Ignorance In O Connor's Short Stories

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Ignorance and Guilt as Reactions to Incontrovertible Changes in O’Connor’s and Cheever’s Short Stories The short stories “the Swimmer” by John Cheever and “The Life You Save May Be Your Own” by Flannery O’Connor deal with the day to day lives of ordinary characters and follows their development through several activities and events. While short, the stories show a clear development in the lives of the protagonists. Some of these developmental changes are incontrovertible and alter their lives and the lives of those around them for the worse. In both stories the protagonists have different methods of dealing with the social consequences of their mistakes. While Cheever’s protagonist prefers to ignore the incontrovertible changes he causes,…show more content…
Throughout the story there are several references to Neddy Merrill’s obliviousness or forgetfulness. The first instance of this occurs when Neddy arrives at the Welchers’ house, which Neddy discovers to be empty and for sale. Neddy wonders “was his memory failing or had he so disciplined it in the repression of unpleasant facts that he had damaged his sense of the truth?” (Cheever 161). What is interesting about this, is that the realisation that Neddy’s memory is failing him does not bother him, suggesting that he does not want to acknowledge the negativity in his life. This becomes clear throughout the story. One instance of Neddy’s forgetfulness occurs at the Halloran’s house, where Mrs. Halloran confronts him with his misfortunes. Neddy reacts to this by saying “My misfortunes? […] I don’t know what you mean?” (Cheever 162), clearly not aware of what has happened. A few paragraphs further in the story Neddy realises he has forgotten about his friend Eric’s operation. He wonders “was he losing his memory, had his gift for concealing painful facts let him forget that he…show more content…
In order to fully analyse the way in which Mr. Shiftlet deals with his actions, it is necessary what is the incontrovertible change that occurs in the story. It is possible to consider the marriage to Lucynell as an incontrovertible change, since the marriage takes away her innocence, the one factor that makes her desirable as a wife to Mr. Shiftlet. The marriage is doomed from the start in the sense that Shiftlet seems to regret it as soon as they leave the Ordinary’s office. Shiftlet exclaims “that didn’t satisfy me none” (O’Connor 442), and on the ride back to the farm it is explicitly stated that he does not Lucynell once, indicating that he is not pleased with his own decision to agree to the marriage (O’Connor 443). Shiftlet considers the marriage to be incontrovertible, but is unwilling to live the life Mrs. Crater has set out for him. To avoid living such a life, he decides to leave Lucynell behind. However, his feelings of regret become obvious immediately after leaving her in the Hot Spot diner, which becomes clear when he is described to be “more depressed than ever as he drove on by himself.” (443) He knows it is unfair to leave his deaf-mute wife, after changing her life by
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