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In Flannery O’Connor’s short story titled “Revelation,” the relationship between Mary Grace and her mother is strained, to say the least. The mother (often called “the pleasant lady”) and Mary Grace (who is anything but pleasant) in some ways resemble Julian and his mother in O’Connor’s “Everything That Rises Must Converge.” In both cases both adult children are educated in the most superficial senses of the word: both possess book knowledge, but neither possesses true wisdom. The parents, meanwhile, can seem a somewhat shallow, but neither of them seems to deserve the children they have raised. In stories such as this (including “Good Country People”), O’Connor seems to have been commenting obliquely on her own relationship with her own mother. O’Connor, so skillful at satirizing the pride of others, was just as ready to mock her own pride – a sin she believed that she, like everyone, definitely possessed.
The pleasant lady, like many of the characters O’Connor mocks, has a habit of speaking in clichés, thereby indicating that she is not especially capable of original, independent, or profound thought. Part of what bothers Mary Grace about her mother is precisely this habit of using clichés. Since Mary Grace fancies herself as “above” her mother and most other people, she shows little tolerance for her mother’s foibles. One might even make the case that by attacking Mrs. Turpin, Mary Grace is symbolically attacking her own mother.
In any case, here are some of the platitudes the “pleasant lady” proclaims:
“This is wonderful weather, isn’t it?”
“Oh, I couldn’t do without my good colored friends . . . .”
“. . . it takes all kind to make the world go round . . . .”
“I think she [Mary Grace] ought to get out and have fun.”
“I think people with bad dispositions are more to be pitied than anyone else on earth . . . .”
“Some day [Mary Grace will] wake up and it will be too late . . . .”
“. . . there are just some people you can’t tell anything to. They can’t take criticism.”
The pleasant lady engages in a kind of passive aggression toward Mary Grace just before the latter literally “throws the book” at Mrs. Turpin. Surely Mary Grace’s response to her mother’s needling helps provoke her to attack Mrs. Turpin. Although Mary Grace herself sometimes speaks in clichés (as when she says, “I have ears”), she can also say things that are utterly startling, as when she tells Mrs. Turpin, “Go back to hell where you came from, you old warthog.” This certainly isn’t the sort of thing we might expect from a Wellesley-educated young woman, but at least not it’s not a cliché. And, partly because it isn’t, it eats away at Mrs. Turpin for the entire rest of the story, making her think and helping to lead her, at the end of the text, to the spiritual “revelation” she ultimately experiences.
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