This disturbing story is told from the view point of Sheppard, widowed for more than a year, and left to raise his ten year old son, Norton. Both are struggling to cope with the grief of this loss, but Sheppard seems incapable of recognizing and responding to his son’s feelings and believes they should both occupy themselves by doing good deeds for others. Sheppard is a volunteer counselor at the local reformatory and prides himself on "helping boys no one else cared about."

He is impatient and insensitive toward his own son, however, and instead has become fixated on one of the reformatory boys, Rufus, an impoverished, fatherless teenager whose mother is in prison. Rufus was born with a club foot and has been brought up roughly by a fanatically religious grandfather. Convinced that Rufus can be salvaged because he has a high I.Q., Sheppard makes Rufus his pet project, devoting to him all of his attention and energy, in spite of the fact that Rufus wants no part of it. Indeed, the boy is a defiant conniver who fends for himself by stealing. He has worked out a complex ethic in which he is convinced that he is under "Satan’s" power to do evil but "the lame shall enter [heaven] first" and all sins will ultimately be forgiven. Sheppard’s do-gooder social atheism infuriates Rufus.

A telescope becomes the vehicle for the tragic culmination of Sheppard’s self-deception, Rufus’s vindictive scorn, and Norton’s severe depression. Rejecting the gift of this telescope which Sheppard bought for Rufus so that he could "see the universe" and be "enlightened," Rufus persuades the impressionable Norton that he will find his mother in the heavens with the scope and could join her there were he to die young. Too late, Sheppard realizes how misdirected his love and concern have been: Norton has hanged himself.


What insights does this story have to offer medicine? Like some patients, none of the characters are really likable, yet attention must be paid, and one hopes for improvement. The temptation to, like Sheppard, intervene to "save" a sick soul or body may be difficult for a doctor to resist, or is it incumbent on the physician to try to get underneath the patient’s skin and accept a variant ethic, religious belief, culture, or life plan?

An inability to acknowledge or understand the grieving process left Sheppard blind to his own motives and to the needs of his child, with tragic consequences. Is there a danger that physicians may focus on professional obligations at the expense of personal obligations and needs? Or that they may use the pressure of their responsibilities as an excuse for avoiding the difficult compromises that are necessary to nurture mature personal relationships?

Robert H. Brinkmeyer’s critical work, The Art and Vision of Flannery O’Connor (Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge, 1989) analyzes the author’s narrative stance in light of her religious beliefs. He discusses The Lame Shall Enter First, and compares it with Everything That Rises Must Converge (annotated in this database) on pages 91-98.

Primary Source

Everything that Rises Must Converge


Farrar, Straus, & Giroux

Place Published

New York



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