Judgement Day by Flannery O’Connor
In Judgement Day by Flannery O’Connor we have the theme of connection, paralysis, salvation and pride. Taken from her Everything That Rises Must Converge collection the story is narrated in the third person and begins with the main protagonist, T.C. Tanner sitting in the living room of his daughter’s apartment in New York. He has had a stroke and through the use of flashbacks in the story the reader learns that the stroke was caused by an altercation that Tanner had with a neighbour, a black actor, who also lives in the same apartment block. The setting for the story is also important because not only is it the only story in the collection that is set outside Georgia but very early on the reader finds that Tanner doesn’t like living in New York and longs to go back to Corinth, Georgia. The reader learns that Tanner’s daughter (who remains unnamed) had gone to Corinth to collect her father, telling him he was better off moving to New York with her. Tanner may not like New York due to his inability or difficulty in connecting with others. It is also possible that he is out of his comfort zone.
Tanner was previously living in a small shack with his black friend, Coleman Parrum. Unlike the relationship that Tanner has with the other black characters in the story, his relationship with Coleman seems to be a genuine and mutual friendship. Their first encounter with each other is interesting. Tanner was supervising some other black workers at the mill when he saw Coleman sitting in the distance. He ended up making a pair of glasses for him out of some wood. The glasses are important because O’Connor is possibly highlighting to the reader that Coleman and Tanner can see (or understand) each other. Tanner even goes as far as telling his daughter that the shack he is living in was built by both him and Coleman (a sense of connection between both men). Coleman is the only black character in the story that Tanner seems to firstly get on with and secondly feel any sort of connection with.
At first Tanner doesn’t want to move to New York with his daughter but because of his pride and his refusal to run a still for Dr. Foley he decides that it would be better for him to move to New York. He doesn’t want to be obliged to Dr. Foley, who happens to own the land that Tanner has built the shack on. It is while Tanner is in New York living with his daughter that he comes across the black actor that has moved next door to his daughter’s apartment. Again in an effort to connect (with someone he assumes is a Southerner like him) Tanner tries to start a conversation with the actor. This however turns out badly, particularly when Tanner tells the actor that he thinks he is a preacher and that he is from South Alabama. The actor ends up assaulting Tanner which results in him having a stroke. O’Connor may also be suggesting that Tanner’s view of black people is outdated.
Tanner’s altercation with the actor is important. The reader finds that where he was once able to command control of black people (with his pen knife in Corinth) in New York things are different. Tanner is out of his comfort zone. New York is a different social environment to Corinth. Firstly the actor isn’t the preacher that Tanner thinks he is and secondly he is not a God fearing man, he even tells Tanner ‘I’m not no preacher! I’m not even no Christian. I don’t believe that crap. There ain’t no Jesus and there ain’t no God.’ The tools that Tanner had used successfully to deal with Dr Foley and Coleman have no effect on the actor. Tanner is unaware that the rules for living in the city are different to those that he is used to in Corinth. It is left to his daughter to tell him to stay away from others (not to connect).
Tanner also knows that he is dying and the most important thing for him, dead or alive, is to return to Corinth. He even dreams about being brought home to Corinth in a coffin only for Coleman to open it up and Tanner to jump up crying ‘Judgement Day! Judgement Day! Don’t you fools know it’s Judgement Day?’ The dream is significant because it highlights to the reader the shift from grief (death) to joy (being home). This is important because it is through the dream that the reader realises how important Corinth is to Tanner. He is paralysed in New York (having had the stroke and disliking the city life). Tanner has also given a religious dimension to his dream; his springing from the coffin, from being dead to coming alive again is suggestive of a resurrection or having been saved (salvation).
The turning point in the story comes at the end when Tanner tries to walk out of the apartment after his daughter has gone. While he is in the corridor he has another stroke. Eventually the black actor and his wife see Tanner in the corridor and instead of helping him; the actor pushes Tanner’s legs and arms through the spokes of the banisters and leaves him there, it becoming clear to the reader that again the actor was upset by Tanner saying ‘Hep me up, Preacher. I’m on my way home.’ Tanner’s daughter returns home only to find that her father is dead and though she ends up burying him in New York (which he didn’t want) she eventually, from feeling guilty, has the coffin dug up and ships the body back to Corinth. It is through this symbolic resurrection that Tanner achieves salvation. He is back home.