Uprooting the Schizophrenic Seed of Faith: Mental Disability in The Violent Bear It Away

Sonya Freeman Loftis


This article examines Flannery O'Connor's depiction of mental disability in The Violent Bear It Away. O'Connor's work presents a particularly rich and complex intellectual space for examining stereotypes connecting mental disability with religious faith. Religious difference and disabled difference are presented as symbolically inseparable in The Violent Bear It Away, a conflation that may encourage negative stereotypes regarding both faith and madness. In the larger scope of the novel, O'Connor uses Tarwater's ambiguous status as both a mad man and a man of faith to question modern psychology and the mental healthcare system: just as readers are implicitly asked to "diagnose" her mad characters (but are set up to fail by the novel's deliberate indeterminacy), the psychologist character Rayber also struggles (and fails) to diagnose the other characters around him. In the end, however, O'Connor's critique of the mental healthcare system may be undermined by her use of mental disability as a symbol to convey religious mystery.

© 2016 Loftis. All rights reserved. By author request, this article is excluded from Creative Commons licensing.


Flannery O'Connor; The Violent Bear It Away; Mental Disability; Faith; Madness; Mystery

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.18061/dsq.v36i4.5018

Copyright (c) 2016 Sonya Freeman Loftis

Beginning with Volume 36, Issue No. 4 (2016), Disability Studies Quarterly is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license unless otherwise indicated. 

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ISSN: 2159-8371 (Online); 1041-5718 (Print)