Flannery O’Connor’s views about race are reflected in a number of her stories, especially “Everything That Rises Must Converge.” Those views are also relevant, however, to her story titled “Revelation.”
The main character in “Revelation” is a woman named Mrs. Turpin. Although Mrs. Turpin thinks of herself as being a good Christian, she reveals in many different ways the central Christian sin of pride – the sin from which all other sins result. Mrs. Turpin is proud of many different things about herself, including her social class, her personality, her possessions, and also her race. She considers herself superior to many different kinds of people, including poor whites and most blacks. Like many characters in many works by O’Connor, Mrs. Turpin needs (at least in O’Connor’s opinion) to be humbled before she can realize whatever true spiritual potential she may possess.
Perhaps the most preposterous aspect of Mrs. Turpin’s thinking appears when she fantasizes about imaginary conversations with Jesus. In these imaginative conversations, Jesus expresses blatantly racist ideas – ideas that Christ would never actually express. Mrs. Turpin, like most humans (from O’Connor’s point of view) has imagined a Christ in her own image. She assumes that God agrees with and approves of her own racist impulses. It never seems to occur to Mrs. Turpin that the real Jesus might consider her racist ideas repugnant and outrageous.
Mrs. Turpin’s treatment of the African Americans who work for her is as condescending as is her treatment of many of the other people in her life, especially anyone whom she considers her natural inferior. In O’Connor’s opinion, racial prejudice is merely one species of the much larger sin of pride. Pride almost inevitably results not only in an exaltation of the self but also in a dehumanization of others, and the story’s somewhat shocking allusion to the holocaust implies how horribly destructive such dehumanization can prove to be.
By the end of the story, however, Mrs. Turpin experiences an unexpected and painful revelation: she perceives that God may value human beings very differently than she does. In her revelation, she sees blacks and others, whom she has long considered her inferiors, being taken up into heaven well before people like herself – people proud of their supposed virtues. Concerning this latter group, O’Connor writes that Mrs. Turpin
could see by their shocked and altered faces that even their virtues were being burned away.
In other words, in the eyes of God, human pride – including racial pride – means nothing except insofar as it indicates that one is unworthy of God. Here as in so many of her other stories, O’Connor mocks racism as one manifestation of the much more general sin of human pride.