In Flannery O’Conner’s A View of the Woods, the themes of identity and dominance are presented through inner family conflicts. The story starts with an old man and a young girl, that you later learn is his granddaughter, sitting on a truck watching as a machine tears apart land. The girl, Mary Fortune, is only nine, while her grandfather is 79.
The old man, Mr. Fortune, owns some land, which he let his daughter and husband use to farm on it. The daughter and husband, or the Pitt’s, work on the land, but Mr. Fortune owns it. He shows that he owns it by selling off the land plot by plot to outsiders, which was a problem for the Pitts, because they wanted to buy it for themselves.
But before the concept of dominance is too thoroughly introduced to the reader, O’Conner brings up identity. Mr. Fortunate makes it clear that he only truly likes Mary Fortune, and blatantly disregards the other grandchildren. “No one was particularly glad that Mar Fortune looked like her grandfather except the old man himself He though it added greatly to her attractiveness. He thought she was the smartest and the prettiest child he had ever seen and he let the rest of them know that if, IF that was, he left anything to anybody, it would be Mary Fortune he left it to.” (Page 336.)
This quote, presented pretty early on in the story, exemplifies the true selfishness of Mr. Fortune. He likes Mary because she looks like him. It’s that simple. As later explained in the story, he also likes to think that she is more like him mentally, also, and that reinforces his feelings towards her in the story.
Even at nine, Mary Fortune has expressed her displeasure for the bulldozing going on on her father’s land. She complains about not being able to see the view of the woods, which is a crack at the title, when Mr. Fortune tells her to just get over it. “He can graze them somewhere else!” He had shouted at her as she explained that’s where her father grazes his cattle.
Mr. Fortune starts to realize he’s not much like his granddaughter at all once she runs away from him at Tilman’s. Mr. Fortune tells Mary that he’s going to beat her, and she explains that she has ever been beaten in her entire life, and if anybody ever tried to she would kill them.
“‘Are you a Fortune,’ he said, ‘or are you a Pitts? Make up your mind.’ Her voice was loud and positive and belligerent. ‘I’m Mary-Fortune-Pitts,’ she said. ‘Well I,’ he shouted, ‘am PURE Fortune!’” (Page 351.)
Here we experience that issues with identity that Mr. Fortune clearly has. He expects his daughter to be just like him when she is not. Of course, identity to a nine year old is a difficult concept, she doesn’t understand. But to Mr. Fortune, he thinks that they are the same.
As the story goes on, Mr. Fortune and Mary make their way back to the farm land. He decides that the only way he will get Mary’s respect is by whipping her, because that’s what Mr. Pitts must do. So he tells her he’s going to do just that. This is where his dominance is really shown and tested.
Much like she explained, she tried to kill him. Mr. Fortune fought back, but was a bit more slow than the nine year old. “The old man looked up into his own image. It was triumphant and hostile. ‘You been whipped,’ it said, ‘by me,’ and then it added, bearing down on each word, ‘and I’m PURE Pitts.’” (Page 355.) This threatens any sense of dominance that Mr. Fortune had.
Now that his ego’s been threatened, Mr. Fortune takes Mary and beats her head against a rock until she is motionless. Realizing what he has done, his heart “expanded once more with a convulsive motion (page 356),” which leads the reader to believe that he’s having a heart attack.
Mr. Fortune tried to find someone around who could help him. “He looked around desperately for someone to help him but the place was deserted except for one huge yellow monster which sat to the side, as stationary as he was, gorging itself on clay.” (Page 356.)
The ultimate form of irony is when he needed help, the las thing he saw was what he had used to show is control over the Pitts’.