend scripture, a number of western-European artists have portrayed Moses with horns on his forehead because St. Jerome translated the Hebrew at Exodus 34:29 with Moses coming from Mt. Sinai not realizing “his face was horned” rather than saying his face was “rayed” i.e. too bright for the Israelites because he had been talking with God.

    Anyhow, translations from the original languages directly into English are more acceptable today. (Though the Vulgate project, putting Jerome in retrospect with the particular sources he used so long ago, has some interesting points.)The Douay-Rheims preceded the KJV as a published English Bible, and editions of it are again in print today.

    Somehow, I feel a bit closer to O’Connor and her dark humor having tracked down the source for The Violent Bear It Away in Matthew. To read the Douay Rheims, there are a number of interesting phrasings which give one pause.

  6. Troy—thanks for that insight! I hadn’t thought of the Douay-Rheims. I’ll definitely check it out in light of O’Connor’s work. Somehow, it doesn’t really surprise me that she would use an archaic translation.

  7. As A Catholic American, when she lived, it would not have necessarily archaic. In fact it would have been the normal contemporary mainstream Bible for her (and other Catholics).

    Also, St. Jerome had access to some primary sources that are believed lost today to potential translators, so it takes a significant place in Bible study.

    Re-readthe ending last night of TVBIA and seems like I find more religious symbols and questions each time I read it.

  8. The stranger is like the devil, as he is constantly pursuading young Tarwater to do things against his prophetic calling. In the end of the book, the man in the lavender car is the devil incarnate, as he takes form in an attempt to destroy Tarwater. But is is interesting to note that the colour lavender (or purple) is the colour of repentance in the Catholic church and that man in the lavender car with lavender clothing ends up bringing about Tarwater’s repentance and brings him back to prophecy. Fascinating.

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