This is the first in a series, as I read through The Complete Stories of Flannery O'Connor and blog about it.
Read the story here: http://www.nbu.bg/webs/amb/american/5/oconnor/geranium.htm
"The Geranium" is the first story ever published by Flannery O'Connor, written as part of her master's thesis. O'Connor would go on to rewrite and republish this story four times, finally as part of her most famous collection Everything that Rises Must Converge.
In "The Geranium," an elderly man makes the decision to leave his humble boarding house in Georgia to live with his daughter in New York City. He is lonely and he is obsessed with second-guessing his decisions. He misses his social standing in the South and his "Negro" friend; in his mind, such friendships can only exist under certain social conditions: that black men should know and accept they are not equal to white. In the bohemian equality of NYC, this problem obsesses him and obsesses him until it practically radiates from him, even when unintended, leading to the violent conclusion of the story. A conclusion one might not expect given that the story begins with an old man staring at an empty spot on a windowsill, waiting for a geranium to be put out for sunshine.
I recently read a news-piece about the seemingly sudden backlash against the advancement of civil rights for homosexuals; the essential argument is that normalization was on the increase until actual legislation was passed. Once gay marriage became a reality in some states, new fears crept into a conservative (and usually religious) population that was slowly becoming more tolerant, and then there was a sudden backlash against everything from DADT to anti-bullying legislation.
This story illustrates that conflict perfectly. The old man happily (though patronizingly) co-exists with black men in his homestead; there's an understanding between them, he feels, and as long as that understanding exists, then they may interact, even socially. But when he moves North, and that understanding is removed, then he breaks. Long suppressed prejudices become real and apparent to him, and he even attacks his daughter for what he sees as a violation of principle - how could she live in a place where a Negro is allowed to live next door to her?
Those of you who have read it, I look forward to discussing it below.