Revelation (short story)

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"Revelation"
Rhymes and jingles (1882) (14752648305).jpg
Pride as sin symbolized by the peacock.
AuthorFlannery O'Connor
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Genre(s)Southern Gothic
Published inThe Sewanee Review
PublisherThe University of the South
Publication dateSpring 1964

"Revelation" is a Southern Gothic short story by Flannery O'Connor about the effect of a revelation to a sinfully proud, self-righteous, middle-aged, middle class, rural, white Southern woman that her confidence in her own Christian salvation is an error. The protagonist receives divine grace by accepting God's judgment that she is unfit for salvation (like a baptized hog), by learning that the prospect for her eventual redemption improves after she receives a vision of Judgment Day, where she observes the souls of people she detests are the first to ascend to Heaven and those of people like herself who "always had a little of everything and the God-given wit to use it right" are last to ascend and experience purgation by fire on the way up.

The work was written during the last year of the author's life, a time she knew she was dying from her fourteen-year battle with lupus. O'Connor worked on revisions of "Revelation" while hospitalized, hiding drafts under her pillow.[1] She checked into the hospital and signed some letters to close friends as "Mrs. Turpin", the story's racist protagonist. Some scholars believe the author was demonstrating that the character's racism was a mirror or projection of her own character,[2][3] which, given her own story, casts a dark shadow on the potential for her own salvation. However, as Mrs. Turpin's experience at her pig parlor parallels the experience of Job in the Book of Job chapter 40, the story would seem to gain merit for the author, at least in her own eyes, as she fries the Mrs. Turpins of the world within and by the vision in her story by doing God's bidding in Job 40:10-14:

"Adorn yourself with majesty and dignity; clothe yourself with glory and splendor. Pour the overflowings of your anger, and look on everyone who is proud and abase him. Look on everyone who is proud and bring him low and tread down the wicked where they stand. Hide them all in the dust together; bind their faces in the world below. Then will I also acknowledge to you that your own right hand can save you."[4]

Publication history[edit]

"Revelation" was first published in the Spring 1964 issue of The Sewanee Review. The author was notified before her death in August 1964 that her work was selected for an O. Henry Award first prize for 1965.[5] It was her third O'Henry Award first prize.

Sally Fitzgerald, a long-time friend of the author and wife of Robert Fitzgerald, noted that "Revelation" was one of the stories she undertook in the last year of her life and that it "may be seen as summings-up of all she had been trying to do in her work."[6] Publisher Robert Giroux, who was working with the author on the short story collection Everything That Rises Must Converge during 1964, recalled that he knew he was "working with a dying writer" and that the drafting of "Revelation" was "kind of a horror story because she was so anxious to get the last story" into the collection.[7] The work was included in Everything That Rises Must Converge published after her death in 1965. The story was also included in her short story collection The Complete Stories that was published in 1971 and won the National Book Award for Fiction in 1972.

Characters[edit]

Flannery O'Connor said her craft involved realization of a "prophetic vision" where the "prophecy" is "a matter of seeing near things with their extensions of meaning and thus of seeing far things close up".[8] The story's characters are one of the "near things" and one of the "far things" brought up close is the religious theme of salvation for which the former includes O'Connor's trademark "scrupulous anthropological attention" to the characterization of and interactions between characters.[9] The characters in "Revelation" belong to the range of Southern racial and social classes of O'Connor's time. The critic, writer, and professor Hilton Als used "Revelation" to demonstrate the author's "most profound gift ... her ability to describe impartially the bourgeoisie she was born into, to depict with humor and without judgment her rapidly crumbling social order."[10]

The Turpins[edit]

The Turpins are a white, Southern married farming couple who own their land and home. They work their farm with the help of black workers, growing cotton and raising hogs and cattle. While not wealthy, Mrs. Ruby Turpin, the story's protagonist, is so satisfied with her life that she thanks Jesus for being blessed for all her possessions and not "making" her black or "white trash". The Turpins live alone, and it is not clear whether they ever had children.

Ruby Turpin[edit]

Ruby Turpin is a forty-seven years old woman with "massive shoulders" and considers herself overweight at 180 pounds and thinks her ideal weight is 125. She has small black eyes and smooth skin except for wrinkles around her eyes from laughing too much. She has an unquestionable faith in God, and believing that she has received God's grace prior to the start of "Revelation", she has unquestionable confidence that she had been elected for salvation and eternal life with God until her confidence is undermined in the story. Her Christian faith reflects the reformed Protestant doctrine of predestination in that everything, including her own existence, identity, results of her labor, and salvation, is in the state for which it is as the result of God's work and not the work of herself or any other human.

Matthew Day uses the character as an example of how O'Connor uses Southern manners to address fictional predicaments involving divine grace, a central theme of her works:

"For the White women who populate this fictional landscape the Southern code of manners reserves a kind of pre-articulate, vernacular model of feminine virtue that might be called 'gracious living.' ... Gracious living is a particular kind of moral sensibility, an ethos that is expressed by the "habits of choice" that her characters manifest in every domain of their lives. Manners are, in other words, the embodiment of the Southern woman’s moral life."

"Painted in broad strokes the story ['Revelation'] explores how Mrs. Turpin, a woman who embodies what I’ve been calling the Southern virtue of gracious living, is slowly unhinged after being told to 'Go back to hell where you come from, you old wart hog'. ...through her doggedly Christian narrative voice, O’Connor suggests again and again that the Southern ideal of a graceful woman is morally suspect, a tradition which ultimately depends on repugnant distinctions based on race and class."[11]

Ruby Turpin is morally suspect. In spite of wearing her "good black patent leather pumps"; and self-described good manners, "gratefulness" and "good disposition", she is far from complying with the commandment "Love thy neighbor as thyself" and displays nothing but distaste for the sick patients in the doctor's waiting room, except for her injured husband.

