‘The Crop’ by Flannery O’Connor: Short Story Analysis
‘The Crop’ is a Southern Gothic short story penned by American writer Flannery O’Connor. It is one of six stories included in O’Connor’s 1947 master’s thesis, The Geranium: A Collection of Short Stories. Willie, a grotesque and mysterious woman, begins writing her sharecropper’s story, but ultimately enters the world of her story, literally and metaphorically. We are aware of Flannery O’Connor’s unique Gothic writing style, where her characters’ insanity and overall temperament and unemotional relations with each other spur on her plot. Here, Willie lives with people who do not exactly look like family members, and all of them are interested in their own affairs. Willie lives with the vicious and dominating Lucia, the docile and indifferent Bertha, and the eccentric loner Garner. Garner is the only man in this group of very odd people living together under the same roof. Willie is a writer who is ready to start a new story on her typewriter. There is a tense and uneasy atmosphere in this story, a usual effect of Flannery O’Connor’s unique writing style that has provided American literature some of its most disturbing fiction.
The story starts at the dining table in Miss Willerton or Willie’s residence. Willie is forty-four year’s old and was probably deranged. That is why she cannot perform simple tasks given to her and cannot remember details like the commodities she had to buy while grocery shopping. Lucia, in this odd family, was mostly in charge of Willie. Lucia is a person who nags others, dictates terms, and orders the weaker ones in the family, especially Willie. Bertha and Garner have a minuscule role and are just on the periphery of the tale. The main action is between Willie and Lucia and then Willie and Lot, the sharecropper character that she was constructing. At the beginning of this short story, Lucia orders Willie to crumble or de-crumb the breakfast table. For those unfamiliar with the term, ‘crumble or crumbing’ means to take the crumbs off a table with an instrument called a crumber. A crumber is a tool designed to remove crumbs from a tablecloth, used primarily in fine-dining situations. It was an amazingly simple task to do, and yet, Willie was unable to do even this to perfection without Lucia breathing down her neck. Willie talks about how Lucia wanted everyone in the house to have their meals together. We are lured into a mundane world of these people who do the dishes, crumble the table, and do crosswords. We are unaware that this is just a ploy on O’Connor’s part to surprise us later when Willie enters the world of her character Lot, a sharecropper.
A sharecropper is a tenant farmer who gives a part of each crop as rent. Willie decides to write about a sharecropper in her next story because:
- The character could be arty.
- He could represent a social concern.
- It would be an arty topic and could bring up a social problem that would endear Willie to her writer’s circle.
- She had recently read about a sharecropper who was quite a character.
- In that book, she read about the sadistic and sexual fantasies and shenanigans of the sharecropper. Lucia ultimately burnt the book, thinking it to be a vile object with a gross topic.
- Willie did not finish the last four chapters of that book about the sharecropper. Still, she had gained enough information about the topic and decided to write on the sharecropper, Lot Motun.
Lucia is a character who looks down on Willie and treats her very poorly. It arouses our empathy and sympathy for Willie, the writer. Lucia is a prude who does not appreciate the passionate love scenes in Willie’s fiction and makes fun of it. She tries to order Willie about, be it the crumbling of the table, grocery shopping, or Willie’s private possessions. Lucia probably acted this way because Willie was not yet a well-known writer. Remember, Willie wishes to be in the writer’s crowd, but she has still not become established at age forty-four. But Willie is a regular writer because she knows the intricacies of the writing trade like tonal quality, excellent first lines, using less repetitive words, etc. However, Willie can also get too caught up in her stories’ finer details and easily daydream about being a character in her own story, especially if she could be passionate about a man or character she liked in the story. Willie, as a writer, is:
- More of a thinker or dreamer than an actual writer.
- She is very imaginative.
- She lives in the worlds created by her stories because her own life is very dreary and painful being in the company of a woman like Lucia.
- She is an excellent grammarian.
- She knows the finer details of how one should construct characters, sentences, first paragraphs, and more.
- Most of the time, she is uncertain about the topic she wants to write. She decides the subject of her story on the spur of the moment.
- She thinks best how to construct her stories while sitting in front of her typewriter.
- She is a slow writer but quick to change her topics or subjects on the flimsiest of reasons.
Coming to the title, the story of the sharecropper Lot is constructed in Willie’s mind while she is typing. However, when she reaches the part of Lot’s wife trying to attack her husband with a knife she feels an overwhelming love for her character Lot that she:
- Hits Lot’s wife on the back of the head and takes her place.
- She allows a mist to pass before she enters her story so that she could live with Lot in Lot’s world.
