Instruments of Grace

Flannery O’Connor & the Pantocrator

Flannery O’Connor had more than a passing interest in the icon of Christ Pantocrator that looks down from the central dome of Orthodox churches, signifying that he and no other is the Ruler of all things. She made it the basis of her celebrated self-portrait, albeit in complex fashion. And in “Parker’s Back” she put it to powerful fictional use. This is not only her last finished story before her death at age 39 in 1964 but one of her funniest as well.

Obadiah Elihue Parker has covered his body with tattoos of sexual power and predation: “a tiger and a panther on each shoulder, a cobra coiled about a torch on his chest.” Thus does he fashion himself as a tattooed conqueror of women: “He had never yet met a woman who was not attracted to them.” Not, that is, until he meets Bible-quoting, image-despising Sarah Ruth, a fundamentalist who has nothing but contempt for them: “It’s a heap of vanity,” she snorts, “Vanity of vanities.” And when Parker seeks to demonstrate that he is no sort of a Christian by flinging forth a string of curses, she silences him by whacking him mercilessly with a broom.

THIS ARTICLE ONLY AVAILABLE TO SUBSCRIBERS.
FOR QUICK ACCESS:


Ralph C. Wood was, until his retirement, University Professor of Theology and Literature at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. His books include The Comedy of Redemption (University of Notre Dame Press), Flannery O’Connor and the Christ-Haunted South (Eerdmans), and Chesterton: The Nightmare Goodness of God (Baylor University Press).

Print &
Online Subscription

Get six issues (one year) of Touchstone PLUS full online access including pdf downloads for only $39.95. That's only $3.34 per month!

Online
Subscription

Get a one-year full-access subscription to the Touchstone online archives for only $19.95. That's only $1.66 per month!

bulk subscriptions

Order Touchstone subscriptions in bulk and save $10 per sub! Each subscription includes 6 issues of Touchstone plus full online access to touchstonemag.com—including archives, videos, and pdf downloads of recent issues for only $29.95 each! Great for churches or study groups.

Transactions will be processed on a secure server.


more on imagination from the online archives

11.5—September/October 1998

Speaking the Truths Only the Imagination May Grasp

An Essay on Myth & 'Real Life' by Stratford Caldecott

19.10—December 2006

Enchanting Children

Training Up a Child Requires a Well-Formed Imagination by David Mills

18.4—May 2005

Of Weeds & Fairy Tales

The Idylls, Idols & Devils That Corrupt the Moral Imagination by Vigen Guroian


more from the online archives

22.5—June 2009

A Law for All Seasons

C. S. Lewis on Civilization & the Natural Order by Timothy L. Hall

33.2—March/April 2020

How It Happens

Easy Descent on an Unguarded Road by S. M. Hutchens

24.6—Nov/Dec 2011

Liberty, Conscience & Autonomy

How the Culture War of the Roaring Twenties Set the Stage for Today’s Catholic & Evangelical Alliance by Barry Hankins

calling all readers

Please Donate

"There are magazines worth reading but few worth saving . . . Touchstone is just such a magazine."
—Alice von Hildebrand

"Here we do not concede one square millimeter of territory to falsehood, folly, contemporary sentimentality, or fashion. We speak the truth, and let God be our judge. . . . Touchstone is the one committedly Christian conservative journal."
—Anthony Esolen, Touchstone senior editor

Support Touchstone

00