Claud Turpin[edit]

The injury of Claud, Mrs. Turpin's husband, from being kicked in the leg by a cow, is the reason for the couple's appearance at a doctor's waiting room, that serves as a place where characters of the story examine and judge each other. Claud' is "florid and bald and sturdy, somewhat shorter than Mrs. Turpin" and seems to be "accustomed to doing what she [Ruby] told him to do" and most of his actions in the story are directed by his wife. He never hears his wife being told "Go back to hell where you come from, you old wart hog" since he was writhing in pain from his injury being kicked by his wife's assailant, and Mrs. Turpin never tells him full details of the attack. In the doctor's waiting room he is mostly quiet except to crack an extremely wicked racist joke.

Black characters[edit]

Flannery O'Connor understood that what she called "the race problem" was more than the establishment of equal rights — that the relationships between black and white people would require pervasive changes in individual relationships: "The South has to evolve a way of life in which the two races can live together with mutual forbearance."[12] The use of "a-rootin and a gruntin and a groanin" to characterize human behavior in "Revelation" is used to identify threats to individual privacy and violations of the Southern code of manners aimed to protect it. O'Connor is famously said in a 1963 interview:

"It requires considerable grace for two races to live together, particularly when the population is divided about 50-50 between them and when they have our particular history. ... Formality preserves that individual privacy which everyone needs and, in these times, is always in danger of losing. It's particularly necessary to have in order to protect the rights of both races. When you have a code of manners based on charity, then when charity fails, as it is going to do constantly, you've got those manners there to preserve each race from small instrusions upon the other.[13]

The Turpins' black workers[edit]

The Turpins employ black workers to pick cotton, and she speaks to them about Mary Grace's attack as they prepare for Mr. Turpin to drive them a short distance to their homes. Mrs. Turpin's general views about her black workers are equivocal. To her, like for her own kind, some black people are more agreeable to her than others, and the narration suggests Mrs. Turpin considers some black people her friends. In particular, the toothless old black woman who wears an old worn hat of Claud's seems to be someone Ruby Turpin respects as the protagonist confides with her Mary Grace's attack and the details of Mary Grace's curse. However, in the waiting room, Mrs. Turpin also considers blacks as dehumanized economic objects as she complained to Mary Grace's mother that she can't get anyone, black nor white, to pick cotton anymore, and, in particular, she says black people won't pick cotton because "they got to be right up there with the white folks". The complaint reflects her racist view that blacks ought to be cotton-pickers and her resentment about the dissipation of white farmers' power to exploit black workers who, in the 1960s, have expanded opportunties to seek higher wages performing other labor.

Mrs. Turpin's implicit request for advise from her cotton-pickers yielded no useful insights and increased her frustration. For the exchange, Hilton Als observed that Mrs. Turpin was violating the understood code of manners: "O’Connor allows us to see what Mrs. Turpin’s pride hides from her: how the Blacks who work for her condescend to her, how they hide their intelligence so that she won’t be tempted to interfere in their lives."[14]

Plot[edit]

The plot of "Revelation" starts with an examination of the character, Mrs. Ruby Turpin, from the perspectives of her inner life and her behavior while conversing with adults representing a cross-section of white Southern classes in a doctor's small, congested, unadorned waiting room. A radio fills the room with gospel music. The Turpins are white, land-owning farmers who employ black workers and consider themselves faithful Christians. Mrs. Turpin announces that her husband, Claud, has an abscess on his leg from being kicked by a cow, and makes point that she is healthy though overweight. Gospel music triggers a demonstration of Mrs. Turpin's inner thoughts about her hierarchical beliefs based on race and personal wealth that has poor black and white "trash" at the very bottom, and her notion that most people, except herself, are in a box car heading to a gas oven. In pleasant small talk, the conversations among the adults in the waiting room includes racist rants about black people and a fantasy that black people want to inter-marry with white people to enhance their class status.

Mrs. Turpin harshly judges each person in the waiting room except for the mother of Mary Grace, whose household appears to be wealthier than the Turpin's. Mary Grace is a Wellesley College student. Her mother grimaces when she mentions Wellesley is in Massachusetts. Mrs. Turpin regards Mary Grace as pitifully ugly. Mary Grace is enraged that the small talk has disrupted her reading of a book entitled Human Development and displays her anger through facial expressions and glares from penetrating blue eyes directed at and received by Mrs. Turpin. Ruby Turpin does not immediately respond, though she feels Mary Grace has known her for eternity. Mary Grace's mother announces to the room that her daughter in "ungrateful" and Ruby Turpin responds that she is so grateful for everything she possesses that she could shout, "Thank you, Jesus, for making everything the way it is!" In the room full of sick people, Mrs. Turpin thanks Jesus again and the examination of Mrs. Turpin ends when Mary Grace physically assaults the woman and is restrained and innoculated with a sedative. Mrs. Turpin asks Mary Grace for an explanation, and the student responds, "Go back to hell where you came from you old wart hog", which the woman treats as a revelation from God.

In the aftermath of Mary Grace's attack, Claud is treated by the doctor and the Turpins return home to take naps in their bedroom. Lying down in bed, Mrs. Turpin quietly cries and rejects the notion of being a wart hog from hell. She asks Claud to kiss her, and while he sleeps she scowls at the ceiling and makes motions "as if she were defending her innocence to invisible guest who were like comforters of Job". After Claud wakes up to drive their black workers back to their homes, his wife sees "unintelligible hand writing on the ceiling".

As black women who work for the Turpin's wait for Claud, they notice the wound over Ruby Turpin's eye. Mrs. Turpin confesses that Mary Grace threw a book at her and called her "an old wart hog from hell". Two women exclaim that they'd kill Mary Grace and compliment Mrs. Turpin for being a nice white woman. Ruby Turpin's mind rejects the flattery and judges the women "idiots" as she provides them water for the short trip to their homes.

