Dr. Bruce Gentry
26 March 2013
Asbury Fox Victimized by Mother in “The Enduring Chill”
In “The Enduring Chill”, by Flannery O’Connor, the exact cause of Asbury Fox’s illness is a mystery, until the conclusion of the story when we discover that he is suffering from undulant fever. Some critics have made out the mother to be a caring and supportive parent incapable of any wrongdoings, which is a side easy to agree with on the surface. Upon a deeper analysis of the story, though, a large amount of evidence appears to support the mother being the source of Asbury’s loss of creativity and success as an artist.
Asbury is a modern day Prodigal Son; yet he is not welcomed with the same unconditional acceptance as the biblical figure. Instead he is greeted by a flawed mother, who is in many ways much more human than the enormously forgiving father of the parable son. He returns home from the city where he is “alone in his freezing flat…” and where he experiences
“a violent sweat” that “removed all doubt from his mind about his true condition (548).” It quickly becomes apparent that Asbury and his mother have a dysfunctional relationship. When she wants him to take off his coat Asbury replies harshly stating “You don’t have to tell me what the temperature is!” (547). While initially it may seem like Asbury is impolite to his innocent
mother, as the story progresses the reader is increasingly able to sympathize with him. The reasoning for Asbury’s return to home to Timberboro from New York and the cause of his illness are unclear, though a finger can be pointed at his mother, who he has tried to escape. Instead he realizes he is financially unable to live on his own. This is most likely because his mother did not prepare him to deal properly with such hardships. Finally, Asbury develops undulant fever after purposefully drinking raw cow’s milk to displease his mother. Keeping this evidence in mind, one can see how Asbury’s mother is ultimately the reason for the failure of his career, emotional decline, and exaggeration of his curable illness.
Immediately we begin to question the reasoning for Asbury’s return home and why he
“had become entirely accustomed to the thought of death…” (548). It is obvious that Asbury is preoccupied with his own death and wants to ensure that his mother is aware of this. Upon
Asbury’s arrival at Timberboro, we learn from the narrator that Asbury was “pleased that she should see death in his face... (547).” This statement also implies that Asbury and Mrs. Fox have a bad history that has been left unresolved. At this point, we also notice the argumentative nature between Asbury and his mother, as he will not agree with anything she says. It is clear that there must be some reason for Asbury’s disapproval of his mother, who he thinks needs “to be introduced to reality” (547). Mrs. Fox’s blatant disregard for Asbury’s artistic passions greatly contributes to his mental instability. Because of this, he repeatedly makes it his goal to cause her suffering. He writes a letter to his mother in which he addresses his exact feelings regarding the loss of freedom he has experienced as a result of her austere upbringing. Janet Dunleavy labels
Mrs. Fox as one of the “smug, selfsatisfied representatives of the Old South” (196). What she desires of both Asbury and his sister Mary George is entirely unrealistic; they each have their
own passions and goals to pursue which she does not approve of.
Asbury uses his writing abilities as a mechanism to deal with “his mother’s false positivism…her emotional shield against her children’s cries of pain” (Beringer 555). Instead of addressing Asbury directly about his problems, she chooses to use this “false positivism” to avoid any confrontation. Following Asbury’s announcement that he will be staying long term, his mother replies enthusiastically, “…in the mornings you can write plays…