Hope is an ambiguous feeling to describe. It is the shining candle in the gloom and the final sprite released from Pandora’s Box to mitigate the swarm of gloom that Pandora inadvertently released. When Flannery O’Connor makes this statement, she speaks with a conviction of a person who knows the psyche of an essential novelist. To write a novel is an arduous task even for the best of writers and a person with no spark within cannot write at length. Hopelessness robs one of the very wills to live, let alone write.
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Flannery O’Connor is renowned for her novels, short stories, and essays written in the genre of American South Gothic, although her early ambition was to be a satirist. She was diagnosed with disseminated lupus, which had previously killed her father, and she expected to live for just five years more. However, her sheer will to live and luck pulled her along to stay alive for almost another fifteen years. She was a walking example of hope; most persons who have lesser afflictions are quick to be mired in a quagmire of hopelessness and despair. She lived in hope and faith for she was a devout Catholic, but without the pietism. When we see the body of work that she was able to produce despite her adversities, it makes us realize that afflictions spur a novelist on to greater heights. The knowledge of one’s frailties and mortality would be more grist for the novelist’s mill.
The desire to write is the driving force for an established or an amateur novelist; the raison d’etre. There is a desire to tell the world what lies locked within them and putting pen to paper is therapeutic. Novelists thrive on hope and optimism and even if they have a moment, or several, of doubt they prefer not to succumb to its clutches because their magnum opus breathes within them and has to find substance on a page. Hopelessness is like having a plastic bag tied over the head of your emotions; it chokes the creative nature ruthlessly and does not allow an outpouring of the amount of emotion required to breathe life into a novel, let alone a limerick.
In her ‘Habit of Being’, Flannery writes, “What people do not realize is how much religion costs. They think that faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross. It is much harder to believe than not to believe. If you feel you cannot believe, you must at least do this: keep an open mind. Keep it open toward faith, want it, keep asking for it and leave the rest to God”. This statement is analyzed from the perspective of hope in a novelist or lack thereof is a moment of epiphany-hopelessness has no place in a novelist’s agenda. A novel needs an open mind to create it; hopelessness never gets around to writing.
As a semi-invalid, with her body ravaged by lupus, she still had the equanimity to consider her affliction a necessary limitation that allowed her to develop her art. She wryly said that it allowed her ‘to write as well as I can, perhaps a little better.’ Hopelessness had no place in her vocabulary, except perhaps in context with someone else. Flannery O’Connor spoke a universally recognized truth that it is positive thinkers who have the inclination and the optimism to sweat and toil over their novels. The creation of a literary masterpiece is not for the faint-hearted who lack the luster that hope gilds on a true novelist’s production. Flannery O’Connor never spoke truer words.