Ruby Turpin and Claud walk to their pig parlor to wash-down the hogs and the sty. Claud starts the job but his wife takes over and sends him off to drive their workers to their homes. While working as the sun sets spectacularly, she becomes enranged at her predicament shouts questions skyward: "How am I a hog and me too?"; and "How am I saved and from hell too?". She protests that she isn't a hog because she's not white nor black trash and receives a response in the form of a "garbled echo". Then she shouts, "Who do you think you are?" and like an echo "returned to her clearly like an answer beyond the wood." The answer she heard stopped her from shouting more. She watches Claud's truck recede in the distance and thinks of it colliding with a bigger truck that kills Claud and his passengers. In the next moments of quiet, she contemplates about her hogs that are in the red light of sunset where they "appeared to pant a secret life".

Just after sunset and while Claud's truck reappears. Ruby Turpin experiences a vision of people crossing a bridge of light from Earth towards Heaven. The people who ascend first are the white and black trash, freaks and lunatics at the bottom on Ruby Turpin's box car hierarchy who ascend as joyous, disorderly Christian soliders. The last to begin their ascent are people who march as a tribe and include those like herself and her husband, though as they march upward "she could see by their shocked and altered faces that even their virtues were being burned away." Ruby Turpin sees the vision as her destiny. As she walks back to her house as night falls, she hears crickets chirping as "the voices of the souls climbing upward into the starry field and shouting hallelujah".

Themes[edit]

The primary theme of "Revelation" is Christian salvation, and its plot demonstrates the author's application of Catholic theology to judge whether or not a conformist Protestant Southern woman, Ruby Turpin, can really be redeemed. "Revelation" is an example of the writer's vision in which "the final measure of things is theological.[15] The short story is replete with religious themes and biblical allusions, the latter seen as the realization of the Bible stories of Jacob and Job, among others, in the work.[16]

Justificatio sola fide, sola gratia, predestination, and mortal sin[edit]

Flannery O'Connor, a devout Roman Catholic, literally has the Catholic and Protestant doctrines on salvation collide when the protagonist is hit in the face by a book called Human Development thrown by a college student named Mary Grace. On the creation of Mary Grace, the author said in a letter, "Mary Grace I found in my head, doubtless from reading too much theology."[17]

Justificatio sola fide and sola gratia are two theological doctrines on salvation that distinguish Reformed (Calvinist) and Lutheran Protestantism from both Roman Catholic and Eastern Catholic Churches. The Calvinist and Lutheran doctrine of sola fide asserts God's pardon for guilty sinners is granted to and received through faith alone, excluding all "works" (good deeds); and the doctrine of sola gratia asserts that salvation comes by divine grace or "unmerited favor" only, not as something merited by the sinner (i.e., excluding all works). Protestants follow the doctrine known as monergism, which asserts that God acts alone to save the sinner; the responsibility for salvation does not rest on the sinner to any degree. By contrast, the Roman Catholic view asserts that salvation does involve some form of cooperation between divine grace and human agency. This view is known as synergism.

Ruby Turpin's ruminations on Jesus' power to configure her as a Negro, White, poor, wealthy, fat, thin, attractive, ugly, clean, filthy or "a good woman and it don’t matter what else, how fat or how ugly or how poor" reflects her faith in God from the Calvinist theological doctrine on predestination though it is not known whether the protagonist attends a Reformed Protestant church. Mrs. Turpin's faith in God appears to be unquestionably strong. When her own salvation is cast in doubt she wants to know why she is being punished instead of abandoning her faith. O'Connor's Christian vision, however, is rooted in Catholic theology that holds that sola fide is not sufficient to justify salvation.[18] In her 1963 essay, "The Catholic Novelist in the Protestant South", the author wrote that the exercise of free will by characters is an essential element of Catholic fiction:

"The Catholic novel cannot see man as determined; it cannot see him as totally depraved. It will see him as incomplete in himself, as prone to evil, but as redeemable when his own efforts are assisted by grace."[19]

O'Connor's principle is applied in "Revelation" as a drama to see whether or not Mrs. Turpin can exercise free will to overcome her belief that people are inferior because Jesus made them inferior and so earns them oppressive racist and prejudicial treatment (even dispensed with a "good disposition"). In a Christmas 1963 letter about an early draft of "Revelation", O'Connor left no doubt that Ruby Turpin is "evil".[20] Ralph C. Wood, a Protestant, stated that the author believed people like Ruby Turpin have committed mortal sin: "For Flannery O'Connor, race was indeed the curse of the south in the sense that it was the single-most important test which we as white Christians failed. For O'Connor, the mistreatment of black people is a violation of their being creatures made in the image of God."[21] With regard to sola gratia, Wood contrasts the Protestant and Catholic doctrines with respect to O'Connor's works: "Against the Reformers' notion that God's gracious decision determines our final outcome, O'Connor believes that only in death is our life weighed in the balances and our destiny eternally fixed."[18]

The protagonist does learn by witnessing a vision of Judgment Day that her righteousness about race and class are wrong and that her satisfaction with the Southern social order that she thanked Jesus for not changing provides a rationale for purgation. For O'Connor, that alone will not save her — Mrs. Turpin's vision implies that the protagonist must initiate a life-changing transformation (for example, to comply with the commandment, "Love thy neighbor as thyself"), that will involve difficult choices that will entail accepting or rejecting God's grace.

The mystery of divine judgment and the realization of Job[edit]

Parallel plot events[edit]

As a story about salvation, "Relevation" is also a story about divine judgment in the form of Mary Grace's attack and delivery of a revelatory message that Mrs. Turpin is "going to hell" posed as the theological questions and theme from the Book of Job: "Why do the righteous suffer?" and "Why are the righteous pious?".[22] Scholars have identified parallels between the work and the Book of Job since the 1970s.[23] These parallels appear to cover the entire breath of the Book of Job with many of them occuring in the same order they appear in the Bible. However, the actual plot lines are different, since the protagonist has been taught the story of Job earlier in life. When Mrs. Turpin does recall the multiple lessons from the Bible story each at different moments, the effects are dramatic and comical.

The protagonist as Job[edit]

Like Job, Mrs. Turpin views herself as charitable and good, superior to the morally flawed people around her, and believes she suffers from divine punishment.[24] However, the two are also much different. Job is a man described by God as a person "none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil."[25] In the Bible story, God allows Satan to torment Job in horrific ways to test Satan's claim that Job is good only because God blessed the man with wealth and prosperity, but neither God nor Satan ever tells Job that he is the subject of the test.

