180 Flannery O’Connor Quotes on Religion & Literature

You will enjoy these Flannery O’Connor quotes that will give you wisdom about the beauty of writing.

Mary Flannery O’Connor was an American novelist and short-story writer. In 1945, she graduated from Georgia State College for Women with a degree in Sociology and English Literature.

She focused her writings on her Roman Catholic faith and her perceptions of morality. Read our collection below to get a glimpse of her world and beliefs.

Let’s get started.

Best Flannery O’Connor Quotes

1. “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”

2. “Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days.”

3. “The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.”

4. “The writer should never be ashamed of staring. There is nothing that does not require his attention.”

5. “In yourself, right now, is all the place you’ve got.”

6. “A story is a way to say something that can’t be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say what the meaning is.”

7. “Everywhere I go, I’m asked if I think the university stifles writers. My opinion is that they don’t stifle enough of them. There’s many a best-seller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.”

8. “All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful.”

9. “Right now the whole world seems to be going through a dark night of the soul.”

10. “I write to discover what I know.”

11. “You will have found Christ when you are concerned with other people’s sufferings and not your own.”

12. “Conviction without experience makes for harshness.”

13. “I think there is no suffering greater than what is caused by the doubts of those who want to believe.”

14. “People without hope—they lack courage.”

15. “Anyone who survives a Southern childhood has enough material to last a lifetime.”

Famous Flannery O’Connor Quotes

16. “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you odd.”

17. “The straightforward manner is seldom equal to the complications of the good subject. There may never be anything new to say, but there is always a new way to say it, and since, in art, the way of saying a thing becomes a part of what is said, every work of art is unique and requires fresh attention.”

18. “The serious writer has always taken the flaw in human nature for his starting point, usually the flaw in an otherwise admirable character.”

19. “When a reader reads a novel, he wants either his sense tormented or his spirits raised. He wants to be transported, instantly, either to mock damnation or a mock innocence.”

20. “The Southerner is usually tolerant of those weaknesses that proceed from innocence.”

21. “Faith is what someone knows to be true, whether they believe it or not.”

22. “Today, novels are considered to be entirely concerned with the social or economic or psychological forces that they will by necessity exhibit, or with those details of daily life that are for the good novelist only means to some deeper end.”

23. “A God you understood would be less than yourself.”

24. “Total non-retention has kept my education from being a burden to me.”

25. “The novelist is required to create the illusion of a whole world with believable people in it, and the chief difference between the novelist who is an orthodox Christian and the novelist who is merely a naturalist is that the Christian novelist lives in a larger universe.”

26. “She looked at nice young men as if she could smell their stupidity.”

27. “What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket when of course it is the cross.”

28. “I don’t deserve any credit for turning the other cheek as my tongue is always in it.”

29.“The modern hero is the outsider. His experience is rootless. He can go anywhere.”

30. “Art never responds to the wish to make it democratic; it is not for everybody; it is only for those who are willing to undergo the effort needed to understand it.”

Inspirational Flannery O’Connor Quotes

31. “Push back against the age as hard as it pushes against you.”

32. “There is something in us, as storytellers and as listeners to stories, that demands the redemptive act, that demands that what falls at least be offered the chance to be restored.”

33. “I can, with one eye squinted, take it all as a blessing.”

34. “To know oneself is, above all, to know what one lacks. It is to measure oneself against Truth, and not the other way around. The first product of self-knowledge is humility.”

35. “A working knowledge of the devil can be very well had from resisting him.”

36. “It is the business of the artist to uncover the strangeness of truth.”

37. “Faith comes and goes. It rises and falls like the tides of an invisible ocean. If it is presumptuous to think that faith will stay with you forever, it is just as presumptuous to think that unbelief will.”

38. “If we forget our past, we won’t remember our future and it will be as well because we won’t have one.”

39. “We are not judged by what we are basically. We are judged by how hard we use what we have been given. Success means nothing to the Lord.”

