Roles of Violence in Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg and the Violent Bear It Away by Flannery O’Connor


Violence is described as a deliberate hostile behavior against another individual. Psychologists have portrayed the use of violence as a remedy to disgrace and dishonor. Some people view violence as a source of arrogance and a defense of reputation. Most men relate violence to manhood. The books Private Memoirs and Confession of a justified Sinner and The Violent Bear It Away both tell stories where violence is illustrated. Violence is depicted in both of this books and it plays a major role in developing the themes of the two books.


It is imperative to instigate a discussion of violence in these books with the perceptive that the Private Memoir and Confessions of a Justified Sinner is a story of a young man who comes from religious background and believes that he is God’s chosen one. The Violent Bear It Away is a story of a young boy whose life takes a turn when he comprehends his destiny. His journey to relinquish his faith is filled with violence and brutality (O’Connor 202). Both of the characters in these stories are men who have been raised from a spiritual background. Tarwater’s uncle considered himself a prophet, while Robert’s father was a religiously casual laird. I believe they both had knowledge on what is good and bad, right from wrong. It is not expected that men from such backgrounds would engage in violence but as we will see, violence knows no religion.

Both Robert and Tarwater come from broken homes. Robert’s mother had an unhappy marriage for she did not like his husband because he used to drink and dance. Soon the couple separated. His mother went on to marry a reverend who is Robert’s father. Robert grew up living apart from his stepbrother (Hogg 15). His mother and the reverend raised him, while the Laird of Dalcastle raised George. The two brothers ended up with different personalities because Robert is spiteful and proud while George loves sports and enjoys socializing. Robert is raised to believe that only certain people are predetermined to be saved by God and the chosen will be rewarded regardless of how they live.

As the story continues, Robert takes on a wicked path. Robert became violent because of the lessons that he learnt as he was growing up. Tarwater’s mother died in an accident while he was still an infant (O’Connor 30). Raber and his wife who later separated took him in. His uncle kidnapped him and raised him in he woods to be a prophet. One of his dying wishes was for Tarwater to baptize Bishop; in his attempt to accomplish this, he drowned him. Both Robert and Tarwater had a poor foundation in their childhood. There homes were not secure as they were moved from one family to another. I can therefore say that violence is connected to the background of an individual. It is used in these stories to describe how family is important in giving a good foundation for the relationships that will be formed in the later years.

One of the differences in these books is the experiences gone through by the main characters. In the Violent Bear It Away, Tarwater is in grief due to the loss of his uncle. His uncle leaves him with a charge to give him a decent burial and baptize his cousin (O’Connor 150). In my opinion, violence can be a therapy for grief. Because of his anguish, Tarwater drunk himself to a state of unconsciousness and in the event, set the house on fire while his Uncle’s body was inside. In this book, violence can be perceived as a way of releasing anguish. The Private Memoir and Confessions of a Justified Sinner portrays Robert as a man filled with hatred and bitterness towards his brother (Hogg 25). He is envious of his brother who has lived a better life. He is hell bent on destroying his brother.

Violence can also be used as a way of fulfilling a desire. In The Violent Bear It Away; the old Tarwater was a religious fanatic who followed an olden religious and ethical code, he believed that he was a prophet. His teachings despised secular modernity. He was a fanatic who spends four years in a psychiatric hospital (O’Connor 40). His first act of violence was to steal Rayber so he would convert him to his teachings. His attempt failed when Rayber rejected his teaching so he chose to kidnap young Tarwater to accomplish his mission. When Rayber tried to get young Tarwater back, the old fanatic shot him. The old man also tried to kidnap Bishop but he was not successful. The old Tarwater had a desire to convert his relatives to his religion. In his attempt to fulfill this desire, he used violence. Tarwater had a desire to fulfill the promise he made to his uncle and in his endeavor, he killed Bishop.

