“Everything That Rises Must Converge” is set in the American South soon after racial integration has become the law of the land. As such, the story portrays a moment in which people of different races are encountering each other in new ways, even as racism and prejudice continue to impact every character’s perceptions. More specifically, the story shows how characters of different races share fundamental similarities, but often cannot see those similarities because of racism’s focus on difference. This makes it even more difficult to actually build connections.
O’Connor makes it very clear that Julian’s Mother is racist. She refuses to take the bus alone after the busses are racially integrated, and when she is on the bus and no black people are present she comments aloud about how she prefers it that way. Further, she is a firm believer that black and white people are fundamentally different and that integration is unnatural. The story, however, suggests that black and white people are not fundamentally different, and that they can, in fact, be uncannily similar. This is most apparent in the similarities between Julian’s Mother and Carver’s Mother, a black woman on the bus who, like Julian’s Mother, is an unnamed character known only through her son, is immensely proud, and wears the same “hideous” and eccentric hat as Julian’s Mother. Julian certainly recognizes the similarly between the two women—at one point he describes the woman as his mother’s “black double”—and he hopes his mother will recognize it also and take it as a lesson that her racism is ridiculous. However, Julian’s Mother never recognizes any such similarity, and the story implies that her racist views make her incapable of recognizing it.
It’s not just Julian’s Mother, however, who cannot comprehend similarities and differences between themselves and others. Julian, for instance, spends most of the story disgusted with his mom’s provincial attitudes, especially about race, seeing himself as being morally superior to her. However, in action, Julian is almost as patronizing to the black characters in the story as his mother is. The two of them share a tendency to treat black people as something other than human beings, since Julian treats black people as symbols or tools that further his moral argument. In other words, he interacts with black people only in order to prove to himself and others his moral superiority. The emptiness of Julian’s beliefs about race is evident in his failure to actually create any connections with black people. Despite his ideals, Julian admits to himself that he’s never actually been successful at making “Negro friends.” His following thoughts on the subject betray him even more deeply: he’s also only ever tried to befriend “some of the better types… ones that looked like professors or ministers or lawyers.”
The story pushes even further though, showing how the pervasive racism that black people must constantly face creates a mistrust and anger that makes it impossible to have faith in the motives of white people. While Julian’s Mother is racist, the story makes clear that her giving the penny to Carver is not, in fact, motivated by race—she is not giving a “hand out” to the boy to patronizingly “help” him, but rather because she gives coins to all cute children regardless of their race. However, Julian recognizes that Carver’s Mother will certainly not understand this gesture in such friendly terms. She explodes in anger, hits Julian’s Mother with her purse, and angrily refuses what she thinks is a hand out. The racist structure of society—a racist structure of which Julian’s Mother is certainly a part—makes Julian’s Mother’s genuine act of connection impossible for other characters to straightforwardly accept.
The story’s title comes from the work of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit philosopher who developed the idea of the “Omega Point,” the theological idea that everything in the universe trends toward a final point of spiritual unification. O’Connor’s take on it, however, is darkly ironic, as her characters’ forced “union” on the bus ends awfully. Julian’s Mother’s dialogue obliquely references the line by saying, “They should rise yes, but on their own side of the fence,” framing de Chardin’s idea in the separate-but-equal rhetoric of the segregated South. The story does end with one moment of true convergence: after Julian’s Mother seems to suffer a stroke a few moments after getting hit by Carver’s Mother, Julian feels suddenly sympathetic and connected to his mother, whom he has derided for so long. But even this is a soiled unity in which a “tide of darkness seemed to sweep him back to her,” suggesting with its language of “darkness” that this moment will pull Julian’s own ideas about race and difference more into alignment with his mother’s. The story suggests that, in a society marred by racism, perhaps the belief that people recognize similarity and come together is unrealistic.
Racism, Similarity, and Difference ThemeTracker
Racism, Similarity, and Difference Quotes in Everything That Rises Must Converge
“… and she said, ‘If you ask me, that hat does something for you and you do something for that hat, and besides,’ she said, ‘with that hat, you won’t meet yourself coming and going.’”
“You remain what you are,” she said. “Your great-grandfather had a plantation and two hundred slaves.”
“There are no more slaves,” he said irritably.
“They were better off when they were,” she said…“It’s ridiculous. It’s simply not realistic. They should rise, yes, but on their own side of the fence.”
He thrust his face toward her and hissed, “True culture is in the mind, the mind,” he said, and tapped his head, “the mind.”
“It’s in the heart,” she said, “and in how you do things and how you do things is because of who you are.”
It gave him a certain satisfaction to see injustice in daily operation. It confirmed his view that with a few exceptions there was no one worth knowing within a radius of three hundred miles.
She kept her eyes on the woman and an amused smile came over her face as if the woman were a monkey that had stolen her hat.
Then all at once she seemed to explode like a piece of machinery that had been given one ounce of pressure too much. Julian saw the black fist swing out with the red pocketbook. He shut his eyes and cringed as he heard the woman shout, “He don’t take nobody’s pennies!”
“What all this means,” he said, “is that the old world is gone. The old manners are obsolete and your graciousness is not worth a damn.” He thought bitterly of the house that had been lost for him. “You aren’t who you think you are,” he said.