The Violent Bear It Away is a 1960 novel by American author Flannery O’Connor. It is the second and final novel that she published. The first chapter was originally published as the story “You Can’t Be Any Poorer Than Dead” in the journal New World Writing. Like most of O’Connor’s stories, the novel is filled with Catholic themes and dark images, making it a classic example of a great Southern Gothic novel.
The Violent Bear It Away is a dark and absorbing example of the Gothic sensibility and bracing satirical voice that are united in Flannery O’Conner’s work. In it, the orphaned Francis Marion Tarwater and his cousins, the schoolteacher Rayber, defy the prophecy of their dead uncle–that Tarwater will become a prophet and will baptize Rayber’s young son, Bishop. A series of struggles ensues: Tarwater fights an internal battle against his innate faith and the voices calling him to be a prophet while Rayber tries to draw Tarwater into a more “reasonable” modern world. Both wrestle with the legacy of their dead relatives and lay claim to Bishop’s soul.
Flannery O’Connor observes all this with an astonishing combination of irony and compassion, humor and pathos, resulting in a novel where range and depth reveal a brilliant and innovative writers acutely alert to where the sacred lives and to where it does not. O’Connor’s Southern Gothic novel is dark and serious. It is a meditation on faith, the refusal of call or mission, religious authenticity and violence.
The novel’s title is taken from a verse of the Douay Bible:
From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away. — Matthew 11:12
There are various explanations of the meaning of this verse. The most accepted explanation is that violence constantly attacks God and heaven and that only those who are “violent with the love of God” can bear heaven away.