In contrast, O'Connor's Ruby Turpin institutes her own measure of justice,[26] believing in her own Christian perfection in that she outrageously considers herself a modern-day Job, and is blind to the grotesque conformity and self-righteousness expressed as racism and class prejudice that are part of the foundation of an oppressive society.

Satan[edit]

On receiving feedback on a draft of "Revelation" from a friend, O'Connor said, "I wasn't thinking of Mary Grace as the Devil but then the whole story sort of happened".[27] In Job, Satan is one of the "sons of God" [28] who accuses Job of being pious only because God has materially blessed him, and God lets Satan torment and torture Job to see if Job remains pious. Mary Grace with her demon-like appearance and facial expressions is a physical caricature of what most Christians associate with Satan as the Devil. However, in Job, Satan is not characterizes as evil. Mary Grace is only accused of being ill-mannered and ungrateful. The similarities are more than skin-deep, as Michael L. Schroeder pointed to key similarities between Mary Grace and Satan in their roles as antagonists in their respective stories:[29]

  • Mary Grace, like Satan, is not anchored to a single home. God asks Satan, “From where have you come?”, and Satan responds, "“From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.”[30] Mary Grace goes to college in Massachusetts, seems to strongly dislike her Southern hometown, and the breath of her intellectual interests are universal rather than parochial as indicated in her reading the book Human Development.
  • The two definitions of "satan" in Hebrew are "accuser" and "adversary" (see the article "Satan"). Mary Grace is satan in both ways: she accuses Mrs. Turpin of being a wart hog from Hell, and she physically assaults Mrs. Turpin. In addition, Mrs. Turpin believes that Mary Grace is an adversary given her facial expression communications, that she had known her for all her life, and that Mary Grace specifically selected her for the "wart hog from hell" message.
  • Ruby Turpin does not physically suffer the torments Satan casts onto Job, though Mary Grace's message that the protagonist is a wart hog from Hell torments the woman with the thought of eternal damnation until she witnesses the vision near the end of the story. The actions of Mary Grace, like Satan in Job, start the chain of events that reveal essential spiritual principles the protagonist is to follow.

Conversations with friends[edit]

After Mary Grace's attack, Ruby Turpin lies in bed at home "defending her innocence to invisible guests who were like the comforters of Job". In the Bible (Job chapters 2 - 27), Job is comforted by three friends — Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, and later by young Elihu. Job believes neither of them have explain his suffering. Their views about God are so incorrect God rebukes them after God reconciles with Job in chapter 42.) At this point in "Revelation", the protagonist contemplates Mary Grace's attack as a punishment in the form of retributive justice for sin resulting from a divine judgment, but after contemplating her predicament in bed and an effort to consult her three black women workers whose views she considers as useless "Negro flattery", she remains clueless about her faults. (A boy with the women sitting in Claud's truck and says nothing is in the role of Elihu.)

Ruby Turpin laments being born and conjures Leviathan[edit]

The parallels between "Revelation" and Job extends to the appearance of Leviathan. The entire chapter 41 of Job describes Leviathan as a powerful, fearsome monster that dwells in the abyss of the sea. God says Leviathan "sees everything that is high" and declares it "king over all the sons of pride" in Job 41:34.[31] The image is that the proud are ruled by a monster.

In Job chapter 3, Job is so tormented by Satan that he laments his birth. In verse 8, Job asks for help to rouse the monster Leviathan so it can "perish" the day he was born: "Let those curse it [my birth] who curse the day, who are ready to rouse up Leviathan."[32]

In "Revelation", Ruby Turpin considers the proposition that if she can't be saved then poor white and black people must have been chosen for salvation and aims her anger at God to lament being born as Ruby Turpin to comical effect: "You could have made me trash. Or a nigger. If trash is what you wanted why didn’t you make me trash?" In her frustration she conjures Leviathan with her water hose: "She shook her fist with the hose in it and a watery snake appeared momentarily in the air."

Ruby Turpin contends with the Almighty and fails as a "Job"[edit]

Mrs. Turpin directs her wrath at God for not making her the filthy kind of person she suspects God has chosen for salvation. Her frustration culminates by challenging God with the question, "Who do you think you are?", after which she belatedly recalls the basic Sunday school Bible lessons on Job (on the virtues of piety, humility, the fear of God, pride as a sin, and that man does not have sufficient knowledge or understanding of God or God's work to question divine judgment), placing herself in Job's exact position before God in Job 40:1-5:

"And the Lord said to Job: 'Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it.'

"Then Job answered the Lord and said: 'Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further.'"[33]

O'Connor realizes the five verses in "Revelation" in the context of Mrs. Turpin's negligence as an echo of her latter question that demolishes her self-image as a Job:

"The color of everything, field and crimson sky, burned for a moment with a transparent intensity. The question carried over the pasture and across the highway and the cotton field and returned to her clearly like an answer beyond the wood."

Imitating Job, "She opened her mouth but no sound came out of it." Immediately, the woman's thoughts turn to the possibility of punishment, as she watches Claud's truck filled with their black workers and thinks of them all being killed in a collision with a bigger truck. There are minutes of silence with "all her muscles rigid" until Claud returns home safely.

Leviathan liberates Ruby Turpin from her faith in predestination[edit]

"Revelation" has been characterized as one of Flannery O'Connor's "Protestant conversion tales" where a "pre-conversion state" is "succeeded by an instantaneous conversion [to Catholicism] affected by grace alone at the conclusion"[34] In order to fulfill O'Connor's notion of Catholic fiction, she must have Ruby Turpin reject her faith in predestination.

