Ideas and Fear: An Analysis of Flannery O’Connor’s The Wildcat

The past two Flannery O’Connor stories that I’ve analyzed have, more or less, focused around the concept of pride. Though both “The Geranium,” the first story, and “The Barber” have dealt with different aspects of it, both have been connected. Thus, I was slightly concerned that the themes might become repetitive as I went through the stories.

Thankfully this next story, entitled “Wildcat,” deals not so much with pride as with fear, and a blind man’s constant attempts to overcome it. It’s a fascinating story, and incredibly tight as is typical for O’Connor, it seems. As always, I suggest you check out the story here before reading the rest of this post.

The WIldcat Is an odd story, and a haunting one.

The plot is actually rather interesting, since there’s not much of one to begin with. The main character, Gabriel, is a blind man (we’re never given his exact age, though for some reason, I picture him on the younger side, despite indications that he’s in his 50’s or 60’s) who wants to help hunt a wildcat that has been prowling around the area as of late. There have been multiple incidents of this wildcat killing farm animals, and so some of the boys go out to try to trap it.

The story ends with Gabriel terrified that the wildcat is in the house, and finally realizing that the wildcat isn’t anywhere near him.

It’s an odd story, but something that caught my attention was Gabriel’s incessant expression of his belief that the wildcat wasn’t in the woods that the boys were hunting in. Gabriel seems to think, for some reason, that the cat is near the house, and that it will come for those in the house. Whenever he considers this prospect from afar, he seems to almost look forward to it, oddly enough. Death isn’t something that seems to frighten him.

But, as the last section indicates, when the moment actually arrives he’s completely terrified. Why?

This is actually one of the more ambiguous O’Connor stories that I’ve read so far. She never really seems to draw a conclusion, instead simply painting a picture of a fascinating individual who seems ready for death when it is simply an idea, but who is utterly terrified when it becomes a reality.

Gabriel is clearly sad that he can’t go with the boys to hunt the wildcat. He is ashamed that he’s blind and sad that everyone treats him as inferior because of this. He’s talked down to by many and is, like anyone would be in that situation, angered by this. But yet he never becomes completely irate. He’s frustrated, but not terribly so.

It seems–though this is simply speculation–that he has at some level come to grips with his situation, and is at peace. He’s ready to die, and almost yearns for it, but not in a desperate sense. He simply mildly anticipates it.

But when death confronts him, we see that he’s really not ready for it. He may play the calm man ready to meet death, but he’s not at all. Instead, he’s scared stiff, and paralyzed in fear. He believes, at least some of the time, that he’s not scared of death. He pretends that he’s not scared of the wildcat like the rest of the people around him are. But what we see in the moments in which he believes he’s about to die is that he’s just as terrified, if not more so, as everyone else.

What that’s saying, I’m not entirely sure. One thing I do know for certain, though–O’Connor sure knows how to write a story that’ll stay with you, even if it isn’t terribly conclusive.