Grotesque or damaged bodies play a central role in a number of Flannery O'Connor's most powerful stories. One route for interpreting their significance is to approach them by way of a rare psychological condition that has been named apotemnophilia. Apotemnophiliacs experience an overwhelming desire to amputate one of more of their perfectly healthy limbs. Among the things that make the condition particularly mysterious is the challenge it offers to our standard conception of what constitutes a “whole” body. Two of O'Connor's most celebrated stories, “The Life You Save May Be Your Own” and “Good Country People,” have at their center amputated bodies, those of Tom T. Shiftlet and Hulga Hopewell respectively. Evans argues that those incomplete bodies are intended to contest the notion of “wholeness” as a spiritual or existential ideal. On the contrary, O'Connor's stories drive her characters towards a necessary recognition of their incompleteness. Finally, the allegorical form of O'Connor's fiction itself constitutes a parallel to the amputated and imperfect condition of the bodies that inhabit them. Just as the bodies point insistently to their own incompleteness, so the stories advertise their own inadequacy, forcing upon the reader a kind of hermeneutic phantom pain, an importunate demand for interpretation that can, however, never be fully satisfied.
David H. Evans; CUT!... Flannery O'Connor's Apotemnophiliac Allegories. American Literature 1 June 2009; 81 (2): 305–331. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00029831-2009-004
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