The Violent Bear It Away Summary & Study Guide

This Study Guide consists of approximately 51 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of The Violent Bear It Away.
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The Violent Bear It Away Summary & Study Guide Description

The Violent Bear It Away Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains For Further Reading and a Free Quiz on The Violent Bear It Away by Flannery O'Connor.


The main action of The Violent Bear It Away is simple and occurs over seven days, but much of the novel consists of flashbacks that recall incidents in the lives of the main characters. As events are brought to mind through the memories of various individuals, the author provides insight into their psychological and spiritual natures, reveals the motivations behind their actions, and offers an intimate family history clouded by personal feelings, religious and intellectual beliefs, and emotional confusion. The novel is divided into three sections, each covering a period in Francis Marion Tarwater's journey of spiritual self-discovery.

Chapters 4—9

Rayber's enthusiasm to "save" the boy soon dissipates, as he finds Tarwater sullen, angry, and difficult. Tarwater does not hide his skepticism of the schoolteacher, whose rationalist arguments echo very much those of Tarwater's own inner voice—the voice of his friend, the devil. Rayber buys the boy new clothes, which Tarwater rejects, and gives him food that he does not eat, despite a deep hunger. Rayber asks his nephew to take some standardized tests, his ultimate goal being to ferret out the center of the boy's "emotional infection," but Tarwater refuses. Rayber continually tries to psychoanalyze the boy, attributing his behavior to his upbringing and thinking of ways to fix his problems. Rayber also wants to give Tarwater what he is unable to give his own son because of his disability. Throughout the section, it is shown how Rayber struggles with his love for Bishop.

One night, Tarwater steals out of the house to attend a religious gathering he has seen advertised. Rayber follows him through the city to the revival meeting, where a young girl named Lucette preaches about Christ's coming and asks the audience for money so her parents can continue their missionary work. As he hides outside in the bushes and listens to Lucette, Rayber recalls his own dysfunctional childhood. At the end of the meeting Lucette stares at Rayber and speaks about the man whose ear is "deaf to the Holy Word." Rayber tries to switch off his mechanical hearing device but cannot, and he flees and waits outside for Tarwater. The boy claims that he attended the service only "to spit on it."

Rayber decides to take Tarwater to a natural history museum to teach him about evolution and science. As they walk through a park to the museum, Rayber stops to tie Bishop's laces and is suddenly gripped with an uncontrollable love for the boy. He remembers an incident in which he tried to drown his son but could not, changing his mind at the last moment because he could not imagine life without the boy. The three of them continue walking, and they come to a fountain, which Bishop tries to jumps in. Tarwater moves to baptize him, but Rayber snatches the boy away at the last moment, realizing what his nephew is trying to do.

Frustrated by his inability to cure Tarwater, Rayber decides to take him back to Powderhead so he can shock him into facing his past and thus get through to him. He tells Tarwater they are going on a fishing trip, and they check in at the Cherokee Lodge, which is near a lake. Tarwater, who had eaten little in the city, has a huge meal at the lodge. He also shows some unexpected kindness to Bishop by tying his shoe. During the stay at the lodge, Tarwater's "friend" visits him repeatedly, and Tarwater recognizes that this voice's demand for a sign from God is what has kept Tarwater from baptizing Bishop. Tarwater tells his friend that he would have drowned Bishop in the fountain rather than baptize him, and his friend approves of such an action, saying he should do it to prove that he was not going to baptize the boy. Later Rayber takes Tarwater fishing and tells him how he tried to drown Bishop and also tells Tarwater that he wants to save him. Tarwater, after his heavy meal, vomits into the lake, leaves the boat, and swims to shore.

Rayber takes a trip to Powderhead with Bishop, and when he returns he offers to let Tarwater baptize Bishop so he can overcome his internal conflict. Tarwater is horrified by the offer, but that afternoon he takes Bishop out in a rowboat. From his room, Rayber hears Bishop's wail. He knows that Tarwater is drowning his son, but he does nothing to stop him.

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This section contains 744 words
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