A Temple of the Holy Ghost

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"A Temple of the Holy Ghost"
AuthorFlannery O'Connor
CountryUnited States
Genre(s)Southern Gothic
Published inA Good Man Is Hard to Find
Publication typeSingle author anthology
Publication date1954

"A Temple of the Holy Ghost" is a short story by Flannery O'Connor. It was written in 1954 and published in 1955 in her short story collection A Good Man Is Hard to Find and is one of O'Connor's only explicitly Catholic stories. A devout Roman Catholic, O'Connor often used religious themes in her work, but more commonly described rural Southern Protestants as her main characters.

Plot summary[edit]

The story is told from the perspective of a 12-year-old girl and involves a visit from a pair of her 14-year-old cousins, Roman Catholic convent school girls who are mostly interested in clothes and boys. The cousins were recently lectured by the nuns about preserving their bodies as "temples of the holy ghost," a reference to the Bible passage from 1 Corinthians 6:19-20. The young girl's mother arranges for a pair of neighborhood boys who are training to be preachers to accompany the girl's two cousins to a fair but does not allow the 12 year old to join them. While picking up the girls, the boys are mildly ridiculed by them for their simple, fundamentalist religious views. At the fair, the girls see a hermaphrodite displayed as a freak, which they later describe to their younger cousin, saying that the hermaphrodite "lifted his skirt to show what was underneath." The hermaphrodite explained that this was how God made him or her. However, the younger cousin is innocent enough to misunderstand their explanation and comes to the conclusion that the body is in fact a temple of the holy ghost, whereas the grown-ups in the story and the readers do not see the incident through the child's eyes; the grown-ups are shocked to hear that the fair has closed due to illicit behaviour and display that they think the cousins most likely did not see anything. The end of the story may deal with the acceptance of God's will as in the case of the hermaphrodite.[1]


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