In A Temple of the Holy Ghost by Flannery O’Connor we have the theme of pride, isolation, acceptance and grace. Taken from A Good Man is Hard to Find the story is narrated in the third person and is centred around a young unnamed twelve year old girl. O’Connor not naming the girl is important as it suggests to the reader that she could be any child. The story begins with the reader learning that two of the girl’s cousins (Joanne and Susan, both fourteen) are staying with her for the weekend and very early on we find that the girl isolates herself from them. 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 them. However there is one thing about the girl’s cousins that impresses her. 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.
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 next morning the girl and her mother bring Joanne and Susan back to the convent. O’Connor again highlights to the reader the sense of isolation with the girl. 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). When they arrive at the convent they are in time for mass and it is while they are at the mass that the reader finds that the girl is nearer to grace. As she is kneeling down praying (forgetting her pride) she realises that she is in the presence of God and as the priest is raising the monstrance with the Host she thinks about what the hermaphrodite said at the fair, ‘I don’t dispute hit. This is the way He wanted me to be’, the reader now aware that the girl, like the hermaphrodite, is accepting the will of God. It is also at this point that the reader realises that O’Connor is comparing (or making equal) the body of Christ (Host) with the body of the hermaphrodite. They are the same.
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, she sits beside her mother in the back seat (no longer isolated).
Symbolism is again used 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.