“When people have told me that because I am a Catholic, I cannot be an artist, I have had to reply, ruefully, that because I am a Catholic, I cannot afford to be less than an artist.” -Flannery O’Connor
I just finished reading the short story “Greenleaf” by Flannery O’Connor for an English assignment.
My initial reaction? “eewwwww, what a grotesque, unpleasant story….”
I wasn’t looking forward to the essay I was supposed to write on the symbolism contained within the story. What symbolism could there be? All I could see in the story were some unsympathetic characters who never got along with each other, a main character determined to get a stray bull off her property, and a weird, somewhat disturbing, ending with the bull goring her.
So I did a little research, and was surprised upon discovering the beautiful symbolism and touching lesssons that the story was bursting with. The first thing I read when I googled it was that the bull represented Christ!
Whoah!! Wait a minute!! What???
Turns out, that “Greenleaf” is really a story of redemption and grace. An obstinate woman who absolutely refuses to have a bull enter her property, is also closed up and reluctant to let Jesus into her heart. In the end, the bull charges toward her, piercing her heart with one horn, the other curving around her side, so that they are united so closely that Mrs. May can no longer control the force that is far more powerful than she. The bull’s strength surpasses her own, just as God’s power surpasses that of anyone else’s, and she is conquered in the end, thus coming to a realization of her own insignificance.
To get the full impact of the story, read it for yourself. Read it, then re-read it slowly and thoughtfully. Be open to the rich symbolism and indirect allusions to something more to this life than what meets the surface. By reading Greenleaf you are bound to have an enriching, thought-provoking experience.