40. “Those who have no absolute values cannot let the relative remain merely relative, they are always raising it to the level of the absolute.”

41. “I use the grotesque the way I do because people are deaf and dumb and need help to see and hear.”

42. “Accepting oneself does not preclude an attempt to become better.”

43. “If you don’t hunt it down and kill it, it will hunt you down and kill you.”

44. “It seems to be a fact that you have to suffer as much from the Church as for it but if you believe in the divinity of Christ, you have to cherish the world at the same time that you struggle to endure it.”

45. “Where you come from is gone, where you thought you were going to never was there, and where you are is no good unless you can get away from it. Where is there a place for you to be? No place.”

Flannery O’Connor Quotes on Writing

46. “Whenever I’m asked why Southern writers particularly have a penchant for writing about freaks, I say it is because we are still able to recognize one.”

47. “Remember that you don’t write a story because you have an idea but because you have a believable character.”

48. “Writing is like giving birth to a piano sideways. Anyone who perseveres is either talented or nuts.”

49. “You tell a story because a statement would be inadequate. When anybody asks what a story is about, the only proper thing is to tell them to read the story. The meaning of fiction is not abstract meaning but experienced meaning.”

50. “Every morning between 9 and 12 I go to my room and sit before a piece of paper. Many times, I just sit for three hours with no ideas coming to me. But I know one thing. If an idea does come between 9 and 12 I am there ready for it.”

51. “In most good stories, it is the character’s personality that creates the action of the story. If you start with real personality, a real character, then something is bound to happen.”

52. “The writer operates at a peculiar crossroads where time and place and eternity somehow meet. His problem is to find that location.”

53. “Writing a novel is a terrible experience, during which the hair often falls out and the teeth decay.”

54. “Manners are of such great consequence to the novelist that any kind will do. Bad manners are better than no manners at all, and because we are losing our customary manners, we are probably overly conscious of them; this seems to be a condition that produces writers.”

55. “I am not afraid that the book will be controversial, I’m afraid it will not be controversial.”

56. “There are two qualities that make fiction. One is the sense of mystery and the other is the sense of manners. You get the manners from the texture of existence that surrounds you. The great advantage of being a Southern writer is that we don’t have to go anywhere to look for manners; bad or good, we’ve got them in abundance. We in the South, live in a society that is rich in contradiction, rich in irony, rich in contrast, and particularly rich in its speech.”

57. “If you can’t make something out of a little experience, you probably won’t be able to make it out of a lot. The writer’s business is to contemplate experience, not to be merged in it.”

58. “I have found, in short, from reading my own writing, that my subject in fiction is the action of grace in territory largely held by the devil. I have also found that what I write is read by an audience which puts little stock either in grace or the devil. You discover your audience at the same time and in the same way that you discover your subject, but it is an added blow.”

59. “I suppose half of writing is overcoming the revulsion you feel when you sit down to it.”

60. “I am a writer because writing is the thing I do best.”

Flannery O’Connor Quotes About God and Spiritual Matters

61. “Satisfy your demand for reason but always remember that charity is beyond reason, and God can be known through charity.”

62. “For me it is the virgin birth, the Incarnation, the resurrection which are the true laws of the flesh and the physical. Death, decay, destruction are the suspension of these laws. I am always astonished at the emphasis the Church puts on the body. It is not the soul she says that will rise but the body, glorified.”

63. “Most of us come to the church by a means the church does not allow.”

64. “Once the process of conversion is begun and continues, you are continually turning inward toward God and away from your own egocentricity—you have to see this selfish side of yourself in order to turn away from it. I measure God by everything I am not. I begin with that.”

65. “There are some of us who have to pay for our faith every step of the way and who have to work out dramatically what it would be like without it and if being without it would be ultimately possible or not.”’

66. “The only thing that makes the Church endurable is that it is somehow the body of Christ and that on this we are fed.”

