Fighting For The Mind The Grotesque In Clytie

Fighting for Our Mind:
The Grotesque in “Clytie”

The representation of mental ideas through a medium of communication is the fundamental challenge facing artists. On a rudimentary level, conceptualization in literature is a balancing act – the writer on one side and the reader on the other. This involves the somewhat nebulous processes of creation of meaning on the part of the writer and translation of this meaning by the reader. Flannery O’Connor’s “Some Aspects of the Grotesque in Southern Fiction” written in 1960, is a reactionary essay to the democratization of literature, and attempts to elevate the role of the writer in the creation of meaning. The writer is seen as a literary “prophet”, a “realist of distances” (O’Connor, 818), because he takes upon himself the task of explicitly illuminating that which most other texts merely imply, and thus the scales of meaning are tipped almost entirely in favor of the writer. Writers of grotesque fiction are thus those that go the greatest distance in bringing to the surface the intricate nuances of our existence by conjuring up characters (and situations) whose traditional physicality and/or personality is maimed and contorted under the burden of ideas trying to be elicited by the writer. It is as if the characters are the materialization of traditionally intangible concepts and notions. In traversing this distance, a necessary sacrifice is made of the intermediary subject matter that lies between the essential concrete needed to create the basic familiar outline and the deeper reality that is being highlighted. In part, it is simply a stylistic sacrifice that prevents the dilution of the deeper reality, where the absence of the familiar accentuates the presence of the extreme. Like a wormhole that bends space and connects two points without having to traverse the distance between them, so the writer of the grotesque is “looking for one image that will connect or combine or embody two points; one is a point in the concrete and the other is a point not visible to the naked eye.” (O’Connor, 816) This method of grotesque writing is evident in Eudora Welty’s “Clytie”, where the recurring, distorted motif of faces bridges the basic notion of human face with a deeper notion of a structural disconnect of the human individual from himself. This idea is paralleled by O’Connor, who believes that the figure of the freak in Southern fiction is a symbol of our essential displacement, and this is echoed within “Clytie”.

This absence of subject matter plays a crucial role in the construction of meaning within “Clytie”. Welty toys with the reader’s expectations by using the basic familiar silhouette to draw a place that is seemingly familiar only to take the reader to an entirely different world, where concepts of which we seldom think twice are made central, while social conflicts we deem highly complex are barely given a fleeting mention. Yet “Clytie” is not a work of pure fantasy, and it speaks of reality, albeit redefined, and it is this very redefinition of reality which forms the central purpose of the story, and further, perhaps the entire genre of grotesque literature. Released from the constricting determinism of the social sciences (O’Connor, 814) Welty is free of the “momentary convictions” (820) of her, or any singular, generation, and is able to challenge the universal and timeless form that breeds these convictions. This critical approach to the social sciences is echoed within “Clytie” through the character of Gerald. The questions “how can a man live in the house with women?”, and “Where do you keep your men? Do you have to bring them home?” (Welty, 88, 90) asked by a drunk man sound entirely absurd within the context of “Clytie”, highlighting that gender and sexuality are mere cultural constructs, and therefore become silences within this grotesque story. Welty’s choice to highlight Gerald as a drunkard signifies a wider commentary on the shortsightedness and lack of clarity that such an approach creates, and therefore through the omission of these aspects, Welty creates an entirely different agenda, one that explores a character’s “inner coherence” rather than “coherence to a social framework” (O’Connor, 815). O’Connor’s point that “Strange skips and gaps which anyone trying to describe manners and customs would certainly not have left” (815) is the core literary method used by Welty, because fundamentally, the grotesque does not attempt to explore “manners and customs” (O’Connor, 815), but the forces of human consciousness that engender the former.

