Fun Fact: Flannery O’Connor’s birthday is on March 25th, the feast of the Annunciation. To honor one of the most well-renowned Catholic writers, I want to talk about my favorite of her short stories “Revelation.”
“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, but 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, Ruby Turpin is the pharisee and Mary Grace is the tax collector. Like the pharisee, 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 at 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 60s, as Mrs. Turpin refers to African-Americans as “n*****s” and refers to them picking cotton. However, African-Americans can own property, 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 a southern lady in Gone With The Wind, as she has African-Americans who work on her property.
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 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 were the first in line while those like her walked towards the end.
“Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”-Matthew 20:16