In Flannery O'Connor's short story "Revelation," how are the references to hogs and pigs thematically significant?
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Flannery O’Connor uses references to pigs, hogs, and even warthogs in her story “Revelation” in various ways. Here are a number of ways in which such references are employed:
- The hogs are among the various material possessions in which Mrs. Turpin takes pride. Since pride is her crucial flaw (as it is, O’Connor would have said, in all human beings), Mrs. Turpin’s pride in owning hogs is just one example of her more general tendency to inflate her self-importance. In addition, the hogs are also one example of her general tendency to value material possessions over spiritual values
- References to hogs are among the ways by which O’Connor satirizes Mrs. Turpin’s pretensions. When Mrs. Turpin claims, for instance, that her hogs are “‘not dirty and do not stink’” (693), most readers will laugh, for several possible reasons. In the first place, Mrs. Turpin’s claim is highly unlikely to be true. In the second place, if it is true, that fact implies that Mrs. Turpin is much too concerned with superficial cleanliness and is insufficiently concerned with the kind of spiritual cleanliness that mattered most to O’Connor. Rather than devoting so much attention to keeping her hogs clean, Mrs. Turpin (O’Connor implies) should be more concerned with the cleanliness of her own soul.
- Mrs. Turpin uses the hogs, at one point, in severely judging another human being. Thus, she says of her hogs, “‘They’re cleaner than some children I’ve seen’” (693). This is obviously a snide remark about the dirty, unkempt child who is sitting with Mrs. Turpin in the doctor’s office. Mrs. Turpin seems to value her hogs more highly than she values a child who is probably physically sick. Rather than showing compassion toward the child, she boasts about her hogs. The child may be sick physically, but Mrs. Turpin is sick spiritually.
- Later in the story, Mrs. Turpin sprays one old sow in the eye with a water hose, paying no attention to the pain of the squealing hog (702). This incident epitomizes Mrs. Turpin’s self-absorption, and it may also imply her willingness to cause pain to others without really considering what she is doing. A little later, in fact, she seems deliberately to jab baby pigs with the stream of water – an incident that suggests a malevolence deep in her nature.
- Mrs. Turpin cannot stand the thought that she has been compared, by Mary Grace, to a warthog. The accusation has shaken her pride, but it is precisely her pride that needs to be shaken. In a sense, Mrs. Turpin must learn that she really is little better than a hog, at least in the eyes of God. He cares nothing for all her material possessions and her social pretensions.
- The final reference to hogs in the story (703) implies that the hogs are actually living lives more in conformance with God’s design for them than is true of Mrs. Turpin. The hogs have all settled “in one corner around the old sow who was grunting softly. A red glow suffused them. They appeared to pant with a secret life.” They are more in harmony with their fellow creatures and with the rest of God’s creation than Mrs. Turpin has been for a very long time. Ironically, there is something beautiful about this final depiction of the hogs, whereas Mrs. Turpin, for much of the story, has been ugly in a wide variety of ways.
O’Connor, Flannery. “Revelation.” The Art of the Short Story. Ed. Dana Goia and R. S. Gwynn. New York: Pearson Longman, 2006. 689-704.
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