Revelation (short story)
|This article does not cite any references or sources. (February 2012)|
|Published in||Everything That Rises Must Converge|
|Publication type||single author anthology|
"Revelation" is a short story by Flannery O'Connor. It was 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.
"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."—Flannery O'Connor 
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Ruby Turpin is a large Southern woman who is, like so many of Flannery O'Connor's characters, stuck in a one narrow way of perceiving the world, a way that holds her own values -- order, propriety, and work -- superior to others. She feels her actions and decisions make her superior to black people and those she calls "white trash." The story opens as she and her husband Claud enter a doctor's crowded waiting room, and she tells Claud to sit in the last vacant chair, to rest his bruised leg, and that she will stand. She notices a dirty toddler with a runny nose lying across two seats and is quietly affronted that the child's dirty, uncouth mother doesn't make him move over for Mrs Turpin to sit.
Mrs. Turpin strikes up a conversation with a "pleasant" woman who is apparently there with her college age daughter named Mary Grace. The daughter is studying a book with the title "Human Development," and only looks up from her reading to glare hatefully at Mrs Turpin.
She and the pleasant woman chat about the importance of being hard working, clean, and having a good disposition. They also talk about being grateful and how it is important to be thankful for the good things you have been given in life. The entire time they are conversing, the white trash woman repeatedly interjects comments that show her ignorance.
As the pleasant lady and Mrs Turpin chat, Mary Grace seems to grow angrier. When Mrs Turpin asks the girl a question intending to include her in the conversation, the girl only scowls and ignores her. At this point, the pleasant lady begins to speak about Mary Grace in the 3rd person: "I know a girl ... whose parents would give her anything..." and obviously frustrated, says that "this girl" should be grateful for all she has in life. Claud then suggests that "this girl" ought to be paddled.
Outraged, Mary Grace hurls the book, "Human Development", at Mrs. Turpin, lunges across a table full of magazines, and clutches Mrs Turpin's throat. The book strikes Mrs. Turpin above her eye. The girl is subdued and given a sedative by the doctor and nurse who call an ambulance.
Mrs Turpin now has a visceral feeling that Mary Grace has a message of truth for her. Before Mary Grace succumbs to the sedative, Mrs Turpin feels the need to confront her: "What you got to say to me?" she asks Mary Grace. She sees some kind of revelatory light in Mary Grace's blue eyes. "Go back to hell where you came from, you old wart hog," whispers Mary Grace as the sedative takes effect and she is taken away.
Mrs. Turpin finds this comment very unsettling, and she wonders if it may have been a message from God, who may be trying to intervene in her life. Hating the notion, and still upset, she returns home. There she brings water to her black farm workers and shares what happened to her in town. They flatter her, telling her that she is too kind and pretty to experience such terrible behavior -- but she sees the sham of it.
While hosing down her own hogs in their sty (which she calls a "pig parlor"), and obsessing on what she is terrified may be an intrinsically true message from God, Mrs. Turpin rages. She scolds God, demanding to know how she could possibly be herself (the upstanding, polite, good Christian she sees herself as) and a "warthog" at the same time. As the sun sinks low in front of her at the pig sty, she angrily echoes Job's question to God: "Who do you think you are?"
At that point the rays of the setting sun become a kind of lavender road from the earth to the sky. She then has a vision of redeemed souls winding their way to Heaven as if on a highway of crimson light "through a field of fire". What is telling about her vision is that she, Claud, and "proper" white Christians are at the back of the throng. In front of them, arriving in heaven first, are all the people Mrs Turpin considers inferior and unworthy of either her or God's love. At the rear of this great parade into heaven she sees the faces of herself, Claud, and her proper Christian friends as they appear "shocked and altered" as "even their virtues were being burned away." This seems to be her revelation: that even what she considers to be basic human virtues are incomparable and expendable to God's all-loving embrace. There, the vision ends and she stands stunned holding onto the walls of the pig sty for a moment, then walks back to the house slowly as the sun sets behind the tree line.
- Mrs. Ruby Turpin
- Pleasant Woman
- Mary Grace's
- Red-headed woman (Miss Finley)
- Old sleeping man
- White Trash Woman
- Old Woman
- Young Sleeping Child
- Negro Boy
- Collected Works, The Library of America: New York, 1988, p. 1067