Fatherless Sons in Flannery O’Connor’s “The Lame Shall Enter First”

Crisis Magazine | 5/21/2018 | Mitchell Kalpakgian
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As the city’s recreation director, Sheppard took an interest in the youth he encountered in his work, and also volunteered to counsel troubled boys at the reformatory, “receiving nothing for it but the satisfaction of knowing he was helping boys no one else cared about.” His idea of “help,” however, assumes the form of social work, welfare, and benevolence without any spiritual foundation or moral principles except for the general mandate against “selfishness” that fills his conversation with his son Norton. Sheppard’s efforts at humanitarian relief of the unfortunate provide material benefits and bodily needs but lack charity and love of neighbor.

A recent widower with a grieving ten-year-old son longing for the love of his mother, Sheppard offers Norton no comfort for his sorrow or knowledge about eternal life because “he could not allow himself to bring him up on a lie.” Sheppard’s idea of fatherhood, then, reduces his role to a mere provider who cares for Norton’s material needs and to a counselor who advises against selfishness and the idea of an afterlife: “Your mother isn’t anywhere… She just isn’t.” Sheppard feels no moral responsibility in educating his son to know and love God or to follow His commandments. Fatherhood, however, is not social work or psychological counseling but a vocation that instructs the young in the virtues of self-discipline, justice, moral courage, integrity, honor, generosity, and a self-sacrificing love of family.

Norton - Piece - Chocolate - Cake - Father

When Norton begins to eat a piece of chocolate cake without offering some to his father, Sheppard interrupts him to correct the fault: “Norton… do you have any idea of what it means to share?” To teach Norton this virtue, Sheppard decides to model it with a social experiment. He invites into his home Rufus Johnson, a fourteen-year-old juvenile delinquent recently released from reform school, a boy deprived...
(Excerpt) Read more at: Crisis Magazine
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