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Hilton Als dives right in with a description of a scene from O’Connor’s novel The Violent Bear it Away followed by an excerpt of the scene. He gives readers his perception then allows them to observe the scene for themselves. This is the format which the rest of the piece employs as well, drawing upon evidence (letters, excerpts from her works, events in her life) which is preceded by Hilton Als’ own interpretations of the works and of O’Connor’s character. Early on he identifies “race and faith” as O’Connor’s themes and locates her in time,”less than a hundred years after Harriet Beecher Stowe published Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and just a decade after Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind.” By giving the readers these brief, broad, grounding ideas up front, he is able to go on with a somewhat more subjective narrative about who he interprets, through research, her to be. He describes her work as possessing a “lyrical flatness….and wildly leaping humor” and he depicts her as a hyper-critical reader (117). Als keeps us engaged by providing in-depth and poetic descriptions of O’Connor’s person and spreading out the practical points. For example, we don’t get a description of her physical appearance until the 7th page, almost halfway through, and only after we have been able to establish our own sense of O’Connor are we given a longer list of what Als identifies as her themes, growing from “race and faith” to “the skewering of tradition, the erosion of one world that, disastrously, comically, is the weak foundation of the next, and the spectacle of blacks and whites regarding each other across a divide of mutual outsiderness” (120). By this time, he has already established himself as fully credible through his “idea – example” setup.

One Response to “Hilton Als, “This Lonesome Place””

  1. Nice observations here, Vanessa.

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