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Flannery O’Connor often writes stories set in the South in which characters are given opportunities for grace and divine forgiveness. Sometimes those opportunities come in very strange ways. Certainly all these typical traits of O’Connor’s writing are present in her short story titled “Revelation.” In this story, Ruby Turpin, a Southern woman full of pride, literally has the book thrown at her by a strangely hostile young woman whose name happens to be Mary Grace. Only after being assaulted by Mary Grace (whose name is highly symbolic) does Mrs. Turpin begin to learn the lesson God seems to want her to learn.
Everything about the setting, characters, and dialogue of the story is Southern. O’Connor usually chooses to write about the South because it is the area of the country she knew best, but to say this is not to say that her stories are parochial. In fact, they deal with universal problems (such as sin and the need for salvation), but they present those problems in ways that give them what Shakespeare called “a local habitation and a name.” In other words, issues that are relevant to all humans are dealt with through descriptions of characters and settings that seem convincingly Southern.
Details relevant to the South abound in “Revelation.” The fact that the Turpins make their living by running a farm is the first clear indication that we are dealing with a mainly rural area of the country. The fact that the radio is playing “gospel music” helps locate the story even more probably in the South. The reference to other characters as “white-trashy” makes a Southern setting even more probable. Mrs. Turpin’s fervent (if paradoxical) belief in Christianity is yet another indication that the characters and locale are Southern. The casual racism implied by the use of the “n” word is still one more bit of evidence of a Southern setting. Clearly, racial segregation is still an accepted fact of life in the time and place in which the story is set. Thus, before two pages have passed, it is obvious that O’Connor, once more, is writing about Southern characters living in the South.
Mrs. Turpin’s opportunity to achieve grace comes – when it does come – through an act of violence. Such violence, which may be hurtful physically but which has the potential to help heal the soul – is typical of the kind of violence that often occurs near the conclusions of O’Connor’s most famous works, such as “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” and “Everything That Rises Must Converge.” In “Revelation, the violence occurs relatively early in the story, and then Mrs. Turpin is given the opportunity to contemplate its significance. At the end of the story, thanks to the violence visited upon her by Mary Grace, she has the opportunity to experience the “revelation” that gives the story its title -- a revelation in which she imagines that she sees
whole companies of white trash, clean for the first times in their lives, and bands of black niggers in white robes
moving toward heaven and salvation.
Suddenly the kind of people whom Mrs. Turpin has always considered inferiors seem worthy of Christ’s love, and Mrs. Turpin seems to hope that she may actually be worthy of such love herself. Her revelation of the need for grace occurs in a way that makes it seem convincingly associated with the South.
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