Immediately prior to the start of her vision (and after Claud safely returns home), in her apparent relief and humbled by the realization she is imperfect, Ruby Turpin contemplates with her pigs while standing over them and "with her gaze bent to them as if she were absorbing some abysmal life-giving knowledge". The knowledge is an understanding of the Bible story, Job, she had just recalled. After Job learns that it was wrong to question God in Job chapter 40, in chapter 41 God tells Job of the beast Leviathan. The "abysmal life-giving knowledge" is that Mary Grace was right — Ruby Turpin is sinfully proud and she is from Hell because the "sons of pride" are ruled by Leviathan, a creature from below Earth. She realizes she can cease to be wicked through her own actions rather than "made" wicked by the hands of Jesus. (The notion came to her earlier in her rage when she believed God has selected black people for salvation rather than her own kind: “Or you could have made me a nigger. It’s too late for me to be a nigger," she said with deep sarcasm, "but I could act like one.") The protagonist's belief that she is responsible for her own fate represents a rejection of predestination and allows Leviathan to "perish" the day Mrs. Turpin was born. She is re-born as a woman who understands she can make choices that can lead to or deny her salvation. Her vision is presented to guide her toward redemption.

Ruby Turpin is abased for her wicked pride[edit]

The imagery O'Connor uses for Ruby Turpin's vision from the pig parlor starts as a result of the awesome magical power of Leviathan. Leviathan is still on the loose because the water hose she uses to clean the pig parlor is still running. The vision reflects Job 40:31-32:

  • For the pig parlor that still has water running through it: "He [Leviathan] makes the deep boil like a pot; he makes the sea like a pot of ointment." (Job 41:31)[35]. The ointment is what causes them to "pant with a secret life".
  • For the sky above Ruby Turpin: "Behind him [Leviathan] he leaves a shining wake; one would think the deep to be white-haired." (Job 41:32)[36]

The vision in the sky provides Ruby Turpin lessons about pride she will never forget. O'Connor quite plainly realized lessons are to be taught from Job 40:10-14 where God speaks as a whirlwind and directs Job to:

"Adorn yourself with majesty and dignity; clothe yourself with glory and splendor. Pour the overflowings of your anger, and look on everyone who is proud and abase him. Look on everyone who is proud and bring him low and tread down the wicked where they stand. Hide them all in the dust together; bind their faces in the world below. Then will I also acknowledge to you that your own right hand can save you."[37]

Ruby Turpin's vision abases her as she sees people like herself set on fire as they ascend to Heaven while the "trash" she detests ascends first with their souls intact. With respect the judgments on ascent with or without purgation, O'Connor famously wrote in a 1958 letter in defense of an "irreligious" friend: "We are judged by how hard we use what we have been given. Success means nothing to the Lord, nor gracefullness."[38] This narrative is essentially written into the 1964 story as part of Mrs. Turpin's vision that goes beyond instilling the virtues of piety, humility, and fear of God. By the end of "Revelation", the vision is an epiphany as Ruby Turpin admits to a grave spiritual error that social status, physical appearances, and wealth have nothing to do with the prospect for salvation. As the protagonist returns to her house from the pig parlor in the growing darkness, she recognizes her shameful misguided righteousness and oppressive beliefs as she is stranded on Earth while she hears others ascend to Heaven. In the context of O'Connor's notion of Catholic fiction, "Revelation" only concludes with the hope that Ruby Turpin will use her free will to receive grace for the rest of her life.

Ruby Turpin's vision includes reminders of Jesus' teachings[edit]

Mrs. Turpin is further abased in that the people she regards as the bottom of the Southern social classes ascend to Heaven first and hers ascends last. The poor white people, black people, freaks and lunatics who are ascend first are portrayed as Christian soliders that appear in disorderly "companies", "bands", and "battalions". The abasement directly addresses the protangonist's obsession with race and social status, and is constructive (rather than destructive), because "first and last" are embodied in instructive Bible parables familiar to faithful Christians that can strike-down and replace faulty spiritual beliefs. The biblical references that include "first will be last" are all from the New Testament: "The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard" (Matthew 20:1-16); "Jesus and the Rich Young Man" (Mark 10:17-31, Matthew 19:16-30, and Luke 18:18-30); and "The Narrow Door" (Luke 13:22–30).[39] As a committed Christian and church-goer, Mrs. Turpin is supposed to know all three stories, though she may have forgotten or ignored the lessons, or was taught that one or more is supererogatory, particularly "Jesus and the Rich Young Man".

  • In "The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard", Jesus compares "the kingdom of Heaven" to the landowner of a vineyard who promises to pay his workers the same wages for a day's labor no matter what time during the day the worker was hired. One lesson of the parable is that all workers are considered equally worthy (measured by their earnings) to enter Heaven no matter how long they have labored. The lesson contrasts with Mrs. Turpin's belief that some people are always more worthy than others (i.e., there always will be a top and bottom rail).
  • In "Jesus and the Rich Young Man", a wealthy young man asks Jesus what he must do to attain eternal life and Jesus tells the young man to follow God's commandments, sell all his possessions and give to the poor to have treasure in heaven, and to follow him. The young man leaves Jesus "sorrowful, for he had great possessions".[40] The parable is especially memorable for Matthew 19:22: "... it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”[41] At the pig parlor, Ruby Turpin stands on a knoll amid her and Claud's wealth — house, land, a cotton field, and livestock — that sustains their social status and economic security but fails to address the spiritual requirement to help others that Jesus asked of the rich young man.
  • In "The Narrow Door", the door representing the gateway to Heaven, Jesus is asked, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” and he responds: "Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able." Jesus goes on to say that even some people who "ate and drank" in his presence and others whom he taught in the streets will be refused entry. Jesus also says, "And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God." [42] The meaning of "narrow door" with respect to the criteria used to judge who and who will not be allowed into Heaven is one of the most controversial in Christianity.[43] However, it is quite clear than all people, not just Jews, will be allowed to pass through the narrow door. The parable is consistent with Mrs. Turpin's vision in that it warns that she should not be so confident about being saved since faith in Jesus alone may not be sufficient striving for redemption, and that people of all races and classes will enter Heaven while she may not be allowed in.

