In a letter to a close friend, referred to only as â€œA,â€ Flannery O'Connor talks about the reactions to her short-story collection A Good Man is Hard to Find, in the title story of which, a character called the Misfit murders an entire family.
I am mighty tired of reading reviews that call A Good Man brutal and sarcastic. The stories are hard but they are hard because there is nothing harder or less sentimental than Christian realism. I believe that there are many rough beasts now slouching toward Bethlehem to be born and I have reported the progress of a few of themâ€¦ when I see these stories described as horror I am always amused because the reviewer always has hold of the wrong horror.
Flannery, writing later to the same individual, endeavored to clarify the concept of â€œChristian Realismâ€:
The term "Christian Realism," has become necessary for me, perhaps in a purely academic way, because I find myself in a world where everybody has his compartment, puts you in yours, shuts the door and departs. One of the awful things about writing when you are a Christian is that for you the ultimate reality is the Incarnation, the present reality is the Incarnation, and nobody believes in the Incarnation; that is, nobody in your audience. My audience are the people who think God is dead. At least these are the people I am conscious of writing for.
For Flannery, the reality of the Incarnation, like Jeremiahâ€™s fire sealed up tight in his bones, formed the demarcation between horror and her patent â€œChristian realism.â€ So what happens when the audience that thinks God is dead addresses horror? Works like Conradâ€™s Heart of Darkness in which the epically evil Kurtz screams out that very word when confronted with the blackness of the human heart, and movies like the recently released film Sunshine.