Explore O'Connor's use of violence to awaken her characters to self-revelation.
At the end of the story the black woman hits the mother for giving the young boy pennies. Throughout the story the son has been complaining to himself about how racist and old fashioned she is: she constantly embarrases him, and meanwhile her life revolves around him. When she is hit, the grandmother apparently dies, and the man cries, “Mama, Mama.” The narrator then says, “The tide of darkness seemed to sweep him back to her, postponing from moment to moment his entry into the world of guilt and sorrow.” The violence makes him realize how much she means to him, and he will forever feel guilty that he did not love her sufficiently while she was alive.
In O'Connor's fiction, she consistantly uses violence to depict a character's realization that they are fallen and need something outside of themselves (take a look at her prose collection Mystery and Manners). It is usually after such a violent act that her character has an internal epiphany of sorts (see some of her other stories such as "Greenleaf" and "A Good Man is Hard to Find"). In this story, both the mother and her son are rocked. The mother, continuing to pursue her bigotry, is hit by the black woman and has a stroke. She is given a secodn chance, free from bigotry and from her dependance on her son. The son comes to a shocking realization that he needs, period. His character represents the common atheist, who believes he needs nothing spiritually, for there is no spiritual. This kind of "violent grace" is found throughout all of her works (once again, refer to Mystery and Manners). Hope this helps!