It is interesting to discover just how human beings can go to defend their beliefs or to convert people into believing their schools of thought. In the Bible, there is a verse that talks about the violent taking it by force. His uncle raised Tarwater to be a prophet. From the age of seven, he believed in nothing else but whatever his uncle told him (O’Connor 60). He is trapped in a life of a prophet and therefore to defend his beliefs, he must baptize Bishop; this would be his first act as a prophet. Rayber tries to frustrate all his efforts to baptize his cousin. One day Tarwater gets that opportunity and Bishop ends up dead. In this story, Rayber was a force of resistance; therefore, Tarwater chose a violent way to counter this resistance. Tarwater waits for the night to escape from Rayber.

A great similarity in these stories is an invisible voice that speaks to both Robert and Tarwater. Tarwater refers to this voice as friend. This friend urged Tarwater to baptize bishop on that fateful night. While digging a grave, the dark side of his mind convinces Tarwater to forget his uncle. He later on got drunk and set their house on fire (O’Connor 50). His friend urges him to abandon his destiny. Robert had a mysterious companion whose name is Gil-martin. This enigmatic friend directs all his obsessive beliefs to extraordinary evil purpose. His friend convinces him that he has a mission to slash all sinners with a sword. This is evidence that both Robert and Tarwater had no thoughts of being violent until a voice began to urge them towards a violent motion. I think that, violence starts out as a suggestion in the mind then an enigmatic voice urges us towards it. Violence in this case portrays the actions of supernatural powers geared towards evil.

There is a difference in the violent acts demonstrated by Robert and Tarwater. Tarwater killed his cousin in an attempt to baptize him. However, Robert killed his brother due to hatred and bitterness that he had towards him (Hogg 50). He stalked him and even tried to push him off a cliff. Violence is used to represent the attitude of the heart. Tarwater wanted to save his cousin while Robert was filled with spite. His intention was to destroy his brother. He stalks him, mocks him, and refuses any offer of friendship. While the old Tarwater was staying with Rayber, Rayber took advantage of the situation and wrote an article on Tarwater about his religion. Tarwater felt betrayed by his actions, he kidnapped the young boy and when Rayber tried to get him back, he shot him. It was his way of revenging for the harm that Rayber had caused him. His feelings of betrayal led him to act violently. In his effort to avenge for the Lord, Robert committed several murders.

In these two books, violence has been used to give a picture of conflict between a sacred and a secular point of view. In the book Violent Bear it Away, there is conflict between Rayber and old Tarwater, Rayber and Young Tarwater (O’Connor 150). In the end, Rayber is shot and he loses his ability to hear while Bishop ends up dead. In the Private Memoirs and Confession of a justified Sinner, there is a conflict between Robert and his stepbrother and Robert and the sinners. Robert commits suicide. Before that, he kills his mother, a girl and a priest. He has suspicious peasants chasing him around. Generally, he was tormented (Hogg 185).

To fulfill his calling, Tarwater had to baptize Bishop. As he looked at Bishop at the river, he knew that he had to die so that he could move forward in his life as a prophet. Violence in his case benefitted him in the end. The act he performed and the wicked act that later followed as he escaped from the murder ignited a sacred stirring towards his destiny. After these violent acts, he finally understood his destiny. Therefore, violence can lead to freedom. In contrast, the violent act performed by Robert only led to his destruction (O’Connor 202).Violence in the Violent Bear It Away is used to illustrate a consequence for wrongdoing. Tarwater woke up naked in a field; he had been drugged and assaulted. This happened after he had drowned his cousin. He realizes that his eyes have been “burnt clean”.


Generally, the role that violence plays in these books is a subject of temperaments and religious views. The world that we live in is violent. These stories point out different kinds of violent behaviors. The books further portray the extent to which passion and the power of religion can ignite the different types of violent behaviors. It is evident that background is closely linked to violent behavior. Roberts’s mother was an extremist and a shrew. Moreover, everything that tears down also builds. Bishop had to die so that Tarwater could fulfill his purpose of being a prophet. Religion and violence seem related in the two stories. Robert killed the people he believed to be sinners. He thought of it as avenging for the Lord. Tarwater drowned his cousin so that he could convert him from the sacred world. Violence leads to freedom. In our world, many have had to fight to achieve freedom. Violence was the price that Tarwater had to pay to lead him to freedom.

Works Cited:

Hogg, James. The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2010. Print

O’Connor, Flannery. The Violent Bear It Away. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007. Print.


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