The first two parables point to Ruby Turpin's lack of concern for others, or, equivalently, her extreme vanity - a focus on self-love.[44] Her consciously blocking-out of her own religion's spiritual calls to love and help others is portrayed by the "blanks" in the gospel song that precedes Mary Grace's attack. The lyrics are derived from "You Go to Your Church and I'll Go to Mine" published by radio personality Phillips Haynes Lord[45] for his fictional character, clergyman and backwoods philosopher Seth Parker, just after the start of the Great Depression in 1930:[46], here with the lyrics that have been "blanked-out":

You go to blank blank (your church)
And I'll go to mine
But we'll all blank (walk) along
To-gether-ther,
And all along the blank (road)
We'll hep each other out
Smile-ling in any kind of
Weath-ther!

Symbolism[edit]

Grotesques[edit]

As Southern Gothic fiction, "Relevation" includes numerous grotesque symbols that contribute toward characterization of its characters as grotesques - either physically or spiritually or both.

The doctor's waiting room[edit]

A doctor's waiting room is the opening setting for "Revelation". The room is the place where Ruby Turpin is judged by the reader and Mary Grace — an examination room where Ruby Turpin harshly assesses each occupant based on appearances, manners and conversation, except for the wealthier "stylish" woman; where Mary Grace quietly, but not subtly assesses Mrs. Turpin; and where the reader is made aware of Turpin's grotesque inner thoughts.

The waiting room's radio permeates the space with gospel songs that could make it a place for spiritual healing, as well as one for physical healing. However, gospel songs seem to trigger Mrs. Turpin's especially harsh judgments, as one song triggers her habit for passing damning judgments on people based on their shoes, and after another song, she blames a poor white mother's laziness as the cause for her sick boy's inability to eat. Ruby Turpin's judgments seem to be grotesque in that she detests all of the people she perceives to have lower social status than herself, as she considers them predetermined for damnation and unsavable, so she has no interest in the troubles of sick people in the waiting room, let alone having any compassion for them.

Ironically, Ruby Turpin's neck in the hands of Mary Grace in the waiting room makes spiritual healing possible after Turpin accepts Mary Grace's judgment on her soul. However, as a place for Ruby Turpin's damning judgments, the congested, unadorned, box-like waiting room becomes a realization of the box car in her dreams that is crammed with damned people being delivered to a gas oven.

The Holocaust[edit]

As part of the examination of Ruby Turpin in the waiting room, her inner thoughts "at night naming classes people" within her social universe and subsequently dreaming the classes "all crammed in together in a box car, being ridden off to be put in a gas oven" is a vision of The Holocaust that is grotesque and horrifying in its composition. The ordering process starts to breakdown when she considers black land owners or "common" white people wealthier than her family, and then it collapses when she has to consider "a colored dentist in town who had two red Lincolns and a swimming pool and a farm with registered white-face cattle on it". The effort ends so Ruby Turpin can maintain her "peace of mind"[47] to secure in her own mind her high social status and worthiness for salvation that is reflected later in the story by her gratitude to Jesus for "making everything the way it is", her in inability to find any fault in herself that would justify condemnation to Purgatory, and her confidence that she's "a rail on top". As a vision of the Holocaust, the protagonist's peace of mind is secured by the belief that she is one of the few selected by God for eternal life, and that most other people, consequently, will be judged by God for delivery to Purgatory.

A hog as a human condition[edit]

Hogs are used throughout "Revelation" as a metaphor for piggish aspects of the human condition represented by the repetitive appearance of the sentence "A-gruntin and a-rootin and a-groanin." The sentence is first used by a poor white woman in waiting room as name-calling Ruby Turpin a pig as a sign of resentment from the protagonist's condescending brag about her wealth and superiority as demonstrated by her clean hog livestock. However, its use in name-calling reflects a darker condition — the animal and its piggishness is a metaphor for the oppressive forces that are used to deny the humanity of poor whites, black people, freaks, and lunatics. Ruby Turpin's understanding of poor whites and people as pigs is comically black — pigs are as intelligent as people, even performing as astronauts, but they will die of a heart atttack if they are put upright like real people since they have to be on all fours to survive stupidly doing their "a-gruntin and a-rootin and a-groanin".

The pig has two roles during the protagonist's darkest moments. The first role appears when Ruby Turpin's confidence in her own salvation is completely undermined. Her mind concludes that poor white and black people have been elected for salvation instead of her, so, in a desperate attempt to recover her redemption, she tells God that she could act like the people she detests by emulating the filthy, stupid pigs they are: "Lounge about the sidewalks all day drinking root beer. Dip snuff and spit in every puddle and have it all over my face."; and, "Lay down in the middle of the road and stop traffic. Roll on the ground". O'Connor uses the pregnant sow with her offspring in her pig parlor to explain how Mrs. Turpin got these hatred and oppressive ideas — they were passed down from generations before her, taught to her by her parent's generation. The second role is in the pig parlor when Ruby Turpin realizes Mary Grace was right in that she is a "wart hog from hell", a wild demon "a-gruntin and a-rootin and a-groanin" through life, comically standing amid her own kind that "pant with a secret life" in Leviathan's kingdom as the "sons of pride" bathed in Leviathan's ointment that the Turpin's apply daily to, ironically, remove filth.

Water and fire[edit]

In her works, O'Connor said, "Water is a symbol of purification and fire is another. Water, it seems to me, is a symbol of the kind of purification that God gives irrespective of our efforts or worthiness, and fire is the kind of purification we bring on ourselves - as in Purgatory. It is our evil which is naturally burnt away when it comes anywhere near God."[48]

For Catholics, baptism is not only a sacrament that initiates an individual into the Church, it is a purification rite in that one or more exorcisms are pronounced over the candidate. As Turpin's revelation pronounced her a hog, she is a baptized one in need of further justification. The daily washing-down of her hogs and the pig parlor allude to baptism that is insufficient to justify her salvation.

