HomeArts & LitFlannery O’Connor’s Top 8 Freaks

Flannery O’Connor’s Top 8 Freaks

Nobody does Southern grotesque better than Georgia author Flannery O’Connor. Characters with missing limbs, mysterious bulges, wooden legs and faces blue with acne. Her stories are a never-ending freak show, and she’s quoted as saying “Whenever I’m asked why Southern writers, particularly, have a penchant for writing about freaks, I say it is because we are still able to recognize one.” We came up with a list of her top 8 freaks for Halloween, and all would make great last-minute costume ideas.

1. The Misfit
Escaped convict “The Misfit” may be O’Connor’s most chilling character. He shot his own father and proceeds to murder an entire family in A Good Man is Hard to Find. When the grandmother in the story tries to offer him money not to shoot her, he tells her, “There never was a body that give the undertaker a tip.”

2. Tom T. Shiftlet
Mrs. Crater first believes Tom T. Shiftlet to be “a tramp and no one to be afraid of,” and he proves her right about the tramp part by the end of The Life You Save May be Your Own. With only half an arm in his left coat sleeve, this carpenter arrives on the farm of Mrs. Crater and her mute daughter, Lucynell. After working his way into their good graces, he marries Lucynell then steals her car and leaves her at a diner. Afterward, he picks up a hitchhiker and feels “like the rottenness of the world is about to engulf him.”

3. Manley Pointer
Traveling Bible salesman Manley Pointer in Good Country People is certainly one of O’Connor’s most bizarre characters. He meets his match with philosopher Hulga, who has both a wooden leg and heart condition. When they escape to the barn, Pointer demands to know where her wooden leg “joins on,” then takes it from her and reveals his Bible to be a hollowed-out box of whiskey, condoms and playing cards. Pointer’s final reveal is that Hulga’s wooden leg isn’t the first thing he’s taken from someone. “One time I got a woman’s glass eye this way,” he tells her.

4. Mrs. Shortley
This overweight, hateful woman in The Displaced Person is both prejudiced and mean-spirited. She’s threatened by the Polish refugees who come to work on the farm and starts having visions about them. At one point, “Mrs. Shortley had the sudden intuition that the Gobblehooks, like rats with typhoid fleas, could have carried all those murderous ways over the water with them directly to this place.” She convinces her husband to pack up their things and leave the farm, only to die of a stroke in the car on the way out of town.

5. Mr. Paradise
This skeptical man from The River with “cancer over his ear” questions the Rev. Bevel Summers’ ability to heal. He’s only a small part of the story as the owner of the town gas station, but his name and description at the end of the story make him quite memorable. “Finally, far downstream, the old man rose like some ancient water monster and stood empty-handed, staring with his dull eyes as far down the river line as he could see.”

6. Gonga the Gorilla 
A gorilla suit actually gets a starring role in O’Connor’s novel “Wise Blood.”  After meeting a Hollywood gorilla at a movie theater, Enoch Emory decides to attack the man in the costume and steal his suit. He buries his own clothes and puts it on, transformed. Man turned gorilla isn’t the creepiest character in this novel. There’s also a museum mummy that character Sabbath Lily holds like a baby and main character Hazel Motes who blinds himself and wraps barbed wire around his chest in his search for redemption.

7. O.E. Parker 
Poor Parker in Parker’s Back. He gets his first tattoo at the age of 15 after being inspired by a man at a fair covered in them from head to toe. Once Parker’s front is full of serpents, eagles and hearts, only his back is left. In an effort to please his pious wife, he gets a large tattoo of God there, but when he gets home and shows his wife, she says, “It ain’t anybody I know.”

8. General Sash 
The 104-year-old general in A Late Encounter with the Enemy considers himself to still be a very handsome man. He doesn’t wear teeth because he believes his profile is more striking without them and likes to dress in his full uniform, even though it’s not the one he wore in the war. The general’s big moment of fame – and his uniform – came years earlier when he was invited to a movie premiere in Atlanta. “Since then, his life had not been very interesting. His feet were completely dead now, his knees worked like old hinges …” But he has to make it to his granddaughter, Sally’s, graduation for one last procession, even if he’s a corpse by then.

Image of The Misfit from The Composites on Tumblr

Thanks to Dr. Mary Ann Wilson, English professor at UL Lafayette, for her help in narrowing down the characters. We know there are plenty more grotesque O’Connor characters out there. Did we miss your favorite? Comment and let us know!

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  • Susannah Cecil / July 18, 2013

    Of course The Misfit is the most striking – being a serial killer & all, but I just finished a study of “Parker’s Back” & I find him to be even more complex. The Misfit’s motive is much more cut/dried = nearly pure evil. Parker is so much more conflicted a character, which to me makes him more interesting, more tragic, but oddly more hopeful.