Eudora Welty examines the nature of the individual through an exploration of the mind-body dichotomy. Seemingly, evolution has sparked uniquely within us the correct physical elements that enable our minds to exist in a time and space infinitely larger, where material constructs are only a fraction of the overall awareness, with our consciousness stretching far beyond the immediacy of the physical. Welty questions and challenges this definition of ourselves as entities that tether on the interface between the physical and the spiritual through a subversion of the relationship between the two. One way she achieves this is by drawing parallels between humans and animals. From the very first paragraph, the scene is set via birds:

“a hen and her sting of yellow chickens ran in great alarm across the road…birds flew down into it immediately, sitting out little pockets in which to take baths. The bird dogs got up from the doorways of the stores, shook themselves down to the tail, and went to lie inside.” (Welty, 81)

This is followed by “the few people standing with long shadows on the level road moved over into the post office” (81) highlighting the contrast. It is the animals whose reaction to the rain is described with detail – the animals are humanized through the way they show alarm and initiative, while humans seem secondary in importance – mere ‘shadows’ of beings. Animal similes are directly used when describing Clytie, as she “sticks out her elbows like hen wings” (82) and “crouches eagerly, rather like a squirrel” (88) The animal-like behavior is further emphasized by the constant reference to the act of feeding and being fed – “Clytie always ate rapidly…she bit the meat savagely…and gnawed the little chicken bone until it was naked and clean” (87) where a ritual that could be associated with culture and sophistication is reduced to an act of survival, both for the feeding and the feeder, with both sisters squabbling over the right to feed their sickly father – “I want to feed him” said Octavia. “You fed him last time” said Clytie”, as if this act of sustaining a life that is all but physically dead – “he was paralyzed, blind, and able only to call out unintelligible sounds” – is something worthwhile. Ironically, his only freedom as a being is in being neglected (84) – in essence being left to die – but then “Octavia began to feed him”. (84), and took this freedom away. Clytie is unable to read his face “for how he feels. He looked as though he were really far away” (84), highlighting the increasing disconnect between his body and his mind, with the latter becoming a victim of the physical necessities of an empty shell that is the human body.

The disunity of body and mind is further developed through the recurring references to household objects such as doors, windows, curtain, thimble and dishes. This is indicative of the importance given to them by Clytie, almost as if she is defined by the physical objects around her, and she floats from object to object in search of a sense of her own centrality. This emphasis on physical objects is most striking when Clytie relegates human faces to the same level of generality and abstraction as them. “Relinquishing the bowl, she looked down at the pointed face on the pillow” (Welty, 84). Clytie is too caught up in decomposing the face to its singular components “was it possible to comprehend the eyes and the whole mouth…?” (90) instead of looking at it as an organic whole. It becomes increasingly evident as the story progresses along that Clytie is trying to understand others in order to understand herself, “it was the face she was looking for” (90). In her search, she is creating herself from the outside in, from the physical to the spiritual, as opposed to knowing herself first and giving value to material objects later. This concept of intrusion of the external into the internal personal space, “the prying from without” (84) is further exemplified by Octavia’s fear of any outside presence, human or otherwise, inside the terrain of her house. Clytie exists within this vacuum of meaning, and uses human faces as the interface between body and mind in order to give meaning to herself. The emptiness she sees in other’s faces confuses her, until “too late, she recognizes”(90) her own face in the water. The answer to her quest is brutally revealed in water, the force of nature which she shielded herself from (82), but now embraced. Paralleling her sick father, Clytie’s life is the central tragedy, while her death is the very act of redemption O’Connor refers to “there is something in us, as story-tellers and as listeners to stories, that demands the redemptive act, that demands that what falls at least be offered the chance to be restored.” (O’Connor, 820). The redemptive act is a uniting of the two central motifs – water and face –and Clytie returns to “the kind, featureless depth” (Welty, 90) of the water to which she feels such an intense affinity with, a fluidity between human and his physical environment.

Clytie becomes the quintessential freakish character in the discrepancies that she combines within herself (O’Connor, 816), in this case being between a static animalistic physicality and a dynamic spiritual awareness. O’Connor argues that only as “a figure for our essential displacement does [the freak] attain some depth in literature” (817), and this echoes the religious motifs that can be traced throughout Clytie. The reference to “devil” and “hell” (Welty, 82, 85) serves as a constant reminder of the torment that awaits, or perhaps to bring closer our Earthly existence with the eternal torment the more disconnected a human becomes from itself. The curtain that Octavia is adamant should be shut parallels the curtain described in the Bible, which tears with the death of Christ, and with it tears the divide between us and God (Luke:23). Welty’s emphasis on curtains always being shut by the will of Octavia has a sense of choice about it, as if we are the ones that chose to keep ourselves disconnected from the divine. Alternatively, if the shut curtain is combined with the explicit intertextualization to the Greek myth of Clytie – where a woman turns into a flower – it becomes evident that the world that Welty creates within “Clytie” is one where the ultimate sacrifice never took place. This could be seen as another example of the grotesque method of unifying the familiar with the foreign, almost redefining meaning and reality through the objects we have come to associate with other concrete meanings.

