african american

With the Stuffing Out

"She was a giant of a woman, her face was set not only to meet opposition, but to seek it out. The downward tilt of her large lower lip was like a warning sign: "don't tamper with me." Her bulging figure was encased in a green crape dress and her feet overflowed in red shoes. She had on a hideous hat. A purple velvet flap came down on one side of it, and stood up on the other. The rest of it was green and looked like a cushion with the stuffing out. She carried a mammoth red pocketbook that bulged throughout as if it were stuffed with rocks.

Vintage photo with attitude (and hats) from the wonderful  Wildfell Hall .

Vintage photo with attitude (and hats) from the wonderful Wildfell Hall.

To Julian's disappointment the little boy climbed up on the empty seat beside his mother. His mother lumped all children, black and white, into the common category "cute," and she thought little Negroes were on the whole cuter than little white children. She smiled at the little boy as he climbed on the seat. Meanwhile, the woman was bearing down on the empty seat beside Julian. To his annoyance, she squeezed herself into it. He saw his mother's face change as the woman settled herself next to him, and he realized with satisfaction that this was more objectionable to her than it was to him. Her face seemed almost grey, and there was a look of dull recognition in her eyes, as if she suddenly had sickened at some awful confrontation. Julian saw it was because she and the woman had, in a sense, swapped sons, though his mother would not recognize the symbolic significance of this. She would feel it. His amusement showed plainly on his face.

The woman next to him muttered something unintelligible to herself. He was conscious of a kind of bristling next to him, a muted growling, like that of an angry cat. He could not see anything but the red pocketbook upright on the bulging green thighs. He visualized the woman as she had stood waiting for her tokens, the ponderous figure rising from the red shoes upward over the solid hips, the mammoth bosom, the haughty face, to the green-and-purple hat. His eyes widened. The vision of the two hats, identical, broke upon him with the radiance of brilliant sunrise."

 

O'Connor, Flannery. "Everything That Rises Must Converge" from Everything that Rises Must Converge. New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1965.

 

Read the story or listen to it on Selected Shorts to get in on the joke! Beautiful use of clothing in fiction, underlining the plot and punctuating the moral, that exclamation point of a hat.

In the World and Of the World

"He looked straight ahead, down Fifth Avenue, where graceful women in fur coats walked, looking into the windows that held silk dresses, and watches, and rings. What church did they go to? And what were their houses like when in the evening they took off these coats, and these silk dresses, and put their jewelry in a box, and leaned back in soft beds to think for a moment before they slept of the day gone by?

The most fashionable. Unknown model and unknown photographer, 1940s.

The most fashionable. Unknown model and unknown photographer, 1940s.

Did they read a verse from the Bible every  night and fall on their knees to pray? But no, for their thoughts were not of God, and their way was not God's way. They were in the world, and of the world, and their feet laid hold on Hell." (32)


Baldwin, James. Go Tell It On The Mountain. New York: Signet, 1963 [1952].


Clothing, the worldly; religion, the eternal. The taking off of clothes enters his religious mental discourse here without sex, but instead a ritualistic aspect.