67. “The mind serves best when it’s anchored in the Word of God. There is no danger then of becoming an intellectual without integrity.”

68. “Even in the life of a Christian, faith rises and falls like the tides of an invisible sea. It’s there, even when he can’t see it or feel it if he wants it to be there. You realize, I think, that it is more valuable, more mysterious, altogether more immense than anything you can learn or decide upon It will keep you free—not free to do anything you please, but free to be formed by something larger than your own intellect or the intellects around you.”

Philosophical Flannery O’Connor Quotes on Life

69. “One of the effects of modern liberal Protestantism has been gradually to turn religion into poetry and therapy, to make truth vaguer and vaguer and more and more relative, to banish intellectual distinctions, to depend on feeling instead of thought, and gradually to come to believe that God has no power, that he cannot communicate with us, cannot reveal himself to us, indeed has not done so, and that religion is our own sweet invention.”

70. “I love a lot of people, understand none of them.”

71. “Most of us have learned to be dispassionate about evil, to look it in the face and find, as often as not, our own grinning reflections with which we do not argue, but good is another matter.”

72. “It is hard to make your adversaries real people unless you recognize yourself in them—in which case if you don’t watch out, they cease to be adversaries.”

73. “You can’t clobber any reader while he’s looking. You divert his attention, then you clobber him and he never knows what hit him.”

74. “I am no disbeliever in spiritual purpose and no vague believer. I see from the standpoint of Christian orthodoxy. This means that for me the meaning of life is centered in our Redemption by Christ and what I see in the world I see in relation to that.”

75. “Go warn the children of God of the terrible speed of mercy.”

76. “When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax and use more normal means of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock—to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost blind, you draw large and startling figures.”

77. “A higher paradox confounds emotion as well as reason and there are long periods in the lives of all of us, and of the saints when the truth as revealed by faith is hideous, emotionally disturbing, downright repulsive.”

78. “In a sense, sickness is a place, more instructive than a long trip to Europe, and it’s always a place where there’s no company, where nobody can follow. Sickness before death is a very appropriate thing and I think those who don’t have it miss one of God’s mercies.”

79. “The high school English teacher will be fulfilling his responsibility if he furnishes the student a guided opportunity, through the best writing of the past, to come, in time, to an understanding of the best writing of the present. He will teach literature, not social studies or little lessons in democracy or the customs of many lands. And if the student finds that this is not to his taste? Well, that is regrettable. Most regrettable. His taste should not be consulted, it is being formed.”

80. “Only if we are secure in our beliefs can we see the comical side of the universe.”

Interesting Flannery O’Connor Quotes That Will Make You Think

81. “Nothing is like it used to be, lady. The world is almost rotten.”

82. “When in Rome, do as you done in Milledgeville.”

83. “The basis of art is truth, both in matter and mode.”

84. “The reality of death has come upon us and a consciousness of the power of God has broken our complacency like a bullet in the side. A sense of the dramatic, of the tragic, of the infinite, has descended upon us, filling us with grief, but even above grief, wonder. Our plans were so beautifully laid out, ready to be carried to action, but with magnificent certainty, God laid them aside and said, ‘You have forgotten—mine?'”

85. “To expect too much is to have a sentimental view of life and this is a softness that ends in bitterness.”

86. “The scientist has the habit of science; the artist, the habit of art.”

87. “She could never be a saint, but she thought she could be a martyr.”

88. “Few have stared at that long enough to accept that its face to is grotesque, that in us the good is something under construction. The modes of evil usually receive worthy expression. The modes of good have to be satisfied with a cliche or a smoothing down that will soften their real look.”

89. “I am tired of reading reviews that call ‘A Good Man’ brutal and sarcastic. The stories are hard but they are hard because there is nothing harder or less sentimental than Christian realism—when I see these stories described as horror stories I am always amused because the reviewer always has hold of the wrong horror.”

