Immoral traits of the shortleys


In The Displaced Person, Flannery O’Connor has applied use of several literary techniques in revealing specific traits of the characters that appear in the story. Being that she was brought up in a Southern farm, when the atmosphere was full of the aftermath of World War II, Connor associates this story with a similar environment. Specifically, she tends to be keen on the character traits of Mr. Shortley, amidst other aspects portrayed in the story. This study highlights three main literary techniques that the author has applied in revealing the immoral character traits of this character. The major techniques considered for this analysis include symbolism, simile and dialogue, among others (Tutoring Services 1).

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Purpose of the Work Selected

Connor’s work has evidently portrayed the humaneness in him as the author, since she is positively concerned about the evil traits she unveils in the story. Due to the fact that she has an uncompromising religious personality, her intention of revealing Mrs. Shortley’s evil characters are for the purpose of showing how innocent persons suffer in the hands of jealous and competition oriented beings. The innocent displaced person, Mr. Guizac, is confronted by Mr. Shortley through Mrs. Mclntyre besides other media, to enhance his firing from the job. The main reason was based on Guizac’s genuine hard work, which to Mr. Shortley and the wife was a threat. Connor has generally portrayed what happens in the real world, where some accidents are made for satisfaction of evil thirst, and the fact that good people are never appreciated.


The presence of the peacock in the story is very symbolic (Fadaee 20), and reveals a specific trait in Mrs. Shortley. Analysis of other works of the author reveals her passion for the birds, with the peacock being her best. The relationship that Mrs. Shortley has with the peacock may appear ambiguous. This is very deliberate, and is evident when the bird follows her but she tends to assume (O’Connor 585). She does not appreciate the presence of the bird, and is not noticing her fascination with the bird. Secondly, at point when the author talks of the ‘fiery wheels with fierce dark eyes in them’ (O’Connor 587) the words describe the suspicious eyes of the peacock, which in this case symbolises the church’s concern on the traits of Mrs. Shortley. The author has used this bird, as a measure of morality level in Mrs. Shortley, which has portrayed her to be wanting.


Use of this class of imagery has been applied by the author while describing the thoughts in Mrs. Shortley’s mind while viewing the family of the displaced person, on their arrival. From the following words, ‘Every time she had seen them in her imagination, the image she had got was of the three bears, walking single file, with wooden shoes on like Dutchmen and sailor hats…’ (O’Connor 585), the use of simile reveals the negative attitude that Mrs. Shortley has towards the displaced persons. The second instance also occurs when she describes the girl’s name (from the displaced family), as sounding like something that could name a bug (O’Connor 586). This also exposes her negativity towards this family, she passionately hates them as she compares them with things that are disregarded or looked down upon.


Use of this technique portrays Mrs. Shortley’s words directly when she is communicating to other parties within the story. For instance, when the author quotes her words ‘They’re what is called Displaced Persons,’ (O’Connor 587) her immoral trait is unveiled more, she is not welcoming and is jealous. Secondly, when talking to her husband, the author quotes her critique on the displaced person, questioning whether he could drive a tractor (O’Connor 588), when he could not speak English. In reality, the ability to speak English is not related to the ability to drive a tractor. Therefore, these words were meant to demoralise the displaced person, and they portrayed Mrs. Shortley as a backbiter.


The literary techniques discussed above are but a few among the numerous others that Connor used in this work. First, the author’s concern while describing Mrs. Shorley’s intentions and imaginations, portrayed her (the author) as concerned and focusing to reveal such realities within the community in which she grew. This study has also pointedly focussed on the use of the three techniques, discussed above, in revealing the immoral traits of Mrs. Shortley towards the family of the displaced persons. Symbolism applied to the peacock, measured her moral standards to be low, similarly exposed her jealousy while the dialogue showed her backbiting trait. Use of these techniques has enabled the author to expose real intentions behind the words of this immoral family character.

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  1. Fadaee, E. “Symbols, metaphors and similes in literature: A case study of ‘Animal Farm’.” Journal of English and Literature Vol. 2(2) (2011): 19-27.
  2. O’Connor, F. The Displaced Person. Ottawa: HarperCollins, 1982.
  3. Tutoring Services. Literary Analysis Sample Paper. Germania: Germanna Community College, 2016.
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