This style is not unique to this story because many writers before and since Flannery O’Connor used this style where a character or writer entered and exited each other’s worlds. I reviewed a similar story in 2020 by author Angela Hunt called The Novelist. Another novel that I read and reviewed was Between the Lines by Jodi Picoult and Samantha van Leer. Flannery O’Connor’s character Willie after turning magically and eerily into Lot’s wife, now draws the reader masterfully into the world of Lot and the crop he and his wife must gather before the rain. Willie and Lot cannot harvest the crop. This is where the story’s title originates. Willie is pregnant, and on the day they were supposed to harvest the crop, her contractions start. The rain came along with her newborn daughter. Willie says that she knew Lot wanted a boy, but Lot said he was happy to have two Willies in his life now, which was even better than having a cow, while in reality, Lot needed a cow more than he needed a daughter. This is sexist and sad, but it is a fact that is far from unusual, especially in my part of the world. My father abandoned me when I was a baby because I was a girl child. If you want to know more about me, you can check out my memoir Scenes of a Reclusive Writer & Reader of Mumbai. Lot is happy that Willie is safe after her pregnancy and that a daughter is born to them. When Willie asks Lot what else she could do to help him, she is brought back into her world and reality when Lucia demands that Willie immediately shops for groceries.
Poor Willie is disturbed from her writing, gets up, and goes shopping. Notice how muddled she is because although Lucia asked for a dozen eggs and two pounds of ripe tomatoes, Willie goes to the grocer’s and asks for two dozen eggs and a pound of tomatoes. Willie corrects her own mistake later and adds that she wanted the tomatoes to be ripe. While at the grocer’s, Willie sees a young couple who look exactly like the characters in her sharecropper story. It indicates that writers normally write about characters that are usually real people. She gets so disgusted with their show of affection that she decides to scrap the sharecropper story and write about the Irish when she returns home. Notice that she rejects the sharecropper story because:
- She found the couple at the grocer’s to be disgusting and too free with their dressing and love.
- Willie herself yearned what this couple had: freedom of choice and freedom to live their lives by loving each other.
- Willie loves sensuality and mentions sensual elements in her stories but does not like to see it in others as she is partially a prude like the people she was staying with.
- The couple at the grocer’s was everything Willie could not be. They were a mirror to her, which she could not accept.
She returns home to cut off the sharecropper story and start writing about the Irish. There are a few more takeaway points which I want to add before I end this piece:
- Willie’s original character, the wife in the sharecropper’s story, hated her husband. She hated him so much that she never gave him his grits with enough salt in them and used to nag him. She was also ready to kill him with a knife until Willie came to the rescue.
- The book about the sharecropper that Lucia burnt was bought with the hard-earned money of Willie. Willie had not ordered the book from the library, which she often did. Instead, she had purchased the book directly from the publisher, which cost her $3.75, which was expensive for Willie. This indicates that she was not a successful writer.
- Where Willie’s stories’ sensual topics or elements were concerned, her family or rather odd family members had queer reactions to them. But they read her stories, which indicates that they were partially in favor of her profession. However, they used to be excited, mortified, or surprised about her stories’ sensual elements. Lucia even goes to the extent of wondering what Willie was hiding from them that she could write such sexy pieces.
- There is a possibility that the people living together in the house were all brothers and sisters, probably all unmarried and trying as hard as possible not to mind each other’s business – all except Lucia.
- Before starting her story about the sharecropper, Willie wanted to write about bakers and teachers. However, she refrained from doing so because they were not that arty a topic, and were dull topics for social issues. It is possible that Willie was a social issue fiction writer.
- One can see that the Southern Gothic element in the story is very evident, especially regarding the odd behavior of the character of Lot, who was ready to roll in the mud with his scraggy dog. The bizarre behavior between the people in the house and the initial relationship between Lot and his first wife indicates this short story’s eerie essence.
- There is a light comedy in the story, especially in the conclusion. Willie finally decides to write about the Irish because they were very colorful and flamboyant people. This is the cliched topic of every white writer to pick an Irish personage as their main topic. This was especially true in Flannery O’Connor’s time.
I enjoyed reading and analyzing this short story by American writer Flannery O’Connor. I have her entire short story collection in my possession and hope to read and analyze more of her works in the coming days. I will be reviewing more American fiction and non-fiction books till January 2021. So, if you are looking for more American bookish content, this is the site you must keep watching.
If you are interested in book reviews, book analysis, short-story analysis, poems, essays, essay analysis, and other bookish content, you can check out my blog insaneowl.com. If you are interested in purchasing my books, you can check out my blog’s products page or my author’s page on Amazon. There is a lot of good stuff to buy! Happy reading to you always!
Copyright © 2020 Fiza Pathan
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