90. “The way to despair is to refuse to have any kind of experience, and the novel, of course, is a way to have experience.”

91. “On the subject of the feminist business, I just never think of qualities which are specifically feminine or masculine. I suppose I divide people into two classes—the Irksome and the non-Irksome without regard to sex. Yes, and there are the medium Irksome and the rare Irksome.”

92. “The old woman was the kind who would not cut down a large old tree because it was a large old tree.”

93. “Your criticism sounds to me as if you have read too many critical books and are too smart in an artificial, destructive, and very limited way.”

94. “He loved her because it was his nature to do so, but there were times when he could not endure her love for him. There were times when it became nothing but pure idiot mystery.”

95. “If you live today, you breathe in nihilism—it’s the gas you breathe. If I hadn’t had the Church to fight it with or to tell me the necessity of fighting it, I would be the stinkiest logical positivist you ever saw right now.”

Passionate Flannery O’Connor Quotes

96. “I come from a family where the only emotion respectable to show is irritation. In some this tendency produces hives, in others literature, in me both.”

97. “All my stories are about the action of grace on a character who is not very willing to support it, but most people think of these stories as hard, hopeless and brutal.”

98. “If there was any Fall, look there, if there was any Redemption, look there, and if you expect any Judgment, look there, because they all three will have to be in your time and your body and where in your time and your body can they be?”

99. “The Catholic novelist in the South will see many distorted images of Christ, but he will certainly feel that a distorted image of Christ is better than no image at all.”

100. “There are all kinds of truth, but behind all of them there is only one truth and that is that there’s no truth.”

101. “Your beliefs will be the light by which you see, but they will not be what you see and they will not be a substitute for seeing.”

102. “Children know by instinct that hell is an absence of love, and they can pick out theirs without missing.”

103. “She had observed that the more education they got, the less they could do. Their father had gone to a one-room schoolhouse through the eighth grade and he could do anything.”

104. “A faith that just accepts is a child’s faith and all right for children, but eventually you have to grow religiously as every other way, though some never do.”

105. “There is no excuse for anyone to write fiction for public consumption unless he has been called to do so by the presence of a gift. It is the nature of fiction not to be good for much unless it is good in itself.”

106. “Later, he saw Jesus move from tree to tree in the back of his mind, a wild ragged figure motioning him to turn around and come off into the dark where he might be walking on the water and not know it and then suddenly know it and drown.”

107. “Our age not only does not have a very sharp eye for the almost imperceptible intrusions of grace, it no longer has much feeling for the nature of the violences which precede and follow them.”

108. “The operation of the Church is entirely set up for the sinner; which creates much misunderstanding among the smug.”

109. “When there is a tendency to compartmentalize the spiritual and make it resident in a certain type of life only, the spiritual is apt gradually to be lost.”

110. “The life you save may very well be your own.”

Flannery O’Connor Quotes to Broaden Your Imagination

111. “Even a child with normal feet was in love with the world after he had got a new pair of shoes.”

112. “Not writing is a good deal worse than writing.”

113. “The meaning of the story is the story.”

114. “Free will does not mean one will, but many wills conflicting in one man. Freedom cannot be conceived simply.”

115. “Art transcends its limitations only by staying within them.”

116. “I find that most people know what a story is until they sit down to write one.”

117. “He had the feeling that everything he saw was a broken-off piece of some giant blank thing that he had forgotten had happened to him.”

118. “I don’t think literature would be possible in a determined world. We might go through the motions but the heart would be out of it. Nobody could then ‘smile darkly and ignore the howls.’”

119. “There was already a deep black wordless conviction in him that the way to avoid Jesus was to avoid sin.”

120. “So many people can now write competent stories that the short story is in danger of dying of competence.”

121. “You don’t serve God by saying, ‘The Church is ineffective.’ I’ll have none of it. Your pain at its lack of effectiveness is a sign of your nearness to God. We help overcome this lack of effectiveness simply by suffering on account of it.”

