Revelation – Flannery O’Connor
In Revelation by Flannery O’Connor we have the theme of grace. Taken from her Everything That Rises Must Converge collection the story is narrated in the third person and begins with the main protagonist, Mrs Turpin looking for a seat in a doctor’s waiting room. Her husband Claud has what Mrs Turpin believes is an ulcer on his leg and she wants a doctor to have a look at it. The setting for the story is important because it acts as a foreshadowing device. Later in the story the reader realises, while Mrs Turpin is talking to God that she is waiting for a sign from him, some sort of guidance. It is also significant that O’Connor only gives one of the characters in the waiting room a name, Mary Grace. This is significant because it is through Mary Grace that Mrs Turpin has her revelation and as the name suggests achieves God’s Grace.
Mary Grace is a pivotal character in the story and O’Connor, as she does in a lot of her stories, uses symbolism, particularly Mary Graces’ eyes to convey a message to the reader. When Mary Grace slams the book shut and looks straight in front of her and looks directly through Mrs Turpin her eyes seem ‘lit all of a sudden with peculiar light, an unnatural light like night road signs give.’ This is important because it represents a sign or a path that Mrs Turpin must take. O’Connor is also using symbolism through Mary Grace’s book; ironically it is called Human Development. Eyes play a significant role again just before Mrs Turpin asks Mary Grace is she in college, she notices Mary Grace’s eyes ‘fixed like two drills’ on her and that there ‘was something urgent behind them.’ Mrs Turpin doesn’t realise it yet but it is through Mary Grace’s eyes that the reader begins to realise that Mrs Turpin needs to have a look at herself and in the things that she believes in. The reader already knows that Mrs Turpin believes in a hierarchy and that she places herself, because she is white and a landowner, above other people, particularly black people and those she considers white trash. Mary Grace’s eyes are again significant later in the story when Mrs Turpin again notices them after Mary Grace has attacked her. Mary Grace’s eyes ‘seemed a much lighter blue than before, as if a door that had been tightly closed behind them was now open to admit light and air.’ This is important as it may symbolize that Mrs Turpin is about to open the door on her own belief system and look at herself in a different light.
Despite considering herself to be a good Christian, it is obvious to the reader that Mrs Turpin isn’t. There are several examples of this in the story which highlight this. When she is talking to the pleasant woman in the waiting room, Mrs Turpin tries her best to ignore the woman she considers to be white trash. Likewise when she is on her farm after the incident with Mary Grace and she is explaining to some of the black women, who are working on the farm ,about what Mary Grace has done, she thinks ‘You could never say anything intelligent to a nigger. You could talk at them but not with them.’ This is important because not only does it highlight again the unchristian beliefs of Mrs Turpin but it shows the reader that she is racist. The theme of racism is further echoed in the waiting room when the woman that Mrs Turpin considers to be white trash tells her ‘They ought to send all them niggers back to Africa.’
The change for Mrs Turpin or her moment of realisation that she has being living her life wrong occurs while Claud is taking the farm workers home and she is in the pig pen washing the hogs. She is still upset that Mary Grace has called her a wart hog from hell and as she is hosing down the hogs she starts to have a conversation with God. She asks him ‘What did you send me a message like that for?’ and starts to compare herself to other people, people she believes that she has helped and who she thinks are beneath her. While looking over the highway at Claud’s truck she has a vision. In the vision Mrs Turpin can see ‘whole communities of white-trash, clean for the first time in their lives, and bands of black niggers in white robes, and battalions of freaks and lunatics shouting and clapping and leaping like frogs,’ on their way to heaven. Behind them Mrs Turpin sees ‘a tribe of people whom she recognized at once as those who, like herself and Claud, had always had a little of everything and the God-given wit to use it right.’ The order of the people in the procession that Mrs Turpin sees is important because for the first time Mrs Turpin can see that her own hierarchical belief has been wrong.
The ending of the story is also significant. Mrs Turpin turns off the water in the pig pen and makes her way back to her house. She notices that it is starting to get dark and despite the noise of the crickets the only noise Mrs Turpin hears is the voices of ‘the souls climbing upward into the starry field and shouting hallelujah.’ It is through her vision and hearing the voices of the souls climbing upward that Mrs Turpin again realises that she has been wrong in what she believed in and it is through knowing that she was wrong that Mrs Turpin achieves Grace.