Saturday, April 12, 2008

Theory Questions for "Greenleaf" by Flannery O'Conner

I think feminist literary theory seems particularly applicable to Flannery O'Conner's "Greenleaf." Mrs. May is the main character, and one of only two women in the entire story surrounded by men. She is the one character to really exert her authority anywhere, and given the era it was originally published (1957), this is a little surprising. It is interesting, too, that her exertion of authority ultimately leads to her death, literally on the horns of the opposing force in the form of a bull. Questions to consider:

1) How does Mrs. May's characterization and take-charge nature seemingly oppose the traditional values of the patriarchy? Remembering that Mrs. May was forced into this position by the death of her husband, does this change anything?

2) There are two very different women in the story: Mrs. May and Mrs. Greenleaf. How do their differences illuminate the gender-role conflicts apparent in the story?

3) Mrs. May meets her end on the horns of a bull. How do she and the bull illustrate the battle-of-the-sexes motif of the story? What does it mean that there's no clear winner?

O'Conner, Flannery. "Greenleaf." The Best American Short Stories of the Century. Ed. John Updike and Katrina Kenison. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2000. 348-368.


woodstl said...

The third question is extremely critical/ interesting. I wouldn't have thought of it that way. But, now that you have brought that up...I would think that the bull ("the man") won that round considering that he took her life and all.

Marissa said...

Well, yes. But on the other hand, Mr. Greenleaf shot and killed the bull right afterwards. I think there's a more complex connection there than just cause and effect. Neither of them got out of the conflict alive...