Greenleaf (short story)

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Author Flannery O'Connor
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Southern Gothic
Published in Everything That Rises Must Converge
Publication type Single author anthology
Publication date 1956

"Greenleaf" is a short story by Flannery O'Connor. It was written in 1956 and published in 1965 in her short story collection Everything That Rises Must Converge. O'Connor finished the collection during her final battle with lupus. She died in 1964, just before her final book was published. A devout Roman Catholic, O'Connor often used religious themes in her work.

Plot summary[edit]

Mrs. May owns a farm on which she hires Mr. Greenleaf to work because her sons are not interested in farm work. To her dismay, both live at home and are unmarried. One sells insurance to African Americans while the other is a scholar and teacher at a university. Both Mrs. May and Mr. Greenleaf's wife, Mrs. Greenleaf, consider themselves Christians. Mrs. May, however, has a somewhat smug morality based upon outward success, while Mrs. Greenleaf secretly practices faith healing and recognizes herself as a sinner. When no one is nearby, Mrs. Greenleaf prays aloud that Jesus "stab her in the heart," implying that he must change her sinful heart. The Greenleafs' twin sons are decorated World War II veterans who both own farms. Considered successful, they are married to French women whom they met during the war, and they each have three children.

When a bull belonging to Mr. Greenleaf's boys escapes onto Mrs. May's property, she orders Mr. Greenleaf to shoot it. She drives Mr. Greenleaf to a pasture to shoot the bull, and while Mr. Greenleaf is chasing it, the bull escapes into the woods. After becoming impatient, Mrs. May honks the car horn, and the bull runs out of the woods, goring her in the heart just as Mr. Greenleaf reappears.

Some writers suggest that the bull symbolizes Christ.[1]


  1. ^ Whitt, Margaret Earley. Understanding Flannery O'Connor, Univ of South Carolina Press, 1997.