In reading Eudora Welty’s “Clytie” through the analytical lens of Flannery O’Connor’s “Some Aspects of the Grotesque in Southern Fiction”, The combining of discrepancies in Clytie is a literary method that serves to illuminate the discrepancy between our physicality and spirituality, which O’Connor would argue holds irrevocable moral implication about our eternal displacement from the divine, from the spiritual harmony that was Eden, a place where humans, flora and fauna lived in complete accord. Instead, our existence is characterized by the confines of our bodies, which fundamentally removes the distance between ourselves and animals, and we are haunted by what could have been. Eudora Welty unites this idea in a coherent whole that can be summarized by the following passage:

“The mysterious smile of the old man who sold peanuts by the church gate returned to her; his face seemed for a moment to rest upon the iron door of the stove, set into the lion’s mane. Other people said Mr. Tom Bate’s Boy, as he called himself, stared away with a face as clean-blank as a watermelon seed, but to Clytie, who observed grains of sand in his eyes and in his old yellow lashes, he might have come out of a desert, like an Egyptian” (83)

Clytie is a visionary who sees us for what we really are – beings who are forever Christ-haunted as we stand by the gate of what could have been, defined by little more than animals and plants are but who in our own folly embellish our existence with questions of gender, sexuality and culture. Welty is “a Southern writer is forced from all sides to make his gaze extend beyond the surface, beyond mere problems, until it touches that ream which is the concern of prophets and poets” (818) – she strips the aforementioned societal ‘problems’ with their shallow solutions to expose the fundamental dilemma of the human race – how to live with ourselves with the knowledge of what could have been.

Sources Used:

O’Connor, Flannery. “Some Aspects of the Grotesque in Southern Fiction”, Stories and Occasional Prose; 1960

Welty, Eudora. “Clytie”, The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty, 1941

Gospel Communications International,; 1995-2008

You May Also Find These Documents Helpful

Allegory Of American Pie By Don Mc Lean

Ask anyone what was the defining moment in the rock history of the 1960s was and all you will get is a one word answer: Woodstock. The three day rock festival that defined an era was only one of many music festivals of the '60s. But Woodstock has come to symbolize, "an era of peaceful, free- loving, drug- taking hippie youth, carefree before harsher realities hit..." (Layman 40). The Woodstock festival ended a century filled with many metamorphoses of rock'n'roll, from the era of pop music to the rebirth of folk music to the invention of acid rock. But some cynics say that rock'n'roll died with the death of Buddy Holly before the 60s even began. One such person is Don McLean. The poet behind the haunting epic song about the death of 'danceable' music, McLean wrote the ever popular song, "American Pie" (appendix 1). The most important song in rock'n'roll history, "American Pie", is the song about the demise of rock'n'roll after Buddy Holly's death and the heathenism of rock that resulted. Although McLean himself won't reveal any symbolism in his songs, "American Pie" is one of the most analyzed pieces of literature in modern society. Although not all of its secrets have been revealed, many "scholars" of the sixties will agree that the mystery of this song is one of the reasons it has become so successful- everyone wants to know the meanings of its allegories. Proof of "American Pie's" truth lies in the allegory of the song. Many People enjoy the song but have no idea what it means- Who is the Jester? What is the levee? When the deeper story is found, the importance of the song is unearthed. "American Pie" is not only a song, it is an epic poem about the course of rock'n'roll...