122. “A gift of any kind is a considerable responsibility. It is a mystery in itself, something gratuitous and wholly undeserved, something whose real uses will probably always be hidden from us.”

123. “I am very handy with my advice and then when anybody appears to be following it, I get frantic.”

124. “Dogma is the guardian of mystery. The doctrines are spiritually significant in ways that we cannot fathom.”

125. “Ours is the first age in history which has asked the child what he would tolerate learning.”

Flannery O’Connor Quotes on Her Perceptions

126. “The basic experience of everyone is the experience of human limitation.”

127. “You have to quit confusing a madness with a mission.”

128. “It is a sign of maturity to find explanations in charity.”

129. “There is a question whether faith can or is supposed to be emotionally satisfying. I must say that the thought of everyone lolling about in an emotionally satisfying faith is repugnant to me. I believe that we are ultimately directed Godward but that this journey is often impeded by emotion.”

130. “Policy and politics generally go contrary to principle.”

131. “We are now living in an age which doubts both fact and value. It is the life of this age that we wish to see and judge.”

132. “It’s always wrong of course to say that you can’t do this or you can’t do that in fiction. You can do anything you can get away with, but nobody has ever gotten away with much.”

133. “You ought to be able to discover something from your stories. If you don’t, probably nobody else will.”

134. “Inadaptability is often a virtue.”

135. “Writing is a good example of self-abandonment. I never completely forget myself except when I am writing and I am never more completely myself than when I am writing.”

136. “I distrust pious phrases, especially when they issue from my mouth. I try militantly never to be affected by the pious language of the faithful, but it is always coming out when you least expect it. In contrast to the pious language of the faithful, the liturgy is beautifully flat.”

137. “It began to drizzle rain and he turned on the windshield wipers; they made a great clatter like two idiots clapping in church.”

138. “It’s easier to bleed than sweat, Mr. Motes.”

139. “I don’t have to run from anything because I don’t believe in anything.”

140. “I think it is safe to say that while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted.”

Wise Flannery O’Connor Quotes

141. “I’m always irritated by people who imply that writing fiction is an escape from reality. It is a plunge into reality and it’s very shocking to the system.”

142. “It is better to be young in your failures than old in your successes.”

143. “Every person that comes into this earth is born sweet and full of love. A little child loves everybody, friends, and its nature is sweetness—until something happens. Something happens, friends, I don’t need to tell people like you that can think for themselves.”

144. “It was not right to believe anything you couldn’t see or hold in your hands or test with your teeth.”

145. “You can tell people better how terrible sin is if you know from your own personal experience.”

146. “Your letter gave me the sense that you couldn’t work for watching yourself work. I may be wrong but if that happens it is time to leave Walden Pond and seek out society.”

147. “The artist uses his reason to discover an answering reason in everything he sees.”

148. “Give me the courage to stand the pain to get the grace.”

149. “Her name was Maude and she drank whisky all day from a fruit jar under the counter.”

150. “Success means being heard and don’t stand there and tell me that you are indifferent to being heard. You may write for the joy of it, but the act of writing is not complete in itself. It has to end in its audience.”

Flannery O’Connor Quotes to Ponder On

151. “Living had got to be such a habit with him that he couldn’t conceive of any other condition.”

152. “She would of been a good woman if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.”

153. “We might all be destroyed by a hurricane. I can always find something to be thankful for.”

154. “If you know who you are, you can go anywhere.”

155. “The body, lady, is like a house: it don’t go anywhere; but the spirit, lady, is like an automobile—always on the move.”

156. “Doctors always think anybody doing something they aren’t is a quack; also they think all patients are idiots.”

157. “It isn’t a soul in this green world of God’s that you can trust,”

158. “The Church’s stand on birth control is the most absolutely spiritual of all her stands and with all of us being materialists at heart, there is little wonder that it causes unease.”