In the vision of souls like herself ascending to Heaven, Ruby Turpin witnesses their purgation by their "shocked and altered faces that even their virtues were being burned away". While scholars disagree on the spiritual meanings of the purgatorial vision,[49] O'Connor said "She [Ruby Turpin] gets the vision. Wouldn't have been any point in that story if she hadn't. ...And that vision is purgatorial."[50]

Christian soliders[edit]

In Ruby Turpin's vision from her pig palor, she witnesses whole "companies of white-trash", "bands of black niggers", and "battalions of freaks and lunatics" ascend to Heaven in an image of joyous, disorderly Christian soliders (miles Christianus) that contrasts with the orderly, marching, burning "tribe" of her own kind. As "Christian soldiers" were people who provided vigorous and dedicated service to the establishment of the first Christian churches as characterized in the Pauline epistles, the image of them in "Revelation" is used as an abasement of Ruby Turpin to indicate her deficient commitment to serve her church in comparison with those much less privileged than her in spite what she believes about herself.

Strength, courage and faith[edit]

O'Connor described Ruby Turpin as "a country female Jacob" in saying, "You got to be a very big woman to shout at the Lord across a hogpen."[50] From the story in the book of Genesis 32:22-32, Jacob wrestles God embodied as an angel. Jacob and the angel wrestle all night, and after the angel surrenders it wounds Jacob by dislocating his hip and accedes to Jacob's demand for a blessing. In "Revelation", Mary Grace wounds Mrs. Turpin with a book and attacks her, and then is defeated by succumbing to restraint and sedation. After the attack, Ruby Turpin asks Mary Grace for a revelation and receives what appears to be a curse for which the woman considers a blessing, a sign of the strength of her faith in God. Jacob's physical strength is a metaphor for Ruby Turpin's courage even though it may have been fostered by over-confidence. By courageously demanding answers from God about her predicament, Ruby Turpin gains a response in the form of the vision from the hogpen. The story ends with the hope that she will use her courage to gain her redemption.

Rising and convergence[edit]

Jacob's ladder[edit]

As "Revelation" alludes to the Bible story of Jacob, protagonist's vision from her pig parlor recalls Jacob's Ladder.[51] The author, who at the time "Revelation" was being drafted was disabled by lupus and required crutches in order to walk, has her characters ascend skyward on a bridge.

Hope and grace[edit]

