Saturday, September 6, 2014

Sympathy For The Devil

I struggled with this weeks stories for different reasons.  This is the second Flannery O'Connor story I've read and it sat in my gut much like 'Good Country People' did.  She doesn't make it easy for you to see any sort of godliness or read anything anagogically with her work.
As 'The Misfit' lucidly recounted his life's story to the grandmother while his cronies slowly excuted her family I was struck with it's similarity to something written over a decade later.
"I was a gospel singer for a while," The Misfit said. "I been most everything. Been in the arm service both land and sea, at home and abroad, been twict married, been an undertaker, been with the railroads, plowed Mother Earth, been in a tornado, seen a man burnt alive oncet," and he looked up at the children's mother and the little girl who were sitting close together, their faces white and their eyes glassy; "I even seen a woman flogged," he said.

I know in the post by Professor Swindle we learned that O'Connor did not intend for him to be seen as the Devil, but as John Green put it, "I don’t think the characters belong to the writer. An author can talk about his/her own reading of the story, or their intentions, but his/her “opinion” on extra-textual matters is irrelevant...Books belong to their readers".  What I see here is a man outside of the relm of society, whether that's in a physical or spiritual sense.  He's an outsider due to his time in prison and now that he is on the lam, but he can also be seen as someone not entirely a part of the human race.  Lucifer incarnate or a messenger of the devil, The Misfit is not of the same earth as the grandmother, despite her pleadings that he has to be, the he "must be from good people" and that they have "common blood".  
What The Misfit's biography reminds me of is the classic Rolling Stones song, "Sympathy For The Devil" (1968)

Please allow me to introduce myself
I'm a man of wealth and taste
I've been around for a long, long year
Stole many a man's soul and faith
And I was 'round when Jesus Christ
Had his moment of doubt and pain
Made damn sure that Pilate
Washed his hands and sealed his fate
Pleased to meet you
Hope you guess my name
But what's puzzling you
Is the nature of my game

I stuck around St. Petersburg
When I saw it was a time for a change
Killed the czar and his ministers
Anastasia screamed in vain
I rode a tank
Held a general's rank
When the blitzkrieg raged
And the bodies stank

I watched with glee
While your kings and queens
Fought for ten decades
For the gods they made
I shouted out,
"Who killed the Kennedys?"
When after all
It was you and me

Let me please introduce myself
I'm a man of wealth and taste
And I laid traps for troubadours
Who get killed before they reached Bombay

Just as every cop is a criminal
And all the sinners saints
As heads is tails
Just call me Lucifer
Cause I'm in need of some restraint
So if you meet me
Have some courtesy
Have some sympathy, and some taste
Use all your well-learned politesse
Or I'll lay your soul to waste, mmm yeah

I've highlighted some key lines.  What stands out the most to me is the line (and thereby the idea of) "When after all, it was you and me".  This idea that the devil doesn't commit acts of evil on his own, he needs to be allowed in, assisted.  I firmly believe that The Misfit and his cronies would have left the family be had they felt they hadn't been recognized.  It doesn't do well to leave a trail of bodies when you're on the run and they certainly don't want to be wasting their bullets.  The grandmother calling him out ended up bringing him to action, now they had witnesses.  Evil is all around us, as is strife and pain (the grandmother was aware of this in her attempting to use the fear of him from the newspaper article, prepping "in case" they got in an accident, and her constant longing for the good men that in her eyes were long gone.  She seemed to see herself however as a God-Fearing woman who was doing everything possible to keep those evils at bay, when confronted however, she signed her families death warrant.  As O'Connor quoted, "The devil's greatest wile, Baudelaire has said, is to convince us that he does not exist."  If Grandma had just pretended with him that The Misfit was just an average Joe, that the devil didn't exist and used her "well-learned politesse", he would not have laid their souls to waste.  


  1. I think you have an interesting point about the meaning of a work belonging to the reader and not the author, but I only agree with that to a certain point. Personally I like to find the authors intended message and see how well it was communicated and how creatively the ideas were presented. But that's just me. There are no real consequences for interpreting something "wrong," because that's all it is: and interpretation, your perception of it. And who's to say your perception is wrong?

  2. You mentioned the Misfit's accomplices as cronies but if a reference to the devil is made then they become his minions. Just a thought.