Revelation (short story)
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|Published in||Everything That Rises Must Converge|
"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 last 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.
Ruby Turpin is a large Southern woman who is, like so many of O'Connor's characters, stuck in a narrow way of perceiving the world. 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. She insists that he take the last vacant chair. 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 there with her college age daughter, 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 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. As the pleasant lady and Mrs Turpin chat, Mary Grace seems to grow angrier. The pleasant lady begins to speak about Mary Grace in the third 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. The book strikes Mrs. Turpin above her eye. Mary Grace then lunges across the table, and clutches Mrs Turpin's throat, choking her. The girl is subdued and given a sedative by the doctor and nurse who call an ambulance.
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 looks into Mary Grace's eyes and has a feeling that Mary Grace has a knowing of her and a message to give. "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.
While hosing down her own hogs in their sty 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 "wart hog" at the same time. As the sun sinks low in front of her, 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 road from the earth to the sky. She has a vision of redeemed souls winding their way to Heaven. 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 and at the rear of this parade into heaven she sees the faces of herself, Claud, and her proper Christian friends as they appear "shocked and altered." This seems to be her revelation: that even what she considers to be basic human virtues are incomparable and expendable to God.
Ruby's feelings of superiority and love of self show that she thinks more of her own goodness than she does of God. She has a revelation from her interaction with Mary Grace that shows her a vision that her "moral superiority" means nothing if it does not come from her love of God and all of his children.
Flannery O'Connor uses the names of the characters in this story to aid the reader in identifying the true nature of the same characters. The word "turpitude" means ugliness and is suggestive of the ugliness of Mrs. Turpin's judgments on those she has contact with. She also has great contempt for the physical ugliness of those that she views as being beneath her. Yet the name Mary Grace is suggestive of the mother of Jesus, the Virgin Mary. This is the exact opposite of what Mrs. Turpin sees when she looks at the young woman that is acne covered and surly. The name Grace is also ironic with the complete lack of grace that is presented with the girl's appearance. The conclusion to the story shows that on the surface Mary Grace does not represent her name, but instead becomes a messenger of God's grace for Mrs. Turpin.