The protagonist's tribe ascent skyward in Ruby Turpin's vision of the future is a message of hope for her salvation because a Catholic would commit a "sin against hope" by having her descend, which would impart despair that occurs whenever "man ceases to hope for his personal salvation from God, for help in attaining it or for the forgiveness of his sins".[52] In Catholic theology, justification is a life-long process of advancing toward salvation, i.e., "rising", where all souls converge to face God's judgment after death, where "O'Conner believes that only in death is our life weighed in the balances and our destiny eternally fixed."[18] The progress of Ruby Turpin's soul for achieving salvation to be with God is consistent with the title of the book Everything That Rises Must Converge, which coincides with the what Ralph Wood emphasized as the "central premise of her work" - "the conviction that the ultimate issue of our lives depends on our own reception or rejection of grace".[18]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Flannery O'Connor biographical timeline". PBS.org ("American Masters").
  2. ^ Wilson, Jessica (2020-06-24). "How Flannery O'Connor Fought Racism". First Things. Institute on Religion and Public Life.
  3. ^ Angela Gina O'Donnell (2018). "Radical Ambivalence: Race in Flannery O'Connor (Ph.D. dissertation)". University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. p. 116.
  4. ^ "Job chapter 40". The Holy Bible (English Standard Version).
  5. ^ Kirk, Connie (2008). Critical Companion to Flannery O'Connor: A Literary Reference to Her Life and Work. Facts on File. p. 105. ISBN 978-0-8160-6417-5.
  6. ^ Sally Fitzgerald (1983). "Introduction". Three by Flannery O'Connor. Penguin/Signet. p. xxix.
  7. ^ Liz Fields (2021-03-26). "How did Flannery O'Connor's writing reflect her disability?". PBS.org ("American Masters").
  8. ^ O'Connor, Flannery (2012). "Some Aspects of the Grotesque in Southern Fiction". In Fitzgerald, Sally; Fitzgerald, Robert (eds.). Mystery and Manners: Occassional Prose. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 9781466829046.
  9. ^ Matthew Day (2001). "Flannery O'Connor and the Southern Code of Manners". Flannery O’Connor and the Southern Code of Manners. The Journal of Southern Religion.
  10. ^ Hilston Als. "This Lonely Place". PBS ("American Masters").
  11. ^ Matthew Day (2001). "Flannery O'Connor and the Southern Code of Manners". Flannery O’Connor and the Southern Code of Manners. The Journal of Southern Religion.
  12. ^ O'Connor, Flannery (2012). "Appendix (from June 1963 interview)". In Fitzgerald, Sally; Fitzgerald, Robert (eds.). Mystery and Manners: Occassional Prose. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 9781466829046.
  13. ^ O'Connor, Flannery (2012). "Appendix (from June 1963 interview)". In Fitzgerald, Sally; Fitzgerald, Robert (eds.). Mystery and Manners: Occassional Prose. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 9781466829046.
  14. ^ Hilston Als. "This Lonely Place". PBS ("American Masters").
  15. ^ Wood 1984, p. 15.
  16. ^ Stephenson, Will; Stephenson, Mimosa (1995). "Ruby Turpin: O'Connor Travesty of the Ideal Woman". The Flannery O'Connor Bulletin. Georgia College and State University System Board of Regents. 24 (1995-1996): 57–66. JSTOR 26670360.
  17. ^ O'Connor 1979, p. 579.
  18. ^ a b c d Wood 1984, p. 17.
  19. ^ O'Connor, Flannery (2001). "The Catholic Novelist in The Protestant South". In Francisco, Edward; Francisco, Linda; Vaughan, Robert (eds.). The South in Perspective: An Anthology of Southern Literature. Prentice Hall. pp. 937–938.
  20. ^ O'Connor 1979, p. 554.
  21. ^ Wood, Ralph (2009-11-20). "Flannery O'Connor" (Interview). Interviewed by Rafael Pi Roman. Religion & Ethics Newsweekly.
  22. ^ Srigley, Susan (2003). "O'Connor and the Mystics: St. Catherine of Geno's Puragorial Vision in 'Revelation'". The Flannery O'Connor Review. Georgia College and State University Board of Regents. 2 (2003-2004): 46. JSTOR 26669784.
  23. ^ Schroeder, Michael. "Ruby Turpin, Job and Mystery on the Question on Knowing". The Flannery O'Connor Bulletin. Georgia College and State University Board of Regents. 21 (1992): 77–78. JSTOR 26670417.
  24. ^ Schroeder, Michael. "Ruby Turpin, Job and Mystery on the Question on Knowing". The Flannery O'Connor Bulletin. Georgia College and State University Board of Regents. 21 (1992): 77–78. JSTOR 26670417.
  25. ^ "Job chapter 1". The Holy Bible (King James Version).
  26. ^ Srigley, Susan (2003). "O'Connor and the Mystics: St. Catherine of Geno's Purgatorial Vision in 'Revelation'". The Flannery O'Connor Review. Georgia College and State University Board of Regents. 2 (2003-2004): 46. JSTOR 26669784.
  27. ^ O'Connor 1979, p. 552.
  28. ^ "Job chapter 1". Holy Bible (English Standard Version.
  29. ^ Schroeder, Michael. "Ruby Turpin, Job and Mystery on the Question on Knowing". The Flannery O'Connor Bulletin. Georgia College and State University Board of Regents. 21 (1992): 77–78. JSTOR 26670417.
  30. ^ "Job chapter 1". Holy Bible (English Standard Version.
  31. ^ "Job chapter 41". The Holy Bible (English Standard Version).
  32. ^ "Job chapter 3". The Holy Bible (English Standard Version).
  33. ^ "Job chapter 40". The Holy Bible (English Standard Version).
  34. ^ Wiedmann, Lorna. "Flannery O'Connor's Six Protestant Conversion Tales". The Flannery O'Connor Review. Georgia College and State University System Board of Regents. 12 (2014): 33. JSTOR 24389042.
  35. ^ "Job chapter 41". The Holy Bible (English Standard Version).
  36. ^ "Job chapter 41". The Holy Bible (English Standard Version).
  37. ^ "Job chapter 40". The Holy Bible (English Standard Version).
  38. ^ O'Connor 1979, p. 306.
  39. ^ Srigley, Susan (2003). "O'Connor and the Mystics: St. Catherine of Geno's Purgatorial Vision in 'Revelation'". The Flannery O'Connor Review. Georgia College and State University Board of Regents. 2 (2003-2004): 50. JSTOR 26669784.
  40. ^ "Matthew chapter 19". The Holy Bible (English Standard Version).
  41. ^ "Matthew chapter 19". The Holy Bible (English Standard Version).
  42. ^ "Luke chapter 13". The Holy Bible (English Standard Version).
  43. ^ Bishop Robert Barron (2019-08-28). "Homilies - The Narrow Gate".
  44. ^ Srigley, Susan (2003). "O'Connor and the Mystics: St. Catherine of Geno's Purgatorial Vision in 'Revelation'". The Flannery O'Connor Review. Georgia College and State University Board of Regents. 2 (2003-2004): 50. JSTOR 26669784.
  45. ^ Piggford, George (2015). ""A Dialogue Between Above and Below": Flannery O'Connor, Martin Buber, and "Revelation" after the Holocaust". The Flannery O'Connor Review. Georgia College and State University Board of Regents. 13 (2015): 94. JSTOR 26671300.
  46. ^ "Seth Parker's Hymnal #1". Hymnary.org.
  47. ^ Jacky Dumas; Jessica Hooten Wilson (Spring 2013). "The Unrevealed in Flannery O'Connor's 'Revelation'". The Southern Literary Journal. University of North Carolina Press. 45 (2): 76. JSTOR 24389042.
  48. ^ O'Connor 1979, p. 387.
  49. ^ Susan Srigley (May 2001). "Prophetic Vision and Moral Imagination in Flannery O'Connor's Fiction (Ph.D. dissertation)" (PDF). McMaster University (Hamilton, Ontario, Canada). pp. 229–236.
  50. ^ a b O'Connor 1979, p. 577.
  51. ^ Britt, Brian (2001). "Divine Curses in O'Connor's "Revelation" and 2 Samuel 16". Flannery O'Connor Review. Georgia College and State University System Board of Regents. 1 (2001–2002): 51. JSTOR 26669734.
  52. ^ "Catechism of the Catholic Church #2091". Catechism of the Catholic Church. The Holy See.

Works cited[edit]

"The Book of Job". The Holy Bible. English Standard Version.

O'Connor, Flannery (1979). Fitzgerald, Sally (ed.). The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O'Connor. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 9780374521042.

O'Connor, Flannery (2001). "The Catholic Novelist in The Protestant South". In Francisco, Edward; Francisco, Linda; Vaughan, Robert (eds.). The South in Perspective: An Anthology of Southern Literature. Prentice Hall. pp. 937–938.

Schroeder, Michael L. "Ruby Turpin, Job and Mystery on the Question on Knowing". The Flannery O'Connor Bulletin. Georgia College and State University Board of Regents. 21 (1992). JSTOR 26670417.

Wood, Ralph (1984). "The Catholic Faith of Flannery O'Connor's Protestant Characters and Vindication". The Flannery O'Connor Bulletin. Georgia College and State University System Board of Regents. 13 (Autumn 1984). JSTOR 26669834.

Wiedmann, Lorna. "Flannery O'Connor's Six Protestant Conversion Tales". The Flannery O'Connor Review. Georgia College and State University System Board of Regents. 12 (2014): 33–53. JSTOR 24389042.

External Links[edit]

  • "Revelation" (on-line text from original publication in The Sewanee Review): O'Connor, Flannery (Spring 1964). "Revelation". The Sewanee Review. The University of the South. 72(2): 178-202. A reproduction of the text in the original publication is available on "JSTOR".