Carl Orffs Philosophies In Music Education

While Carl Orff is a very seminal composer of the 20th century, his greatest success and influence has been in the field of Music Education. Born on July 10th in Munich, Germany in 1895, Orff refused to speak about his past almost as if he were ashamed of it. What we do know, however, is that Orff came from a Bavarian family who was very active in the German military. His father's regiment band would often play through some of the young Orff's first attempts at composing. Although Orff was adamant about the secrecy of his past, Moser's Musik Lexicon says that he studied in the Munich Academy of Music until 1914. Orff then served in the military in the first world war. After the war, he held various positions in the Mannheim and Darmstadt opera houses then returned home to Munich to further study music. In 1925, and for the rest of his life, Orff was the head of a department and co-founder of the Guenther School for gymnastics, music, and dance in Munich where he worked with musical beginners. This is where he developed his Music Education theories. In 1937, Orff's Carmina Burana premiered in Frankfurt, Germany. Needless to say, it was a great success. With the success of Carmina Burana, Orff orphaned all of his previous works except for Catulli Carmina and the En trata which were rewritten to be acceptable by Orff. One of Orff's most admired composers was Monteverdi. In fact, much of Orff's work was based on ancient material. Orff said: I am often asked why I nearly always select old material, fairy tales and legends for my stage works. I do not look upon them as old, but rather as valid material. The time element disappears, and only the spiritual power remains. My...

Johann Sebastian Bach Biography

Throughout the history of music, many great composers, theorists, and instrumentalists have left indelible marks and influences that people today look back on to admire and aspire to. No exception to this idiom is Johann Sebastian Bach, whose impact on music was unforgettable to say the least. People today look back to his writings and works to both learn and admire. He truly can be considered a music history great. Bach, who came from a family of over 53 musicians, was nothing short of a virtuosic instrumentalist as well as a masterful composer. Born in Eisenach, Germany, on March 21, 1685, he was the son of a masterful violinist, Johann Ambrosius Bach, who taught his son the basic skills for string playing. Along with this string playing, Bach began to play the organ which is the instrument he would later on be noted for in history. His instruction on the organ came from the player at Eisenach's most important church. He instructed the young boy rather rigorously until his skills surpassed anyone?s expectations for someone of such a young age. Bach suffered early trauma when his parents died in 1695. He went to go live with his older brother, Johann Christoph, who also was a professional organist at Ohrdruf. He continued his younger brother's education on that instrument, as well as introducing him to the harpsichord. The rigorous training on these instruments combined with Bach?s masterful skill paid off for him at an early age. After several years of studying with his older brother, he received a scholarship to study in Luneberg, Germany, which is located on the northern tip of the country. As a result, he left his brother?s tutelage and went to go and study there. The teenage years brought Bach to several parts of Germany where he...


Michelangelo was pessimistic in his poetry and an optimist in his artwork. Michelangelo?s artwork consisted of paintings and sculptures that showed humanity in it?s natural state. Michelangelo?s poetry was pessimistic in his response to Strazzi even though he was complementing him. Michelangelo?s sculpture brought out his optimism. Michelangelo was optimistic in completing The Tomb of Pope Julius II and persevered through it?s many revisions trying to complete his vision. Sculpture was Michelangelo?s main goal and the love of his life. Since his art portrayed both optimism and pessimism, Michelangelo was in touch with his positive and negative sides, showing that he had a great and stable personality. Michelangelo?s artwork consisted of paintings and sculptures that showed humanity in it?s natural state. Michelangelo Buonarroti was called to Rome in 1505 by Pope Julius II to create for him a monumental tomb. We have no clear sense of what the tomb was to look like, since over the years it went through at least five conceptual revisions. The tomb was to have three levels; the bottom level was to have sculpted figures representing Victory and bond slaves. The second level was to have statues of Moses and Saint Paul as well as symbolic figures of the active and contemplative life- representative of the human striving for, and reception of, knowledge. The third level, it is assumed, was to have an effigy of the deceased pope. The tomb of Pope Julius II was never finished. What was finished of the tomb represents a twenty-year span of frustrating delays and revised schemes. Michelangelo had hardly begun work on the pope?s tomb when Julius commanded him to fresco the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel to complete the work done in the previous century under Sixtus IV. The overall organization consists of four large triangles at...

