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In Flannery O’Connor’s short story titled “Revelation,” Mrs. Turpin, the central character, suffers from a malady common to many of O’Connor’s characters – the malady of pride, or excessive self-regard. Part of the irony of her visit to a doctor’s office is that she is physically well but spiritually ill, partly because she is afflicted with the common human sickness (and sin) of pride. O’Connor’s depiction of Mrs. Turpin, then, is largely satirical and ironic.
O’Connor’s goes out of her way to emphasize Mrs. Turpin’s huge physical size, which symbolizes her even more massive ego. Merely by entering the doctor’s small office, Mrs. Turpin makes it “look even smaller by her presence.”
She stood looming at the head of the magazine table set in the center of it, a living demonstration that the room was inadequate and ridiculous.
Mrs. Turpin tends to regard most other things – and most other people – as “inadequate and ridiculous,” but part of the function of O’Connor’s tale is to make Mrs. Turpin herself seem to exemplify these very traits. Until Mrs. Turpin learns some true humility (which does not happen until almost the very end of the tale), she functions as a “living demonstration” of the dangers of pride, self-regard, and self-satisfaction. Her tendency, throughout much of the story, is to find fault with everyone and with everything besides herself, as in her secret condescension toward blacks and the poor.
Although Mrs. Turpin prides herself on being a Christian, her prejudices about race and class are both disturbing and ridiculous. They become especially laughable – but also somewhat shocking – when she imagines Jesus being as full of prejudice as she is and speaking as crudely as she herself thinks.
O’Connor’s mockery of Mrs. Turpin is especially clear when O’Connor has another character (significantly named Mary Grace) literally “throw the book” at Mrs. Turpin, hitting her squarely in the forehead. The book is titled Human Development – something Mrs. Turpin sorely needs. Like so many prideful characters in so many works by O’Connor, Mrs. Turpin needs to be humbled and brought low before she can ever hope to rise.
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