A Temple of the Holy Ghost by Flannery O’Connor
In A Temple of the Holy Ghost by Flannery O’Connor we have the theme of pride, isolation, acceptance and grace. Taken from her A Good Man is Hard to Find collection the story is narrated in the third person and is centered around a young, unnamed twelve year old girl. From the beginning of the story O’Connor explores the theme of isolation. The girl’s two older cousins (Joanne and Susan, both fourteen) are staying with the girl and her mother for the weekend and very early on we find that the girl isolates herself from her cousins. In reality she considers her cousins stupid and believes that she is superior to them (example of pride). This disassociation or isolation from her cousins is further continued later in the story when Joanne and Susan are with Wendell and Cory Wilkins; again the girl considers herself above them and refuses to have supper in the yard with her cousins and the two boys. However there is one thing about her cousins that impresses the girl. When her mother asks Joanne and Susan why they are calling themselves ‘Temple One’ and ‘Temple Two’ the girl learns that they have been told by Sister Perpetua to tell any boys who might try and touch them to ‘Stop sir! I am a Temple of the Holy Ghost.’ The girl likes the idea of being a Temple of the Holy Ghost and in many ways her discovery of her cousins describing themselves as ‘Temple One’ and ‘Temple Two’ will be the impetus for change within the girl.
When Joanne and Susan go to the fair with Wendell and Cory, despite not being asked to go as well, the girl decides that even if she was asked she wouldn’t go with them (again idea of pride and isolation). It is easier for the girl to imagine that she is rejecting her cousins and the boys rather than having been rejected herself. Instead she spends the evening in her bedroom daydreaming about becoming a saint. This is important because despite being full of pride it highlights to the reader that the girl is striving for grace (by becoming a saint). This idea of grace is further highlighted when Joanne and Susan return from the fair and tell the girl about a hermaphrodite that they have seen. It is obvious to the reader that the hermaphrodite has obtained grace by not questioning God. ‘This is the way He [God] wanted me to be and I ain’t disputing His way.’
The hermaphrodite has not only accepted their position in life but they have accepted God’s will and later the girl goes to bed imagining the hermaphrodite (in a congregational setting) telling the crowd at the fair ‘I am a Temple of the Holy Ghost’, and the crowd replying ‘Amen’ as if they too have accepted God’s will. It is through her imagination that the reader gets an insight into the girl’s acceptance of the hermaphrodite’s humanity. Though the hermaphrodite is different to others, the girl still sees them as a Temple of the Holy Ghost, unlike Joanne and Susan who consider the hermaphrodite to be a freak. The girl’s acceptance of the hermaphrodite may be important as it is through accepting others, that the girl is allowing herself to begin the process of being open to grace.
O’Connor further explores the theme of isolation as the girl and her cousins are travelling to the convent. It is noticeable that she isn’t sitting in the back of the car with her cousins and her mother, rather O’Connor has the girl sitting in the front with her head sticking out the window (disassociated). It is also interesting that while the girl is in the convent, at mass, O’Connor allows her to be nearer to grace. This is noticeable through the fact that the girl is kneeling down praying and is in essence forgetting her pride. There would appear to be a realization for the girl that she is in the presence of God. It is also interesting that as the priest is raising the monstrance with the Host, the girl thinks again about what the hermaphrodite said at the fair (‘I don’t dispute hit. This is the way He wanted me to be’). This is significant as it is at this stage that the girl is beginning, like the hermaphrodite, to accept God. It is also possible that O’Connor is linking the hermaphrodite to the body of Christ (Host). By linking the two O’Connor may be suggesting that they are the same, or that all humans are equal.
How much the girl is accepting God’s will (and open to grace) is seen when she leaves the convent. She allows the nun to hug her (open to love, again forgetting pride and no longer isolated) whereas when she arrived she was more distant, only allowing a handshake. To further emphasis the girl’s new closeness to God or newly obtained grace, O’Connor uses the symbolism of the nuns cross striking the girl in the face as she is hugging her. Likewise when she gets into the car with her mother, the girl sits beside her mother in the back seat (no longer isolated).
O’Connor also uses symbolism at the end of the story when the girl and her mother are driving back home with Alonzo. After he tells them that the fair has been closed down by the police after the local preachers visited it, O’Connor has the sun in the sky as ‘a huge red ball like an elevated Host drenched in blood and when it sank out of sight, it left a line in the sky line like a red clay road hanging over the trees.’ The reader left aware that O’Connor is comparing the sun to Christ and that the girl remains in the presence of God, no longer isolating herself.