Oscar Wilde

Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde was born in Dublin Ireland on October 16, 1854. He is one of the most talented and most controversial writers of his time. He was well known for his wit, flamboyance, and creative genius and with his little dramatic training showing his natural talent for stage and theatre. He is termed a martyr by some and may be the first true self-publicist and was known for his style of dress and odd behavior. Wilde, 1882 His Father, William Wilde, was a highly accredited doctor and his mother, Jane Francesca Elgee, was a writer of revolutionary poems. Oscar had a brother William Charles Kingsbury along with his father's three illegitimate children, Henry, Emily, and Mary. His sister, Isola Emily Francesca died in 1867 at only ten years of age from a sudden fever, greatly affecting Oscar and his family. He kept a lock of her hair in an envelope and later wrote the poem 'Requiescat' in her memory. Oscar and his brother William both attended the Protora Royal School at Enniskillen. He had little in common with the other children. He disliked games and took more interest in flowers and sunsets. He was extremely passionate about anything that had to do with ancient Greece and with Classics. Wilde during school years In 1871, he was awarded a Royal School Scholarship to Trinity College in Dublin and received many awards and earned the highest honor the college offered to an undergraduate, the Foundation Scholarship. In 1874, he also won the College's Berkley Gold Medal for Greek and was awarded a Demyship to Magdalen College, Oxford. After graduating from Oxford, Oscar moved to London with his friend Frank Miles, a well-known portrait painter of the time. In 1878 his poem Ravenna was published, for which he won the...

The History Of Greek Theater

Theater and drama in Ancient Greece took form in about 5th century BCE, with the Sopocles, the great writer of tragedy. In his plays and those of the same genre, heroes and the ideals of life were depicted and glorified. It was believed that man should live for honor and fame, his action was courageous and glorious and his life would climax in a great and noble death. Originally, the hero's recognition was created by selfish behaviors and little thought of service to others. As the Greeks grew toward city-states and colonization, it became the destiny and ambition of the hero to gain honor by serving his city. The second major characteristic of the early Greek world was the supernatural. The two worlds were not separate, as the gods lived in the same world as the men, and they interfered in the men's lives as they chose to. It was the gods who sent suffering and evil to men. In the plays of Sophocles, the gods brought about the hero's downfall because of a tragic flaw in the character of the hero. In Greek tragedy, suffering brought knowledge of worldly matters and of the individual. Aristotle attempted to explain how an audience could observe tragic events and still have a pleasurable experience. Aristotle, by searching the works of writers of Greek tragedy, Aeschulus, Euripides and Sophocles (whose Oedipus Rex he considered the finest of all Greek tragedies), arrived at his definition of tragedy. This explanation has a profound influence for more than twenty centuries on those writing tragedies, most significantly Shakespeare. Aristotle's analysis of tragedy began with a description of the effect such a work had on the audience as a "catharsis" or purging of the emotions. He decided that catharsis was the purging of two specific emotions, pity and...

Scholarship Essay About Goals

Ever since I was a young kid I have always been interested with aircraft. I was so curious of how airplane's fly. I remember taking my toys apart to see how it works. As a kid I wanted to go to the airport to watch the airplanes land and fly and pondered how this happens. Other kids wanted to go to the amusement places. As I grew older I became more and more interested in aircraft and the technology behind it. I always involved myself with aviation early on. I read books and magazines on aviation, took museum tours, built model airplanes. When I was younger my father would take me to aircraft repair facilities where I would watch in great fascination. In my teens, went up to the military bases and befriended many soldiers involved with aircraft and asked them numerous questions. I got to meet many aeronautics engineers and borrowed their old textbooks and read them till the wee hours of the morning. As technology improved with information superhighway, I logged on the web. Stayed up for hours and hours searching through web pages and web pages of information about aircraft and technology. I started my elementary school in the Philippines, then we moved to U.S. and continued my high school education and graduated. Enrolled at the CCSF to pursue my college education and now I am in the 2nd year in CCSF taking aeronautics. My goal now is to obtain my AS degree from the City College of San Francisco (CCSF) so I can transfer to a University and get a Bachelors degree and to continue for my Masters degree in Aeronautics Engineering. I will strive hard to reach the peak level of my career which is a Professor and hopefully to be an aeronautic professor so...

