Reviewed by M.S. Ocampo
“Revelation” is one of the last short stories that Flannery O’Connor wrote. It was published in 1965, one year after she died. While “A Good Man is Hard to Find” may be the most well-known story from Flannery O’Connor, I think “Revelation” is my favorite as it’s the most straightforward parable.
The reason I call “Revelation” a parable is because it reminds me of the biblical parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. Only in this story, Flannery O’Connor takes us into the mental experience of one of those people Jesus condemned, such as the Pharisees and other people so full of pride they forget how to love people. Like the Pharisees, Ruby Turpin has a very high opinion of herself and a low opinion of everyone else. This is shown as she sits with her husband in a waiting room in the doctor’s office.
The office is crowded with a lot of patients. Ruby condescends to make conversation with a stylish lady who’s sitting nearby. Mary Grace, the daughter of the stylish lady, is described as a fat eighteen or nineteen-year-old girl whose face was “blue with acne” and wore “Girl Scout shoes and heavy socks.”
The story is implied to take place during Flannery’s time in the early 1960s, as Mrs. Turpin thinks about “a colored dentist in town who had two red Lincoln’s and a swimming pool and a farm with registered whiteface cattle on it.” As far as Mrs. Turpin’s mind is concerned, though, she might as well be in the 1860s, as she has African-Americans who work on her property and refers to African-Americans as “n*****s.”
As the conversation gets more racist and politically incorrect, Mary Grace’s rage slowly builds up to a boiling point. Her mother calls her spoiled and ungrateful, the kind of person who “can never say a kind word to anyone, who never smiles, who just criticizes and complains all day long.” (Sounds like most of the college students on Tumblr). Finally, when Mrs. Turpin does her very boastful “prayer of gratitude,” she gets a textbook thrown at her face.
The next section speaks for itself:
The girl raised her head. Her gaze locked with Mrs. Turpin’s. “Go back to hell where you came from, you old wart hog,” she whispered. Her voice was low but clear. Her eyes burned for a moment as if she saw with pleasure that her message had struck its target.
Although Mary Grace gets sedated and taken away, her message lingers with Mrs. Turpin throughout the rest of the day. She tries to use the people around her to bolster her ego when she returns home, but to no avail. Finally, at the end of the day, she complains loudly to God, questioning Mary Grace’s words. She receives a vision of a parade of people in white entering Heaven. However, she sees that the people she looked down upon, the “white trash,” the “n*****s,” the “freaks and lunatics,” were the first in line. Meanwhile, the people who were like her, those who “always had a little of everything” walked towards the end.
“Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”-Matthew 20:16
Genre: General Fiction; Southern Gothic
Author’s Worldview: Catholic
Year of Publication: 1965
Catholic Themes: Mercy, Forgiveness, Compassion, Heaven, Hell, Morality