A View of the Woods by Flannery O’Connor

In A View of the Woods by Flannery O’Connor we have the theme of control, identity, independence and conflict. Taken from Everything That Rises Must Converge the story is narrated in the third person and deals with the relationship between a grandfather (Mark Fortune) and his youngest grandchild (Mary Fortune Pitts). Fortune lives with his daughter, her husband (Pitts) and their seven children on land that he owns but which he allows Pitts to farm. Though he allows Pitts to farm the land, it is Fortune who controls everything. An early example of this control  is when the well runs dry and Fortune tells Pitts to pipe the water from the spring rather than digging a deeper well. Fortune doesn’t want to give Pitts the opportunity to be able to tell him ‘it’s my pump that’s pumping the water you’re drinking.’ This is important as it is through controlling Pitts (also not selling him any of the land) that Fortune thinks he is able to keep him in his place.

Fortune sees the selling of his land (in lots) as something that is progressive but in reality the reader becomes aware that the selling of the lots is to suit his own needs rather than giving way to progress. The selling of the land in front of the house to Tilman is an example of this. Even though it causes conflict with Mary the reader is aware that Fortune is selling it for his own convenience. He wants to be able to have a gas station across the road from the house so as that he doesn’t have to travel for gas. It has nothing to do with progress rather it just further highlights to the reader the idea of control for Fortune. In essence Fortune is attempting to control the identity of the land by selling the lots and creating a new landscape shaped with his hand print (or identity). Another interesting thing about the redevelopment of Fortune’s land is that it highlights to the reader that Fortune is abandoning nature (some critics considering this to be an example of Fortune abandoning God through his own greed).

Identity plays an important part in the story, not only through Fortune’s development of the land but through Mary. From the beginning of the story the reader learns that Mary looks like her grandfather, something that pleases Fortune. He has long abandoned any real fondness for his own daughter or Mary’s siblings because he doesn’t feel they are like him. However later in the story when Mary and her grandfather visit Tilman’s she starts to display elements of an independent identity (being different from Fortune). She doesn’t wait for her grandfather in the car; rather she goes home with her father. This is important because it highlights to the reader that Fortune no longer has complete control over his granddaughter. It also highlights the fact that Mary’s allegiance is not with Fortune but with her father. That she is truly more a Pitts than a Fortune.

Mary’s independence or allegiance to her father causes conflict between her and Fortune. When she discovers that Fortune has sold the strip of land in front of the house to Tilman she starts to throw bottles at her grandfather. Later in an effort to exert complete control over Mary and show his own superiority, Fortune decides to teach her a lesson by beating her (just as her father beats her). However it is Mary who at first gets the better of her grandfather and while she is sitting on top of him lets him know that ‘I’m PURE Pitts,’ again the idea of identity. Mary’s dominance doesn’t last long and soon it is Fortune who is on top of her, banging her head against a rock, killing her. O’Connor possibly highlighting to the reader how dominance (one man’s) can be destructive. In an attempt to control Mary, Fortune has killed her.

How destructive this dominance is can be seen at the end of the story when after killing Mary, Fortune falls on his back. This action is important because it acts as symbolism for Fortune’s final downfall. As he struggles to get back up (or rise again), his heart ‘expanded once more with a convulsive motion.’ It becoming clear to the reader that Fortune himself is about to die (heart attack). O’Connor ending the story with Fortune coming through the woods to the lake and desperately looking for someone to help him (no longer in control) but all he sees is ‘one huge yellow monster which sat to the side, as stationary as he was, gorging itself on clay.’ The progress that Fortune had sought has ended up with him not only killing his own granddaughter but has led to his own destruction, just as the bulldozer is destroying the land around him.

Cite Post
McManus, Dermot. "A View of the Woods by Flannery O'Connor." The Sitting Bee. The Sitting Bee, 3 Jan. 2014. Web.


  • What do you make of Mary Fortune’s repeated insistence that nobody has ever beaten her when the old man Fortune has witnessed Pitts whipping her about the ankles with his belt?

  • How does grace act upon the story’s character(s)?

  • I see Mark Fortune (Mary’s GRAND-Father) as God, Mary (mankind made in His image) is fallen man ( whom God loves) and her father (PITTS of hell) is the devil. Mary turned away from God and fell for the devil (I am all Pitts!). Mary denies that Pitts beats her just like man denies the devils abuse of man. Mark (God) wants to discipline Mary….(That will make her stop …Repent!) but Mary (mankind) turns on Him and beats Him instead mercilessly! (See the scourging of Christ) Mary dies on a rock (The Church). Mark dies on (in) the wood of a broken heart as Jesus died on the cross with a pierced heart.

    The only problem is that I don’t see redemption in this story.

    • It could be a dark reflection of the Christian salvation story, borrowing its imagery without wholly transferring its themes. Personally, I have trouble seeing a clear Christ figure here. Mary bears her Grandfather’s image (like man to God), but it’s unclear which begets which symbolically. Mary bears the name of Mark’s mother, and she also gives the grim offer of “dark grace.” She reminds Mark of higher ideals than progress. Furthermore, she is able to beat him within an inch of his life, with a power rivaling that of the divine wrestler Jacob encounters in the book of Genesis. Like Jacob, Mark encounters the violent side of his better angels. Unlike Jacob, Mark kills the divine in him. He does not leave blessed, but cursed to die as the bulldozer digs his burial plot into clay.

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