Reading Flannery O'Connor: The Barber

"It is trying being a liberal in Dalton," begins "The Barber," the second story from O'Connor's masters thesis.  It's all too easy to relate to this story; the story of the educated Southern integrationist faced with all the ingrown racism and insensitivity of the ignorant. Naturally the topic of politics comes up when he's least able to escape - trapped in his tormenter's chair, half lathered and half shaven.

The protagonist gets angrier and angrier as he fails to find the right words or the perfect cutting phrase to disarm his mob of opponents. He then makes the ludicrous decision to go home and write a speech to convince the barber and other patrons of their ignorance and stupidity in matters of race and politics. And naturally, the whole episode ends in complete and utter humiliation.

While one of the great pleasures of reading O'Connor is the fun she makes of ignorant rednecks, there is equally an element of frustration reading such stories (or perhaps that's just my own frustration coloring my reading of the story). Maybe it's because race seems to have re-entered the national conversation in such heinous ways (There's no KKK in Barbour land!). But at least this story is quite funny, in the sense that you want to laugh even while you grit your teeth.

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