In O'Connor's "Revelation" what do you conclude from Mrs. Turpin’s conversation with the black farmhands? Why does she dismiss their flattery?

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Mrs. Turpin, in Flannery O'Connor's "Revelation," has a clear sense of where people belong within society's hierarchy. She is forever having conversations in her mind and with Jesus about where she fits in, and she always wants to be in a better place than those she feels are not as "good" as she is. She has little debates as to what would be easier; for instance, would she prefer to be white trash or black—if Jesus ever gave her the choice between only those two things. In this case, she would choose to be black, but not a "trashy" one. When she reflects that Jesus did not make her black, white trash or ugly, she praises his name with great thanksgiving, which infers as to how she really feels about those she considers beneath her.

Mrs. Turpin is quick to praise the blacks that work for her, but she is still prejudiced when discussing them, that they are lazy and have life so good that they would never want to return to Africa. Although Mrs. Turpin continually pats herself on the back, she is a hypocrite. She says she will help anyone in need, black or white, but her statement shows that in her mind there is a distinction. Helping someone white would not be a big deal, but she makes a point to acknowledge that she could even be generous with a black person if necessary.

When the surly girl in the doctor's office attacks Mrs. Turpin and calls her names, Mrs. Turpin goes home with darkness hanging over her soul. The words take root and Mrs. Turpin has a hard time brushing them aside. When she shares the news of these unpleasant events to the black workers from the fields, they say all kinds of pleasant and supportive things about her, standing up for her in the face of such hateful treatment that has been directed at her. The more they sympathize, the less Mrs. Turpin listens or believes what they have to say; finally she leaves them.

Perhaps what is happening is that Mrs. Turpin doesn't believe what they say of her because she—in her heart—has little sympathy for these people. She really does not care about them—despite what she has said to the contrary, but simply speaks of the kindness she has extended to the blacks in order to make herself look benevolent. As they speak to her...

Mrs. Turpin knew just exactly how much Negro flattery was worth and it added to her rage.

Mrs. Turpin may see the truth of herself in the words of the black farmhands that work for her: how true is Mrs. Turpin's flattery about others? Mrs. Turpin "talks a good game," making herself out to be someone special…someone open-minded and kind. In truth, her satisfaction comes from her personal images of herself, and not from any respect or concern she has for others. Seeing within herself a harsh judgment of others, perhaps she expects that others will feel about her the same way she feels about them—though she hides these secret feelings from the eyes of others.

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