159. “I am a Catholic not like someone else would be a Baptist or a Methodist, but like someone else would be an atheist.”

160. “When a book leaves your hands, it belongs to God. He may use it to save a few souls or to try a few others, but I think that for the writer to worry is to take over God’s business.”

161. “Either practice restraint or be prepared for crowding.”

162. “The trees were full of silver-white sunlight and the meanest of them sparkled.”

163. “Nobody with a good car needs to be justified.”

164. “Good and evil appear to be joined in every culture at the spine.”

165. “I am much younger now than I was at 12 or anyway, less burdened.”

Other Flannery O’Connor Quotes

166. “It is popular to believe that in order to see clearly one must believe nothing. This may work well enough if you are observing cells under a microscope. It will not work if you are writing fiction. For the fiction writer, to believe nothing is to see nothing.”

167. “Well, if it’s a symbol, to hell with it.”

168. “The only way to the truth is through blasphemy.”

169. “I have almost no capacity for worship. What I have is the knowledge that it is my duty to worship and worship only what I believe to be true.”

170. “Christianity is a strangely cheery religion.”

171. “It is a good deal easier for most people to state an abstract idea than to describe and thus re-create some object they actually see.”

172. “You get a real person down there and his talking will take care of itself.”

173. “I feel that whatever virtues the novel may have are very much connected with the limitations you mention. I am not writing a conventional novel, and I think that the quality of the novel I write will derive precisely from the peculiarity or aloneness, if you will, of the experience I write from.”

174. “The less self-conscious you are about what you are about, the better in a way, that is to say technically. You have to get it in your blood, not in the head.”

175. “I have also led you astray by talking of technique as if it were something that could be separated from the rest of the story. Technique can’t operate at all, of course, except on believable material.”

176. “The fiction writer has to engage in a continual examination of conscience. He has to be aware of the freak in himself.”

177. “When using dialect, use it lightly. A dialect word here and there is enough. All you want to do is suggest. Never let it call attention to itself.”

178. “If you do the same thing every day at the same time for the same length of time, you’ll save yourself from many a sink. Routine is a condition of survival.”

179. “As for the blood and the head business, the blood and the head work together and what is not first in the blood can sometimes reach it by going first through the head and what is wrong in the blood can sometimes be tempered by the head.”

180. “It is always difficult to get across to people who are not professional writers that a talent to write does not mean a talent to write anything at all.”

What Are Your Takeaways From This Collection?

Flannery O’Connor was a famous novelist but was best known for her short story collection. She wrote in a humorous Southern Gothic style.

Although she didn’t consider herself to be cynical, the majority of her works contain disturbing elements. Despite this, she attempted to portray her characters as people who were open to divine intervention.

But, her writings also have many eye-opening life lessons to which we can all relate. By emphasizing the realities of life and society, she touched readers’ hearts and minds worldwide.

Which of her quotes had the most impact on you? Do you have other quotes you’d like to add to the list? Please, leave a comment below.

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Karen Danao

Hi, I’m Karen, a content curator and writer for Quote Ambition; I’m also a marketing and advertising professional. Beyond the keyboard and the screen, I’m someone who’s out to enjoy every bit that life has to offer!

Poetry, philosophy, history, and movies are all topics I love writing about! However, my true passion is in traveling, photography, and finding common ground to which everyone from different cultures can relate.

With the many places I’ve been to, I found that love, inspiration, and happiness are some things that bring people together. No matter how different we are on the outside, I’m a true believer that our emotions don’t lie; if you dig deep into our psyche, we’re all the same inside.

This belief was further amplified when I joined Quote Ambition. Through the quotes I’ve read, collected, organized, and written about, I found that humans are resilient, creative, and compassionate.

We take from each others’ hearts and courage, and it’s through our individual experiences that we learn how to rise above our challenges and pain. In so many ways, Quote Ambition is a platform that allows people from all over the world to gain the inspiration they need anytime, anywhere!

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