Flannery: Portrait of the Young Writer

Flannery review

Flannery introduces viewers to the short yet full life of Flannery O’Connor, famed 20th century Southern Gothic writer. You might be familiar with her as the author of A Good Man is Hard to Find, a short story read in many high school and college English classes across the United States. Viewers who love her work will develop a deeper appreciation for her as an artist, and those less familiar are given an introduction to who she was and the meaning of her writing.

The documentary uses a mixture of interviews, photographs and home movies, and animation to tell story of O’Connor’s life. Interviews with those who knew her, as well as other writers such as Alice Walker, illuminate the meaning of her work, as well as introduce viewers to her resilience as she battled with the lupus that took her life at the young age of 39. Viewers are also introduced to some of her most famous stories through animated sequences.

Watching Flannery, viewers see that, in many ways, O’Connor was a product of her times and came from a male-dominated world. Although she was a female writer, she used male-centric language when speaking. When a television interviewer asked her about writers, she answered regarding a hypothetical male, talking about “he.” It is striking to see a woman who was a powerful force in the literary world be subject to the male-centric views of her times. Also, interviews with other writers describe her relationship with race, writing as a white woman in the American South. These other writers talk about the racist language that some of her characters use, telling viewers that she was capturing the voice of her times and the attitudes of the people living around her.

However, in other ways, O’Connor stood against some of the prevailing attitudes of her times. She was deeply Catholic in an era even less welcoming to homosexuality, yet two of her closest friends were a bisexual woman and a lesbian. Occasionally, people have speculated that her feelings towards the lesbian friend were more than just friendship, though that has never been proven.

Some contemporary scholars of queer studies have tried to claim that O’Connor was queer, given how her work “deconstructs gender binary.” However, there is nothing in O’Connor’s texts that indicate she believed in what would now be called queer theory. She wrote characters of either sex to have any sort of personality traits: strength, wickedness, dominance, and so forth. O’Connor was not afraid to write female characters who were not traditionally feminine, but it is absurd to believe that her ability to write gender non-conforming characters means that she believed in 21st century, 3rd wave feminist notions of “queering” gender. As lesbian and bisexual feminists, we understand that no one truly embodies a gender binary, and that each of us has traits that are seen as masculine and others that are seen as feminine. O’Connor saw this, and wrote her characters accordingly, portraying the complexity of human personality and behaviors. Thankfully, Flannery makes no such claims about O’Connor presenting queerness. Instead, it presents her as the woman she was, giving an insightful and even loving portrait of the young writer.

Flannery can be streamed through virtual cinemas found using this website.