Publication Date

Fall 2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



First Advisor

Christopher T. White, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Rosemary Johnsen, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Matthew M. Thiele, Ph. D.


Flannery O’Connor was writing in a time of great transition for American society. The 1950s brought with them a post-war economy that was creating a middle class that suddenly had disposal income and leisure time. To O’Connor, this translated into a culture that was becoming increasingly more distracted by the secular and material, and moving farther and farther away from the Christian ideal. This was not simply a cultural phenomenon to her – it was a danger, and more to the point, as a Christian writer, it was a call to arms. O’Connor’s work can be seen as a series of warnings, complete with usually dire consequences. The main theme that runs through the majority of her work is deceptively simple: if you choose to put your faith in anything or anyone other than the Christian God, there will be grave repercussions. O’Connor illustrated this by creating characters that did exactly that.
What I plan to examine is how O’Connor’s characters fall prey to the particular version of materialism she assigns them, what that materialism represents in the context of the character and story O’Connor chooses to place them in, and ultimately, how they magnify her main theme of spiritual vacuity. Mrs. Cope’s obsession with her property and land in A Circle in the Fire, for example, is shown for the shallow preoccupation that it is as she watches her property burn away.

A substantial part of my thesis will focus on the role post-war materialism and commercialism play in Flannery O'Connor's work, with a close emphasis on how those ideas manifest in her novel Wise Blood. In a novel where the controlling motif of spiritual blindness is so pronounced, O'Connor chooses to keep the “sub-theme” of modern materialism much more subtly (but stubbornly) in the background, but in a way that bolsters, by contrast, the idea of spiritual vacuity.

My goal in this thesis is to show how O’Connor utilizes the encroachment of materialism and commercialism as, not only reinforcement to her predominant theme of modern culture's spiritual void, but as an organic theme that also complements and extends naturally from her central Christian ideology. More importantly, I will examine how these substitutes act as a kind of gauge – one that emphasizes by contrast how far from the ideal her characters (and by implication, modern culture) have strayed from the path of Salvation.