Circus Circus Enterprises Case Studies

Executive Summary: Circus Circus Enterprises is a leader and will continue to be in the gaming industry. In recent years, they have seen a decline in profit and revenue; management tends to blame the decrease on continuing disruptions from remodeling, expansion, and increased competition. Consequently, Circus has reported decreases in its net income for 1997 and 1998 and management believes this trend will continue as competition heightens. Currently the company is involved in several joint ventures, its brand of casino entertainment has traditionally catered to the low rollers and family vacationers through its theme park. Circus should continue to expand its existing operations into new market segments. This shift will allow them to attract the up scale gambler. Overview Circus Circus Enterprises, Inc founded in 1974 is in the business of entertainment, with its core strength in casino gambling. The company?s asset base, operating cash flow, profit margin, multiple markets and customers, rank it as one of the gaming industry leaders. Partners William G. Bennett an aggressive cost cutter and William N. Pennington purchased Circus Circus in 1974 as a small and unprofitable casino. It went public in 1983, from 1993 to 1997; the average return on capital invested was 16.5%. Circus Circus operates several properties in Las Vegas, Reno, Laughlin, and one in Mississippi, as well as 50% ownership in three other casinos and a theme park. On January 31,1998 Circus reported net income of 89.9 million and revenues of 1.35 billion, this is a down from 100 million on 1.3 billion in 1997. Management sees this decline in revenue due to the rapid and extensive expansion and the increased competition that Circus is facing. Well established in the casino gaming industry the corporation has its focus in the entertainment business and has particularly a popular theme resort concept....

Effect Of Civil War On American Economy

The Economies of the North and South, 1861-1865 In 1861, a great war in American history began. It was a civil war between the north and south that was by no means civil. This war would have great repercussions upon the economy of this country and the states within it. The American Civil War began with secession, creating a divided union of sorts, and sparked an incredibly cataclysmic four years. Although the actual war began with secession, this was not the only driving force. The economy of the Southern states, the Confederacy, greatly if not entirely depended on the institution of slavery. The Confederacy was heavily reliant on agriculture, and they used the profits made from the sale of such raw materials to purchase finished goods to use and enjoy. Their major export was cotton, which thrived on the warm river deltas and could easily be shipped to major ocean ports from towns on the Mississippi and numerous river cities. Slavery was a key part of this, as slaves were the ones who harvested and planted the cotton. Being such an enormous unpaid work force, the profits made were extraordinarily high and the price for the unfinished goods drastically low in comparison; especially since he invention of the cotton gin in 1793 which made the work all that much easier and quicker. In contrast, the economical structure of the Northern states, the Union, was vastly dependent on industry. Slavery did not exist in most of the Union, as there was no demand for it due to the type of industrial development taking place. As the Union had a paid work force, the profits made were lower and the cost of the finished manufactured item higher. In turn, the Union used the profits and purchased raw materials to use. This cycle...

Evaluation Of The Effectiveness Of Trade Embargoes

Although I am a strong critic of the use and effectiveness of economic sanctions, such as trade embargoes, for the sake of this assignment, I will present both their theoretical advantages and their disadvantages based upon my research. Trade embargoes and blockades have traditionally been used to entice nations to alter their behavior or to punish them for certain behavior. The intentions behind these policies are generally noble, at least on the surface. However, these policies can have side effects. For example, FDR's blockade of raw materials against the Japanese in Manchuria in the 1930s arguably led to the bombing of Pearl Harbor, which resulted in U.S. involvement in World War II. The decades-long embargo against Cuba not only did not lead to the topple of the communist regime there, but may have strengthened Castro's hold on the island and has created animosity toward the United States in Latin America and much suffering by the people of Cuba. Various studies have concluded that embargoes and other economic sanctions generally have not been effective from a utilitarian or policy perspective, yet these policies continue. Evaluation of the effectiveness of Trade Embargoes Strengths Trade embargoes and other sanctions can give the sender government the appearance of taking strong measures in response to a given situation without resorting to violence. Sanctions can be imposed in conjunction with other measures to achieve conflict prevention and mitigation goals. Sanctions may be ineffective: goals may be too elusive, the means too gentle, or cooperation from other countries insufficient. It is usually difficult to determine whether embargoes were an effective deterrent against future misdeeds: embargoes may contribute to a successful outcome, but can rarely achieve ambitious objectives alone. Some regimes are highly resistant to external pressures to reform. At the same time, trade sanctions may narrow the...