Following her influential 1955 story collection A Good Man Is Hard to Find, startling readers and critics alike with its unique combination of complex Catholicism and simple southern fundamentalism, Flannery O’Connor’s 1965 collection, Everything That Rises Must Converge, continued with similar rural characters and similar religious issues. Two of the most representative stories in this collection are “Greenleaf” and “Revelation,” both of which focus on women who think they are “good country people,” but who must face their true selves in violent religious visions.
“Revelation” focuses on Mrs. Turpin, who, while in a doctor’s office with her husband, thinks of her superiority to those around her. When she shouts, “Thank you, Jesus,” for not making her “a nigger or white-trash or ugly,” one of O’Connor’s physically unattractive but intellectually complex young women throws a book at her and calls her a warthog, telling her to “go back to hell” where she came from. Later, when Mrs. Turpin returns home, she stands by her hog pen asking God, “How am I saved and from hell too?” When she sees a vision of hordes of white trash, Negroes, freaks, and lunatics being led up to Heaven, while people like herself bring up the rear, she realizes the hard Christian truth that the last shall be first and all self-righteous virtue must be burned away by God’s grace.
This final sacramental vision is even more difficult for Mrs. May in “Greenleaf,” another of O’Connor’s white middle-class southerners burdened by shiftless white trash. However, in spite of Mr. Greenleaf’s laziness and Mrs. Greenleaf’s prayer-healing, they hardly age at all, while Mrs. May is exhausted from overwork. Particularly galling to Mrs. May is a Greenleaf bull that is always on her land; she dreams of it devouring everything of hers until there is nothing left. The story ends when the bull comes into her pasture and gores her, not as an act of gratuitous violence, but as a symbol of being struck by the blinding light of revelation. Once again, O’Connor confronts her smug and sanctimonious character with the hard truth of Christian grace—that salvation is not earned nor easy but seizes one with the painful paradox of losing the self to find the self.