How does Flannery O'Connor's story titled "Revelation" relate to southern identity and what it means to be a southerner?
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- O’Connor wrote about the south because it was the region of the country she knew best. She had been born and bred in the south and was intimately familiar with its people and culture. (She also spoke with a southern accent so thick that often proved difficult for northerners to follow!)
- Although O’Connor wrote about the south, she tried to deal with “universal” issues – issues relevant to human beings everywhere. One of these key issues, for instance, is pride, which is on abundant display in “Revelation,” especially in the mind of Mrs. Turpin.
- O’Connor felt that she could only deal with such themes convincingly if she gave them (in Shakespeare’s words) “a local habitation.” O’Connor could not pretend to know the culture of, say, New England intimately). But she could claim to know exactly how southerners of her time would speak and behave.
- At the time O’Connor was writing “Revelation,” the south was the focus of national and even international attention. Because of the civil rights movement, the south had become an area filled with great conflict. O’Connor often depicts racism in her works as just one variation of the common human sin of pride, and so the racism that she observed all around her gave her plenty to write about. She could deal with an issue that was at once timely and timeless. Mrs. Turpin is a racist not because she is a southerner but because she is a proud woman, and racism is just a particular form of pride.
- By writing about the south, O’Connor also had the opportunity to write about another kind of pride: pride in one’s class and social status. Mrs. Turpin is obsessed with making (and preserving) social rankings. She thinks even more poorly of “white trash” than she does of many blacks. The south, at the time O’Connor was writing, was not only racially divided but also highly stratified in terms of class. Mrs. Turpin, however, is not prejudiced about class because she is a southerner but because she is afflicted with pride – as all humans are (in O’Connor’s view).
- One more way in which O’Connor uses the south to make “Revelation” an effective story is her use of southern dialect and ways of expression. An especially absurd example is when Mrs. Turpin imagines Jesus speaking to her in the colloquial jargon of the day, as when he calls people “white trash” and uses the “n word” to refer to blacks. Of course, Jesus would never speak in such terms, but Mrs. Turpin has created a Christ in her own image.
- Typical of O’Connor’s use of southern speech is the reply by the “white trash” woman in the doctor’s office when the “pleasant lady” asks her what is wrong with her little boy:
“He has a ulcer,” the woman said proudly. “He ain’t give me a minute’s piece since he was born. Him and her are just alike,” she said, nodding at the old woman, who was running her leathery fingers through the child’s pale hair. “Look like I can’t get nothing down them two but Co’ Cola and candy.”
The ability to create such authentic and believable southern speech is one of the great achievements of O’Connor’s writing, as "Revelation" abundantly demonstrates.
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