Olive Ann Burns, who herself will stand under a cold sassy tree and face death at an early age, explores the transcendent power of Judeo-Christian love. These characters love with biblical, sacrificial, Christ-centered love–not love tainted by selfishness. The protagonist and his family overcome genuine, catastrophic obstacles without sentimentalism or facile angst: they do it be following biblical principles of charity and grace.
These three short stories evidence that the theistic revival among literature is well underway. O’Connor, a solid born again Christian, especially places the theistic banner back on the top of American literature. Porter celebrates the powerful of forgiveness and the endurance of grace. These are not characters who are victims of hateful circumstances (e.g., The Pearl) or cruel happenstances (e.g., Billy Budd). Even foolish Julian in O’Connor’s short story, and all others, find that in theism, living in within biblical perimeters, one finds life. One hopes that other future authors will follow this worn path.
John Knowles wrote this theistic novel in the early 1960s. Before the world was turned upside down in the turbulent race riots and drug infused music concerts of the later 1960s, A Separate Peace was a much needed respite and a foreshadowing of future theistic offerings that were not long in coming. In the literary world, at least, American had turned a corner and was speeding back to its theistic, it not at times, Christian, roots. In that sense, A Separate Peace belongs to the 18th more than the 20th century.
Tennessee Williams, a controversial 20th century playwright, creates a timeless microcosm of world view mayhem. Christian theism, romanticism, naturalism, & realism they all clash in urban Depression era America. Readers, especially Christian readers, are inspired, discouraged, angered, and bemused by characters, especially Tom, who claim to no most everything but, it turns out, know very little about anything! They fumble, tumble, and fantasize through life and ultimately harm both themselves and those around them. At the end, readers all wonder, ”What if Jesus was Lord of this home?” What a different story it would be!
Eugene Gladsone O’Neill, perhaps best 20th century playwright, perhaps without his knowledge, writes a Christian moral expose of the effect of unforgiveness. Brutus Jones is both the perpetrator and the victim of his woes, which, after all, is a metaphor of modern man. Modern Americans wandered into the cultural mayhem at the end of the 20th century, but, they also caused it. Readers will continually wish to stop the action and to join the play with encouraging words to this lost soul.
Steinbeck is a naturalist who wrote with an acidic pen. All his novels had a political agenda, and, many times, his lost protagonists alternately resemble the doomed existentialists in French novelist Albert Camus’ novels and the bizarre Christian theists in Flannery O’Connor’s novellas. Steinbeck, a conflicted, desperately unhappy man, with great talent, offers dramatic irony with painful effect. Still, because Steinbeck’s characters are so real, and contemporary, readers will gain glimpses into the soul of modern America and will no doubt harvest important prayer points.
William Faulkner, like the South, the region in which he wrote and loved so ferevently, is a mixed bag. Bayard, his protagonist, is clearly a theist, as are all the most admired characters in this novel (e.g., Granny). Goodness, mercy, grace–all Judeo-Christian values–are damaged in translation because, regardless of Faulkner’s able stewardship, these precious gifts cannot be fully transmitted through tradition and good intentions. Judeo-Christian morality, without biblical underpinnings, are shallow, maudlin traveling companions. Faulkner and other contemporaries–e.g., Sherwood Anderson, F. Scott Fitzgerald–all learn that one cannot have one’s cake and eat it too: one cannot live and believe like a godless Philistine and worship the God at Shiloh.