Fertility and Untranslatability in Flannery O’Connor’s “Greenleaf”


Author: Peng Yao, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
Email: pengyaosz@sina.com
Published: January 24, 2017

Citation: Peng, Y. (2017). Fertility and Untranslatability in Flannery O’Connor’s “Greenleaf”. IAFOR Journal of Ethics, Religion & Philosophy, 3(1). https://doi.org/10.22492/ijerp.3.1.03


This paper attempts to explore the female melancholic subject’s failed memorization and mourning in relation to the dead person in Flannery O’Connor’s story “Greenleaf.” Jean Laplanche considers mourning to be the subject’s translations, de-translations, and retranslations of the other person’s unconscious message, which is deposited in the subject’s mind like a foreign body; mourning, then, largely involves the subject’s repeated memorizations of the dead person. With reference to Laplanche’s theory, this study investigates the paradoxical desire of O’Connor’s melancholic mourner, Mrs May, for unweaving the memories of the dead husband, and her unwillingness to entangle the past for fear of disclosing the less than desirable aspect of the dead. While the melancholic subject vainly wallows in unsuccessful translations of her unstable memories of the dead husband, which have already become fused with her own biographical history, she forms strong defensive mechanisms against a variety of invading agents, such as her hired help and a scrub bull, that are likely to reactivate her full memorization. In this sense, fertility is a symbol of Mrs May’s unwanted yet uncontrollably proliferating memories of the dead husband. Moreover, the irretrievability of any “authentic” memories regarding the lost person determines the perpetuated untranslatability of the foreign body in O’Connor’s melancholic mourner.


Flannery O’Connor, untranslatability, “Greenleaf”, mourning, foreign body