“The River” is a short story included in Flannery O’Connor’s collection A Good Man is Hard to Find. Of all the stories in the collection, this one struck me most. It tells the story of a little boy, Harry, whose parents are only interested in partying and not in taking care of him. They send him off with a babysitter who happens to be rather religious and takes him to a baptism/revival at the river. There he learns about the Kingdom of Heaven and is baptized. When he emerges, he is told that he now “counts.” He eventually returns home, where his parents are putting on another party, and where he doesn’t matter at all. He decides to go back where he “counts” and returns to the river where he was baptized and jumps in searching for “the Kingdom of Christ in the river” and drowns.
What gets me the most about this story is how one can interpret it. From a secular standpoint, one could see this as an instance in which religion was acting as the “opiate of the masses,” tricking this boy into escaping his current life, and accidentally drowning himself. In the story, at first he thinks everything is a joke because his parents treat everything as a joke. He learns from his religious babysitter that her religion is no joke. It’s like, he tries to escape his bad life and religion kills him.
Or, if you look at it from a religious point of view, the boy is truly escaping his life and going to where he does “count,” the Kingdom of Heaven.
All in all it’s an interesting short story, and one of my favorites from the collection. I need to read more Flannery O’Connor