The Displaced Person by Flannery O’Connor
In The Displaced Person by Flannery O’Connor we have the theme of displacement, social order and racism. Taken from her A Good Man is Hard to Find collection the story is set on Mrs McIntyre’s farm and is split into three different sections. The first section deals with the arrival of Mr Guizac and his family from Poland to Mrs McIntyre’s farm as seen through the eyes of Mrs Shortley. While the second and third section, seen through Mrs McIntyre’s eyes, deals with Mrs McIntyre’s difficulties and reasons for firing Mr Guizac and his subsequent death. What is clear to the reader is that in all sections there is a sense of irony, with both Mrs Shortley and Mrs McIntyre both ending up being the displaced person and in all sections it is again clear to the reader the level of racism that both characters have towards Mr Guizac and black people.
In the first section the reader is aware that Mrs Shortley never calls Mr Guizac by his name, rather he is known as Gobblehooks. This is important as it is through the lack of calling Mr Guizac by his proper name that the reader realises that Mrs Shortley is belittling him. What is also clear to the reader is that despite seeing footage on an old newsreel of the dead bodies in the concentration camps, Mrs Shortley has very little time or sympathy for Mr Guizac or his family’s circumstances. Not only is Mrs Shortley bias or racist towards Mr Guizac but when she meets him and his family for the first time and Mrs McIntyre asks her where her husband is she tells Mrs McIntyre that ‘he don’t have time to rest himself in the bushes like them niggers over there’, Mrs Shortley making reference to the two black farmhands, Astor and Sulk, who are hiding in the bushes looking at the new arrivals. This is not the only occasion that Mrs Shortley belittles or is racist towards Astor and Sulk. Later as she is talking to them about Mr Guizac the reader finds that she is irked by ‘the illogic of Negro-thinking.’
Mrs Shortley also believes in a social order on the farm. First she sees Mrs McIntyre as being at the top of that order (being the owner of the farm) and then herself and her husband next (being white), followed by Astor and Sulk (both black). She fears that because of Mr Guizac’s arrival that the perceived social order she holds so dear will be upset. A point that is further emphasised when Mrs McIntyre tells Mrs Shortley that Mr Guizac is such a good worker. Suddenly Mrs Shortley and her husband appear to be dispensable. Mrs Shortley is also worried because Mr Guizac has reported Sulk to Mrs McIntyre for trying to steal a turkey. This disturbs Mrs Shortley because Mr Shortley has a still on Mrs McIntyre’s land and she fears that if Mr Guizac finds out he’ll also report Mr Shortley to Mrs McIntyre. So far things have run smoothly on the farm because everyone has agreed to overlook each other’s corruption.
In the second and third sections of the story the reader gets a closer insight into how Mrs McIntyre thinks. Again the theme of racism is explored when Mrs McIntyre challenges Mr Guizac with the picture of his cousin, who Sulk has said he is going to marry. She tells Mr Guizac that ‘You would bring this poor innocent girl over here and try to marry her to a half-witted thieving black stinking nigger!’ It becoming clear to the reader exactly what Mrs McIntyre thinks of black people. It is also at this point that O’Connor highlights again the idea of a social order. Mrs McIntyre tells Mr Guizac ‘that nigger cannot have a white wife from Europe. You can’t talk to a nigger that way. You’ll excite him and besides it can’t be done. Maybe it can be done in Poland but it can’t be done here and you’ll have to stop.’ Again it is becoming clear to the reader exactly how Mrs McIntyre thinks, she is against interracial marriages. Another important thing to note is the fact that Mrs McIntyre doesn’t dismiss Mr Guizac immediately, even when Mr Shortley returns. Despite telling Mr Shortley that she will dismiss him she hesitates. This hesitation is not because Mrs McIntyre has developed a Christian conscience (or moral obligation to Mr Guizac) rather it is through Mr Guizac’s work ethic that the farm is starting to make more money, O’Connor highlighting to the reader the fact that it is money not moral conviction (helping Mr Guizac) that drives Mrs McIntyre.
How important social order is becomes obvious to the reader when Mr Guizac is killed by the tractor. Even though Mrs McIntyre, Mr Shortley and Sulk witness the accident, none of them warn Mr Guizac of the oncoming tractor. Each, for their own personal reasons and in an effort to restore the social order on the farm, remain silent (quiet conspirators in Mr Guizac’s death). Any one of them could have yelled out to warn Mr Guizac but decide against it. There is no disputing that through Mr Guizac’s death the social order on the farm changes but not as anybody would have expected. As Mrs McIntyre is looking at Mr Guizac’s wife and children kneeling by his body, while Father Flynn is giving him the last rites, she herself is displaced ‘she felt she was in some foreign country where the people bent over the body were natives and she watched like a stranger while the dead man was carried away in the ambulance.’ The reader also finds out that later that day Mr Shortley leaves the farm to try and find work elsewhere, while Sulk ends up moving to the southern part of the state (displacement again).
Despite all that has happened O’Connor ends The Displaced Person will the possibility of redemption for Mrs McIntyre. Though she has had a nervous breakdown (possible guilty conscience) and is no longer able to run the farm, Father Flynn visits her once a week and sits with her explaining the doctrines of the Church to her. O’Connor hinting that maybe through believing in God and his teachings, Mrs McIntyre can redeem herself. Ironically through the loss of material things (the farm) and her health, Mrs McIntyre may achieve spiritual well-being.