“Everything That Rises Must Converge” is, in large part, a story about the breaking of traditional social hierarchies and the tensions that such changes create. The aristocratic honor culture of the old, white South—built first on slavery, then on segregation—is giving way to a more pluralistic, integrated society, but this transition isn’t harmonious.
In the old Southern culture, as embodied by Julian’s Mother, there’s an emphasis on knowing “who you are,” which is to say understanding your place in the social order. There’s a traditional belief that someone’s place in the social order is a natural, innate quality they’re born with and never lose. Julian’s Mother argues that an individual’s culture is made up of what’s in their heart and how they “do things,” both of which are natural results of “who you are.” She also claims that knowing who she is is what allows her to be gracious and that Julian’s inability to understand who he is—which she seems to believe is connected to his anger and refusal to agree with her racist worldview— makes her ashamed of him.
However, even as Julian’s mother makes these sorts of claims, the story makes clear that they are ludicrous. Julian’s Mother’s sense of the proper order is based on her desire to cling to her family’s bygone history: that they were once powerful and wealthy with a grand estate. But Julian’s thoughts make it evident that the estate is now in ruins, no longer owned by the family. And the gothic world in which they do live in stands in total contrast to that old “orderly” estate: Julian and his mother’s neighborhood has a sky the color of “dying violet,” with houses that are “liver-colored monstrosities of a uniform ugliness.” The eerie and death-tinged depiction of this neighborhood, especially in comparison to the romantic remembrance of the family’s plantation mansion, suggests the death of an old order.
After the fight between Julian’s Mother and Carver’s Mother, the peak moment of social disorder, the gothic grotesqueness of the neighborhood extends also to Julian’s mother’s face, which becomes distorted and gruesome as she suffers what seems to be a stroke. In this moment, Julian’s mother’s very body becomes “disordered,” implying that her belief in the continuing power of the old order has been destroyed, and with it her ability to continue on. Julian’s Mother’s past order, of course, was built on the brutal reality of slavery, and so any belief that such an “order” could connote innate merit or graciousness is, at best, absurd.
In light of this, O’Connor never suggests that a newer or more beautiful order has risen to replace the old one—instead, she subverts the idea of order altogether by showing that there isn’t much consistency or moral logic to the world. The Woman with The Protruding Teeth and Julian’s Mother wring their hands over a story about wealthy white boys stealing tires and, as a result, betraying their social grooming. Furthermore, Julian, the proclaimed progressive and intellectual white man, actually holds some regressive beliefs. He, for instance, takes joy in seeing injustice to black people because it confirms his suspicions about the moral decay of white Southern society. Though highlighting the ludicrous behavior of Southern whites sets an expectation that O’Connor will portray sympathetic black characters or paint an optimistic vision of integration, O’Connor resists that simplistic moral order. When Carver’s Mother lashes out at Julian’s mother, the story descends further into disharmony and confusion, seeming to suggest that the possibility of shared order and morality is gone.
Social Order and Disorder ThemeTracker
Social Order and Disorder Quotes in Everything That Rises Must Converge
“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.”
It appeared in his dreams regularly. He would stand on the wide porch, listening to the rustle of oak leaves, then wander through the high-ceilinged hall in to the parlor that opened onto it and gaze at the worn rugs and faded draperies. It occurred to him that it was he, not she, who could have appreciated it. He preferred its threadbare elegance to anything he could name and it was because of it that all the neighborhoods they had lived in had been a torment to him – whereas she had hardly known the difference.
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.