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Nostalgia, Race, and Authoritarianism in Flannery O’Connor’s Fiction

Mark S. Graybill

Pages 441 - 462



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This essay explores how a selection of Flannery O’Connor’s short fiction dramatizes, critiques, and occasionally re-inscribes the mixture of nostalgia, White supremacy, and authoritarianism that permeated her South. Drawing upon Svetlana Boym’s concept of restorative nostalgia, it demonstrates how stories such as “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” “Judgment Day,” and especially the largely unheralded “A Late Encounter with the Enemy” confront Lost Cause ideology. A Whiteness Studies approach is brought to bear on the climactic scene of that story. The essay then analyzes at length the relationship between nostalgia, racism, and the authoritarian personality, as construed by Theodor W. Adorno and more recent theorists, in “The Displaced Person.” The story, which situates the desire for a Southern, White supremacist utopia in a post-Holocaust context, serves as a cautionary tale about the lure of authoritarianism—which remains as strong as ever in Trump’s America.

Keywords: Flannery O’Connor; restorative nostalgia; Lost Cause; Whiteness; authoritarianism

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