“I ain’t you”: Fat and the Female Body in Flannery O’Connor

Jennifer Renee BlevinsUniversity of South Carolina
Vol. 39, No. 1 (Spring 2020), 61-83

This article examines how hegemonic beauty ideals infiltrate the relationships between mothers and daughters in Flannery O’Connor’s fiction. The daughters’ bodies—depicted as fat, awkward, and aesthetically disappointing—become the site where the conflict between the mothers’ anxieties regarding gender performance and the daughters’ process of individuation most frequently collide. By considering O’Connor’s fiction through the methodological frameworks of fat studies and material feminism, this article proposes that “A Circle in the Fire,” “Good Country People,” and “Revelation” trace the source of tensions between mothers and daughters to a fundamental discomfort with embodiment itself. Moreover, O’Connor ultimately implies that embracing embodied subjectivity, rather than a dualistic conception of self, can provide the possibility for connection and/or reconciliation in these tumultuous relationships, yet societal pressures regarding feminine norms conspire to keep mothers and daughters estranged both from their own bodies and from each other. In this sense, the spiritual roadblocks that other critics have identified in O’Connor’s stories stem from the same dynamics that produce feminine self-loathing in a society that associates fat with failure and embodiment with dissolution. As O’Connor designates grotesque or abnormal characters as her chosen prophets, she also adopts abjection as an avenue to insight, and maternal intimacy, however fleeting, as a surprising form of grace.

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]